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Business Observer Friday, Dec. 29, 2017 10 months ago

Boat Brigade

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A Southwest Florida boat business, with a plan to bring more service to wherever its customer is, seeks more market share in 2018.
by: Ted Carter Contributing Writer

Family-owned Fish Tale Boats capped a strong first year at its $5 million Tamiami Trail dealership in Fort Myers by opening a showroom on Naples' boat-dealer lane.

The opening, on Davis Boulevard in Naples, follows Fish Tale Boats' move at the start of 2017 to go from a 2-acre location on Fort Myers Beach to the former home of Scanlon Acura at 15581 S. Tamiami Trail, near the corner of Tamiami and Briarcliff Road. In moving to the 7-acre site, Fish Tale traded in water access for 700 feet of highway frontage close to Interstate 75.

The much larger mainland inventory, mix of models and increased new parts offerings helped compensate for the absence of waterfront. Another asset is the company's new strategy, in which Fish Tale service technicians go to customers when they call, says Travis Fricke, co-owner and vice president of operations.

To boost that strategy, the Fricke family increased its service fleet from four to nine vehicles. “Everybody thinks you've got to be on the water to sell and service boats. Not necessarily,” Travis Fricke says. “We've got more trucks and more service personnel now.”

The same “go-to-the-customer” strategy is behind the Naples opening, in late November, of the 6,000-square-feet boat store at 2105 Davis Blvd. The expansion situates Fish Tale Boats in a Naples market it has served for years from Fort Myers.

It also gives the company an opportunity to take broader advantage of a growing year-round recreational boat market in Southwest Florida, Fricke says. “We wanted to get our sales team closer to our Collier clientele,” he adds. “We already had our feet in the water there. We're just tapping into it more.”

The new showroom will display Robalo, Chaparral and high-end pontoon boats from Avalon. Service calls will still be dispatched from Fort Myers. “We've got two guys on the road pretty much every day,” Fricke says.

Fish Tale expects to replant its flag on the beachside once it closes a deal to lease a small office at an expanded Bonita Bay Marina, where it has some slips for servicing larger vessels. Fricke expects the office will be mainly for sales.

Much of the decision last year to exchange a two-decade home on Fort Myers Beach for a mainland location came down to this: Most recreational boaters in the region move their boats on trailers. “Compared to on the water, way more people are on trailers here,” Fricke says.

It also helps when the new mainland location is sandwiched between high-end auto dealerships Land Rover and Mercedes on a highway that gets 65,000 cars a day, he says. “When you are between a Mercedes and a Land Rover,” says Fricke, “you kind of get the feeling this is the right spot.”

Travis Fricke runs the business with his brother, Justin Fricke, and their mother, Diane Fricke. The trio kept the business going after the sudden death of family patriarch Bruce Fricke in 2010. Now Fish Tale sells boats from 16 feet in length to 37 feet, with the high-end Grady-White boat a main seller in the Fort Myers dealership.

It's especially gratifying, Travis Fricke adds, to move nearly as much inventory in July as in the peak of the winter visitor season. Says Travis Fricke: “We've been growing into our big shoes.”

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