Business View Magazine interviews Jeff Strong, President & Owner of Strong’s Marine, as part of our focus on Best Practices in U.S. Businesses.
For more than 70 years, family-owned-and-operated Strong’s Marine has been providing boaters with personal service, great value, and priceless memories. Now in good hands with the third and fourth generations, Strong’s continues to stand behind traditional values, believing that time on the water enriches lives and brings people closer.
Stewart Strong started Strong’s on Long Island in 1945 with the Strong & Holland Marina in Lindenhurst. Second generation, Dave and Dottie Strong, established the Mattituck Marina in 1965, and their son Jeff and his wife Re purchased that business in 1992, growing it to include locations in Mattituck on both the Peconic Bay and Long Island Sound, in Southampton, and Port Washington at Brewer Capri Marina West. Their son, Ryan, is now running operations for all locations with fourth-generation savvy, as Vice President of the company.
Jeff Strong, President & Owner of Strong’s Marine, speaks about the exceptional legacy his family created, the company’s current success, and his optimistic outlook for the future. He shares, “Our logo has always been ‘Home of Super Service.’ In terms of core beliefs, that isn’t limited to how we service your boat. That’s just one small piece. Think Disney, Ritz Carlton – we try to align ourselves with that kind of high-caliber service provider, in how we answer our phones, write our emails, show up on time or five minutes early, our professional appearance, how we conduct ourselves among fellow employees. With clients, it’s all in the ‘Super Service’ context.”
Now, with six marina locations throughout Long Island, Strong’s not only sells a lot of boats, but they’re out on the water helping people experience boating and the role it plays in their dream scenario. Making this possible is an amazing team of 85 full-time and 50 part-time employees. Customers vary depending on the revenue category and location. Jeff notes, “We have boat brands and yacht brands. If we’re selling a new boat (we carry 19’ to 53’ Cobalt, Pursuit, Regal, and Grady White brands), our territory is Long Island and the 5 boroughs. For the new yachts, which are 40’ to 155’ Sunseeker Yachts and Absolute Yachts, we cover the full tri-state area of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. We also cover the tri-state area for service needs, as we have many clients from that area.”
Two of the three Fork locations are on Mattituck Inlet which feeds out to Long Island Sound. Strong’s Water Club & Marina is a transient destination facility during the summer with dozens of boats at a time coming from Rhode Island, Connecticut, Westchester, and northern Long Island. Jeff describes it as “a resort destination facility. It has an Olympic-sized saltwater pool, a great restaurant, and a Tiki bar. There aren’t a lot in the area with the beauty and amenities this place has.”
Just “up the creek,” is the company’s latest acquisition: Strong’s Yacht Center. In contrast, this location is quieter in the summer, but has 110,000 square feet of indoor storage space. Many yacht owners are looking for a competent dealer with indoor storage capabilities, so that location draws many boats from the tri-state area for storage and professional services. Onsite offerings include a custom painter, a welder, a custom woodworker, and fiberglass and canvas work – everything necessary for all kinds of restoration and customization. On the Peconic Bay side in Mattituck is their original east end marina offering all aspects of service dockage and sales in a valet concierge environment, including boat rentals.
Dealing with competition begins and ends with the “Home of Super Service” concept. Strong’s Marine works diligently to hire staff members that are a great fit. Jeff admits, “We can train most intelligent people to do different things, but we can’t train someone to be the right cultural fit for us. I personally spend a lot of time, along with Ryan, our General Managers and Human Resource Manager, on interviewing people, regardless of the position. Hiring the right people starts us off on the right foot. We see it as a key competitive advantage, and we invest a tremendous amount of time, energy, and resources on supporting and growing our people.”
Strong’s takes good care of its staff, providing everything from profit sharing, health insurance, and retirement programs, to proper uniforms. Company training programs are liberal and flexible, ideal for accommodating disillusioned former business owners who want to become part of this outstanding team. Strong’s maintains an entrepreneurial spirit in the company, yet takes away the headache part of the business. A lot of their great “players” like that.
An Oct. 2016, partnership with Al Grover’s Marina, in Freeport, NY is Strong Marine’s latest expansion effort. Jeff says, “Now we’re just ten minutes from where my grandfather originally started. We haven’t had a direct presence there for awhile, that’s very significant. It’s a partnership arrangement where all of our boat brands are being represented at that location by us, and in conjunction with Dante Grover and his team.”
Even as the business continues to grow, delighted clients are the top priority. To that end, Strong’s has an in-house position of Client Delight Manager. And natural organic consistent growth stems from three core pieces:
- Home of Super Service and always doing the right thing.
- Doing everything within our power to have delighted team members.
- Doing everything within our power to have delighted clients.
The recession caused a lot of upheaval in the boating industry, but Strong’s Marine is strategically designed to weather that type of storm with significant, balanced revenue streams. Jeff explains, “When you get an economic downturn like we had, new boat sales take it on the chin in the biggest way. But we also do a large amount of used boat sales, and part of that is brokerage. Meaning, we’ll sell boats for other people, including banks. We did a tremendous amount of repossession work for banks during that bad time. So, while we definitely saw a big decrease in new boat sales, we had a huge increase in our used boat business, due to those relationships and opportunities.”
Strong’s also has significant marina revenue streams, that tend not to be as impacted during a downturn. Those include dockage, winter storage, services, and a yacht restoration facility that’s relatively new for the company. It also has many entertainment venues, featuring events such as VIP parties around the pool, the Sound of Summer Concert Series – a great draw for clients around the tri-state area at Strong’s Water Club facility. Jeff acknowledges, “We were fortunate and very proud that we did not have one layoff during that downturn.”
For a successful long-term family business, the need for a succession plan is always present in the minds of owners and principals, and Strong’s Marine is no exception. Jeff Strong immersed himself in all aspects of the trade from a young age, working his way from painting boat bottoms and pumping gas at age eight, to running a small store of his own at 16, selling boats and boat accessories. He now runs Strong’s Marine with Re, his wife of 39 years. The good news is that fourth gen Ryan is proving more than competent to take over the reins. Proud father Jeff says, “My son Ryan is Vice President of our company. He’s 32 years old and just got a great accolade from Boating Industry Magazine, the national publication for our industry. It’s wonderful for all of us.”
To other business owners out there, Jeff has some sage advice: “We consider ourselves a reasonable-sized small business at this point. With consolidation going on, globally, in all kinds of industries, we still believe there is a growing demand for extremely high levels of intimate service wanted by people who have the desire and the financial wherewithal. So, there are significant opportunities for small businesses to thrive if they continue to be nimble, to adjust and adapt. Listen to your team members, listen to your clients. That’s where all our ideas come from. We try to be good listeners, work through the ideas, and prioritize what we think will work best.”
AT A GLANCE
WHO: Strong’s Marine
WHAT: Fourth generation, family-owned boating sales and service business
WHERE: Six locations throughout Long Island, New York