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Business Observer Thursday, Jul. 16, 2009 12 years ago

Staying Afloat

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Mitzi Maggio, 38 Salt Shaker Marine Custom Yachts
by: Jean Gruss Contributing Writer

Mitzi Maggio, 38 Salt Shaker Marine Custom Yachts


When Mitzi Maggio shows off her company's custom yachts at the annual Miami boat show, prospective buyers sometimes mistake her for one of the models.

But after chatting a bit, buyers quickly realize they're talking to the owner and president of Salt Shaker Marine Custom Yachts, a Punta Gorda-based company whose sport-fishing boats cost as much as a quarter million dollars. “If we had a model, she'd have big boobs with blond hair,” she laughs.

Being a young woman in a male-dominated industry has been the toughest part of the job since she took over the business from her father, Joseph Maggio, in 1999. She says it took about five years to gain the respect from peers and customers. “I needed to know the business inside and out,” she explains.

Maggio, 38, never imagined herself running the business until her father wrote her a 10-page proposal 15 years ago urging her to come home from a corporate-event job in Boston. “I loved working in Boston,” says Maggio, who today is also the mother of a 10-month-old boy. “I'll give you two years,” she told her father at the time.

So Maggio fille came back to Punta Gorda 1995, where Maggio pere had moved the business from Fort Lauderdale in 1989. While Joseph Maggio is still involved in the business, his daughter owns and runs the company.

Clearly this is a tough time for custom-boat builders. Buyers of Salt Shaker boats are typically wealthy entrepreneurs and many of them have seen their personal finances and businesses shrink in the last two years. “It's the first to feel the recession and the last to feel the recovery because it's a luxury item,” Maggio says. “If you can survive this, you're going to be on top.”

Part of the challenge is that the market for existing boats is saturated and boats are selling for half of what it costs to build them new. Maggio forecasts it could take as long as five years for the custom-boat market to recover.

In the meantime, Maggio is turning to retrofitting existing boats with new engines. “The repower business is huge,” she says. “We've broadened our expertise.” For example, an owner who spent $300,000 for a sport-fishing boat may prefer to spend $40,000 for new engines than splurging on a new boat.

And Maggio's trimmed some of the marketing expenses, forgoing boat shows in distant places such as Annapolis, Md. It can cost as much as $30,000 to set up at a boat show, though Maggio won't miss the Fort Lauderdale and
Miami boat fests. “If you're not there, you're dead in the water,” she says. While Maggio doesn't ink deals at the boat shows, it's important to be in front of buyers who typically take a couple years to make up their minds about buying a boat.

Boat shows are tests of endurance and Maggio stays in shape by teaching aerobics and Pilates three times a week at a local gym. Since she's moved to Punta Gorda, Maggio has become involved in local community projects.

For example, she's currently the president of Main Street Punta Gorda, a downtown redevelopment organization. “If you want to get things done, ask the busy person,” she laughs.

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