Following the recent announcement of the formation of the OneWater Yacht Group (OWYG) by OneWater Marine (OWM), SYT caught up with the Director of the new division, Tom George, to talk about his plans for the venture. OneWater Marine has been on an extensive acquisition schedule, purchasing the Tom George Yacht Group in December, shortly before they acquired the Roscioli Yachting Center in Fort Lauderdale. With many American brokerage firms buying up smaller businesses, it's interesting to hear how OWM are preparing for the future and expanding their already impressive remit. Photo: Forest Johnson / OneWater Marine Could you explain your background in the yachting industry and the foundation of your company, Tom George Yacht Group (TGYG), before its acquisition last year?
I started in 1988 with Gulfwind Marine. Gulfwind was a boat dealership based on the Florida west coast with locations in Tampa Bay, Sarasota, Venice and Fort Myers, primarily selling Sea Ray boats and yachts. In 1998, the company merged with four Sea Ray dealerships across the USA to form MarineMax, and I was one of the founding partners with Chairman Bill McGill before we rolled it up and took it public.
I was at MarineMax for 20 years and became the top selling yacht and brokerage salesman as well as the top Hatteras salesman. Additionally, I was doing several large custom build yachts in the 40 to 50-metre range, with both the Christensen and Westport Shipyards in the Pacific Northwest. In late 2008 and early 2009, MarineMax began pulling their lines in to weather some very turbulent times and they wanted to minimise and get back to selling small boats. I left and went into business on my own to continue my relationship with my loyal database of clients who supported me throughout the years. I contacted my top clients and asked if I started my own firm would they stay with me and support my new venture. Each one stated “Tom we don’t care what hat you wear, as long as you continue to take care of us, we will follow”. This answered my question and I started my own boutique brokerage firm, the Tom George Yacht Group (TGYG) in Dunedin, Florida with my nephew Jimmy Rogers. We did exceptionally well and in 2013/2014 we became a dealer for Cobalt Boats, Edgewater Boats, Hatteras Yachts, Carver and Marquis Yachts, Everglades Boats and Invincible Boats. Within 10 years, we had 35 employees, had grown sales to around $50 million and opened a second store in Clearwater.
I remained in touch with Anthony Aisquith, COO of OWM, as we had worked together previously, and also with a number of the management team, as we watched each other grow. We would connect at boat shows and dealer meetings and OWM and TGYG both started growing exponentially to record sales each year. I admired how OWM was acquiring dealerships and maintaining the name and brand and not destroying the legacy dealerships had created over the years. Companies are built by the people and I felt if I ever sold, I would want the name to live on as well as the employees to remain. So, what was it that finally encouraged you to join OneWater?
Just prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, we had been looking to offer our employees’ health benefits and 401k’s, but had been struggling to offer a competitive benefits package. Additionally, we had been searching for new boat lines as well as new store and marina sites. All of this was becoming very difficult as there were no marinas available and boat lines were being acquired by big houses with very large buying power. When we came out on the other side of the pandemic still running and sales took an unexpected jolt, OWM made an offer I never dreamed I would see that was in the best interest of everyone, with a fantastic package for my employees and allowing me to keep everyone on board and stay at the helm myself. It relieved me of the personal liabilities with banks and allowed me to do what I do best, selling large yachts and helping two local stores continue to grow.
When OWM buys companies, 99% of the time they retain their name and autonomy which was very appealing to me. I had built a phenomenal team and made it a prerequisite that no one be let go ensuring everyone was taken care of with a top shelf benefit package.
I also felt that as the pandemic came to a close, there would be a surge in demand that a smaller company like Tom George Yacht Group might not be able to meet due to a shortage of product. Predicting we would struggle to expand alone in the coming five years when you’re competing with big companies like MarineMax and OneWater, it also made sense to join the larger firm to ensure continuity for our clients and employees. That, combined with the fact I could retain my position and have the freedom to expand OWM, made it a very attractive offer. Shortly after their purchase of TGYG, OneWater bought Roscioli Yachting Center, can you tell me a little more about the motivations behind this partnership?
When OWM offered to buy us, I asked CEO Austin Singleton, what the plans were for servicing the yacht brands, and advised that we would need a high-end yard to service these brands. A month later, he informed me they bought Roscioli Yachting Center (RYC). I was amazed this acquisition happened so quickly as I believe it is one of the best shipyards in Fort Lauderdale. The deal closed 30 days after the TGYG sale closed and we were able to maintain the name, legacy and history of Bob Roscioli which I loved.
Austin said “take it, run with it and make it work” so I am in the process of building up RYC with OneWater Yacht Group, formerly Grande Yachts. We have rebranded Grande Yachts who have been selling Sunseeker, Absolute, Riviera and Belize Yachts under the direction of Bryan Braley, and already have a sales facility in the shipyard with covered slips for all the yachts. It makes us unique to have such a large array of offered services and such a high standard of service available. We can haul up to a 150’ Tri-deck, paint a yacht from bow to stern and do just about any first-class refit with our own employees. I know of no other organisation in the USA that offers this with a full-fledged shipyard at their disposal for taking care of their clients 24/7, 365 days a year.
As a sales advantage, our yacht brokerage team can now schedule haul outs, surveys and requested punch list work to get our new clients up and running sooner in lieu of long yard waits. All our RYC and OWYG clients will have priority for service work and/or storage, including hurricane planning. Finally, looking at the OneWater Yacht Group website, it is clear that they have taken your structure and branding from Tom George Yacht Group, how does this work?
When we were purchased, OWM wanted to retain the Tom George Yacht Group name for the new yachting centre of the company and the rebranding of the Grande Yachts name. I believe it is vital to have the OneWater name out there for this division of the business, showing strength, size and growth over time. I felt it was time for the world to recognise who One Water Marine is and making a statement of using the new name was exciting. The Tom George name will remain on my two original stores in Clearwater and Dunedin and that legacy will live on.
We have used the compass rose from TGYG’s branding, which shows our clients we are pointing them in the right direction, and it is a clear sign we have retained our ethos. I want that same direction to pinpoint the compass rose for OWYG and we're going to guide our clients, now with Roscioli by our side, offering a full range of services for all of their needs and giving our clients a new experience. It’s really fun continuing to work with my old team as well as the entirely new team at OWYG and OWM. It’s amazing the growth we have experienced in just a short period of time and there are so many more opportunities and partnerships coming down the water way. Life is good! Photo: OneWater Marine