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Business Observer Friday, Jun. 8, 2018 3 years ago

Recession lesson taught by Hurricane Irma

Pure Florida CEO learns how to operate maritime business in lean times.
by: Andrew Warfield Lee-Collier Editor

Ahead of a weekend forecast of Subtropical Storm Alberto raking the Gulf Coast, it was business as usual in the office and on the docks at Pure Florida in Naples.

Capt. Harry Julian, the younger half of the father-and-son partnership of the marine experience company that in large part relies on fair weather, had activated his inclement conditions action plan.

Some tours may be canceled, and some personal watercraft and boat rentals may not occur. But everyone on his payroll will have something to do, regardless.

Pure Florida offers a variety of options for customers to get out on the water.

That plan is the result of lessons learned from Hurricane Irma. That's when the business was shuttered for six weeks while its home port in Tin City recovered, two boats were repaired and tourism came to a halt.

The Julians were forced to make the hard choice to lay off two employees. Despite no revenus, though, the rest of the full-time staff of 28 remained intact.

“We kept most of the staff that I could create work for,” says Julian, a native of New Zealand. “We had to take a look at our labor force. We knew we had to be lean and tight. People on salary came and worked at a reduced rate. People who had worked 40 hours worked 25 to 30 hours. We took care of our people to the best of our ability.”

The Julians purchased Cruise Naples in 2009, operating three boats with a staff of nine. Rebranded to Pure Florida two years ago, the company now operates 19 assets including fishing boats, sight-seeing tour vessels, a jet high-speed boat and eight Jet Ski and three boat rentals. Pure Florida operates one tour boat out of Fort Myers, the first of what Julian hopes to be an expansion into other parts of Florida.

"If you’re not innovating, if you're not giving the customers what they want, you’re just going trough the process." — Harry Julian 

Growth, Julian says, was in part facilitated by no recession over those first nine years. Just like unfavorable weather, when the inevitable economic downtown does occur, he says Irma, in a way, will have been a strategy session. 

“I look at Irma in hindsight as a dry run at a recession,” says Julian. “What are you going go do in a recession? You’re going to look at all the things that optimize your business. Irma was a massive learning experience, and I learned how efficient we could be.”

The result: a fishing boat captain may take reservations when not on the water. Tour guides one day may rent boats the next. Nearly everybody has primary and secondary responsibilities.

“Everyone needs to eat,” Julian says. “Not everybody needs to go out for a boat ride or a fishing trip. That's for disposable income.”

The model works. Despite losing weeks of revenue and the extended sluggishness in the aftermath of Irma, Julian says the company’s gross revenue was up 9.76% in 2017, from $4.1 million to $4.5 million, and is on track to at least match that performance in 2018. He says running a business that is decidedly seasonal and highly dependent on weather requires an active approach.

“I like to say we actively manage the business in that every moment in time, person you meet or piece of weather that comes through you have an opportunity to make money or save money,” Julian says.

Active management includes rebranding. When the Julians added the Fort Myers presence in 2014, they ran separate operations as Pure Fort Myers and Pure Naples. Rather than continue as individual entities, two years ago they consolidated and rebranded again as Pure Florida, yielding cost efficiencies and greater expansion opportunities. In all, Julian says the Fort Myers boat serves about 12,000 customers per year. Naples serves between 160,000 and 180,000.

“The Fort Myers location was a startup. Future growth will come from acquisition,” Julian says. “We’ve looked at a couple of entities that are of interest.”

Pure Florida operates fishing boats, such as Kudu, and sight-seeing tour boats. It also offers boat and personal watercraft rentals.

Outside Southwest Florida, the Julians are better known as consultants and film producers in the motion picture industry, their Marine Team International having worked on multiple projects that feature water scenes including "Waterworld" and the James Bond film "Quantum of Solace." They spent 14 months on the set of "Titanic." At 70, Lance Julian runs Marine Team International and manages sales and marketing for Pure Florida. At 42, CEO Harry Julian runs Pure Florida’s business and operations in his active management style.

“If you’re not innovating, if you're not giving the customers what they want, you’re just going trough the process,” Harry Julian says. “Even if your P&L may look good, you're not getting better.”

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