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  • | 3:24 p.m. October 4, 2013
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John Giglio tried two careers before he found his passion in the boating industry.

He first got into human resources, with a staffing firm in Tampa soon after he graduated from Florida Southern College in Lakeland. After about a year, feeling unfulfilled, Giglio took a job in operations with a family-run chain of auto body repair shops. That job was somewhat more stimulating, but Giglio didn't see much of a long-term future there, either.

“I knew I wanted to be in business,” says Giglio, “but I didn't know what kind of business.”

So in 2004, Giglio, a lifelong boater, followed his heart: He got a job with Freedom Boat Club, which provides club members access to a variety of boats in return for an initiation fee and monthly dues. A decade later, after positions in sales and operations, Giglio, 38, now owns the Venice-based company, a combination of 57 franchisee-owned locations and 11 corporate-owned stores.

The company's franchise outlets are spread from Texas to Rhode Island, while most of the company-owned club locations are in Florida, including Cape Coral, Sarasota and Venice. The pitch is geared toward people who want to own a boat, but don't want to own the legendary hassles that come with it.

That pitch resonates, clearly, because the company is on a major growth spurt. Sales are up 61% since 2010, from $4.8 million to $7.73 million in 2012. And this past June, July and August, adds Giglio, have all been record months for sales.

While business is good now, Giglio faced a big risk last year. That's when he had an opportunity to buy out his partner and co-owner, Bob Daley. Daley and Giglio bought Freedom Boat Club in 2011 from a Cincinnati-based investment firm, but in early 2012 Daley sought to retire.

Giglio was confident he knew the business, but he had never owned a business on his own before. And he and his wife, Lisa Giglio, have two young children, so he wasn't inclined to take a big risk. “There was some trepidation, and my wife was petrified,” says Giglio.

Adds Giglio: “I basically took a leap of faith.”

Giglio took another leap earlier this year, when he bought the Tarpon Center Marina in Venice for $1.3 million. Freedom recently relocated its headquarters from a Venice office to the facility, where it leases 20 boat slips.

A Rhode Island native, Giglio is an avid sports fan, especially for Boston sports teams like the Red Sox and Patriots. His management style is hands off, with a “right people in the right seats” focus. Fitting, then, that one of two people, dead or alive, Giglio would like to have dinner with is Bill Belichik, the Patriots' successful coach known for spotting and utilizing talent. (Giglio's other most wanted dinner guest is Warren Buffett.) Says Giglio: “You have to surround yourself with people smarter than you.”

The biggest worry Giglio has right now with Freedom Boat Club is the threat of other firms sailing into Freedom's turf. “We are doing very well,” says Giglio. “But we still have to be innovative and creative to drive a wedge between us and any potential competitors, big or small.”

Giglio nonetheless says he has no regrets about buying the business. He especially likes the idea that he controls his career path. “I'm truly blessed,” Giglio says. “I look out my window and I'm always looking at boats.”


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