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Fishing for profits after a red tide downturn

After recovering from Irma, the 2018 fish kill ‘clobbered’ Pure Florida’s shallow water fishing tours. The company's response is a deep investment.

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In 2017, the aftermath of Hurricane Irma prompted Harry Julian to streamline the business model of Pure Florida, the Naples-based marine experience company he operates with his father, Lance.

That experience came in handy this past summer during another tourist calamity: red tide. With red tide, and to a lesser extent, green algae, fishing expeditions and boat tours fell off pace.

“We got clobbered,” says Julian. “We were off by 50% in August and 40% in September, but in October we turned the corner for just about all the services we offer. The second half of the month was similar to 2016 numbers.”

The biggest decline was in fishing trips between 7 and 20 miles offshore, an area Julian calls the red tide “dead zone” that is otherwise prime fishing waters for charters. “It’s coming back,” Julian says, “but not as good as it used to be.” Beyond 20 miles offshore, he adds, business is “killing it.”

The Julians purchased Cruise Naples in 2009, which at the time operated three boats with a staff of nine. Rebranded in 2016 to Pure Florida, the company now operates 19 assets including fishing boats, sightseeing tour vessels, a jet high-speed boat and eight Jet Ski and three boat rentals. With one sightseeing vessel in Fort Myers and the remainder of the fleet in Naples, Pure Florida typically serves between 160,000 and 180,000 customers per year.

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

Adverse water conditions mostly impacted half-day fishing trips while the backwater fishing and Jet Ski and boat rental business was not impacted by the green algae conditions that plagued areas north of Naples. And because of currents in the Gulf of Mexico, red tide was non-existent from Marco Island southward.

Red tide did prompt Pure Florida to make an investment earlier than planned. The company expects to take delivery on a new boat in February, a catamaran-style deep sea fishing vessel capable of speeds up to 30 knots. Julian plans to put the boat into service in late spring 2019. 

“Fishing-wise, we are investing in a new boat to get out past the red tide,” says Julian. “It can carry more people, it’s bigger, it’s faster and more comfortable than anything else in Southwest Florida. It’s a revolutionary boat, and while people might say it’s not the right time to invest, it is a chance for us to distinguish ourselves from the rest. If nothing else, the red tide pushed us to get this boat now as opposed to later.”

The boat, which will be named Sea Flyer, is being custom built for Pure Florida by a manufacturer in Louisiana. Julian declined to disclose the manufacturer’s name and the price, quipping only that it will cost “too much.”

But it is necessary for continued growth. The company’s gross revenue increased 9.8% in 2017, from $4.1 million in 2016 to $4.5 million. Prior to the height of the red tide, Julian says 2018 revenue was on track to at least repeat 2017's performance. 

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

Outside of Southwest Florida, the Julians are better known as consultants and film producers in the motion picture industry. Their Marine Team International has worked on multiple projects that feature water scenes including "Waterworld" and the James Bond film "Quantum of Solace." They also spent 14 months on the set of “Titanic."


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