The Best Marinas in the World – Are Those that Do It Right!Published on January 18, 2023
Regardless of where I am in the world, someone will inevitably ask, “What is the best marina?” I’m sure those asking the question are expecting a specific answer –maybe something like the spectacular Yas Marina in Abu Dhabi, or Fort Lauderdale’s Pier 66 (despite their current construction), arguably one of the centers of the boating universe, particularly in late October.
But my usual reply is that the best marinas are those that are doing it right. And what does “doing it right” really mean? For me, the answer is founded in meeting and exceeding your customers’ expectations. And, in truth, it is not any single thing, but a combination of the physical plant, the service, the attitude of the marina staff, and the ambiance of the facility. When one can check all of those boxes, then the marina is doing it right.
One of the best compliments that we have ever received came when I asked a boater what he liked about our client’s new facility, and the answer was, “I don’t know – it just works.”
In this age of negativity and focusing on things that are problems or annoying, “it just works” is one of the highest compliments a designer can receive. It means that everything has come together – it is functional, aesthetically pleasing and makes you feel good.
Analyze the Site
Our approach is to start with the site. What are its attributes and challenges? Understanding all of the advantages as well as the limitations and potential problems helps to focus one’s vision for the site. They can include numerous aspects such as the closeness to open water, is it naturally deep water or is dredging needed, is it a naturally protected area or are breakwaters needed, is the site easy to get to, is it in a metropolitan or rural area? While one inherently knows them, actually listing them on paper (even if that paper is a computer screen) is more than an exercise. It can really help focus on what to do to take advantage of the attributes and what can be done to mitigate the problems, not only for the target market desired but for the functionality of the facility.
For many this exercise helps find those approaches and target priorities that apply to both – i.e., emphasizing the benefits while overcoming problems. It can definitely help hone one’s vision and realistically determine the market one wishes to target, while also helping to mold a business strategy.
One would also be wise to visit other facilities, not only in the area, but in similar regions. Look at what is working and not working, and try to analyze why and how they would relate or not relate to your facility. Don’t be afraid of seeking help from professionals that have a proven record of thinking outside the box!
We believe customers typically focus on a few key elements:
- Functionality – is it easy to get in and out of the facility both in the water and on land, as well as to and from the boat;
- Safety – is it a safe harbor protecting the boat from storms and flooding, as well as it safe from vandalism;
- Appearance – is it aesthetically inviting and pleasing, including the restrooms; and environment, both in terms of being “green” and, more so, what is the overall vibe of the facility and does it match what I am looking for.
Many make the mistake of thinking that customers are focused on the costs. And actually, that may be the first thing the customer discusses, but it’s typically not what most customers, particularly your most desirable customers, are most concerned about. And for those who are obsessed with cost – they may not be your most desirable customers.
Customers and Cost
If the facility can communicate why the cost is what it is, we find that most customers are willing to pay (even if for some it may be begrudgingly). The marina industry has traditionally been very reluctant to raise prices for fear of losing customers to competitors. There are two sides to it – if one is raising prices one has to communicate to the customers so that they perceive that they are getting value for the price increase. Simply raising prices and not making meaningful improvements that are perceived as meaningful and adding value to the customer can easily lose the customer. Communicating in a manner that lets customers perceive the value of their costs is better for the facility’s bottom line as it affords the ability to continue to upgrade and make improvements. There is a marina in my hometown that has always set its prices higher than the other neighboring facilities, and has most always been full, including in bad economic times. Their customers perceive that they are getting value for the price they are paying.
Let’s understand that the marina business is fundamentally selling a hospitality experience, and the better the experience, the higher the rates, and the more profitable it can be.
Find a Niche
Which brings us to honing one’s vision and coming up with a meaningful and effective business plan. While I would not fire the accountants and would still keep them close by, I definitely would be reaching out to others to help evaluate the market and come up with scenarios of what facilities and services should be offered and the realistic cost of providing them. This is true not only for new facilities but for those expanding, retrofitting, reconfiguring and/or reimagining existing facilities. And for existing facilities, your greatest asset is your employees. Seek their input. They likely have some great ideas that can significantly make things more functional and increase your cash flows and profitability.
Try to find your niche. Why would you, as a customer, come to your facility? Why would you pay higher rates? Simple questions that more often are neither asked nor focused upon.
We live in a world of specialization, and in many ways that applies to the marina market. It could be the service and the mechanics, it could be for fishing, it could be for sports boats or pontoon boats. It could be for competitive sailing or large yachts. One could be a destination or a seasonal facility.
One of best marinas in the world could be that super luxurious jet set (or Formula 1 set) facility like the Yas Marina. Another might be a pretty simple facility with less than 50 slips and a historic red barn in a secluded New England cove surrounded by multimillion dollar waterfront residences – the perfect, private and picturesque place to dock your Hinkley Picnic Boat.
One thing that is important in most any situation is to try not to cut corners. There is a saying, “Pay me now or pay me multiple times later.” And that is so true. And we appreciate that costs are skyrocketing and putting real pressure on marinas and cash flow. But cutting corners produces a lower quality product, and in this evolving market of higher and greater expectations, that could be your Achilles heel. The accountant may be focused on the short term reality, but the visionary sees the long term brass ring.
Be Your Best
This boils down to understanding the needs and wants of your current customers as well as would-be customers, including the ones that may be harder to get to know. Although a less scientific process than more formalized surveys, I’ve found that simply talking to customers, other boaters and marina professionals can be the most meaningful approach.
In all of these interactions, always remember the simplest of rules: treat everyone the way you would like to be treated.
If you have had kids in most any school system over the last 20 or so years, chances are you have come across the slogan, “Be Your Best.” It’s all about doing your best to be the best “you” you can be, and recognizing that that looks different for everyone. Same goes for all the marinas and similar boating facilities out there in this big blue watery world.
Each year Marina Dock Age presents its Marina of the Year Award. When the tradition began, it was given to one facility. As time has gone by, however, it was expanded to award two facilities per year, one large and one small, given how particularly different small and large facilities can be, and realizing that those smaller facilities that are doing it right might easily get lost in the shuffle.
The small facility winner in 2021 was Bluff Creek Marina in Strawn, Texas. When you first take a look at their website, you honestly might not be blown away. But when you begin to read what’s there, you start to understand how they garnered the title – and so much has to do with their emphasis on customer experience: “No matter what your interests are on the water, we are here to create your best experience ever. We firmly believe our guests of all ages are more than just patrons, and we strive to build lasting relationships based on respect and excellent customer service. The staff at Bluff Creek Marina is committed to remaining the best marina on Possum Kingdom Lake.”
I couldn’t state it better myself.
So, making your facility the best marina means taking all of the above, throwing it into the mix, and coming out with a product that checks all or as many of the boxes as you can.
As we begin the new year, let’s all strive to be our best!
Dan Natchez is president of DANIEL S. NATCHEZ and ASSOCIATES Inc., a leading international environmental waterfront design consulting company specializing in the design of marinas and marina resorts throughout the world. He invites your comments and inquiries byContact him by phone at 914/698-5678, by WhatsApp at 914/381-1234, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or onlinethe Web at www.dsnainc.com.