New boat dealership will feature water taxi service

    Inner Harbor Marine, a new boat dealership with a ship’s store, service department, water taxi operation, concierge service and boat brokerage, will open in Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward on Saturday, Sept. 1. The new business will be located at 601 E. Erie St. in a retail space at the Harbor Front Condominiums.

    The water taxi service, which will start in the spring, will ferry people to bars and restaurants along the Milwaukee River.

    Inner Harbor Marine’s showroom and store will be almost 3,200 square feet, said Aaron Kelly, sales director and a partner in the business.

    The store will carry cleaning supplies, accessories and other necessities for power and sail boats. Inner Harbor will also sell new boats. It will be the first local dealer to sell watercraft by Vision Boat Works, a Florida-based manufacturer of electric and hybrid boats. Service Equity Inc., a Milwaukee-based private equity group, owns an interest in Vision Boat Works.

    “Milwaukee is ready for a change,” Kelly said. “Everybody I’ve talked to agrees with me. I have numerous (Milwaukee) Yacht Club members come up to me every day and say, ‘I can’t wait for your ship store to open.’ And I can’t remember a full-blown ship’s store offering stuff for sale since I’ve been here. And I moved here in 1994.”

    Kelly has worked on several large yachts, marinas and boat dealerships around the country and in the Caribbean over the past 12 years. During that time, he formulated his plan for a marina, dealership, ship’s store and other marine services.

    “I worked a lot of places,” he said. “I wanted to work for as many dealers as I could to find out how they conduct themselves in their marketplace. I kept notes to figure out how I could do things better – to service people and keep people happy, to go the extra mile.”

    Working on and near the water is more than just a vocation, Kelly said.

    “This is a lifestyle for me,” he said. “It’s something I’m passionate about. I love the marinas, the people, the boats and everything that goes along with it.”

    The Milwaukee Yacht Club is using one of the Vision electric boats on a part-time basis to take members to and from their sailboats that are moored in McKinley Marina. Kelly also is in negotiations to open a small satellite ship’s store in the club’s garage, where members could purchase cleaning chemicals and other supplies.

    Inner Harbor Marine will have three employees, including Kelly and a full-time service technician when it opens. Additional workers will be needed next spring, he said.

    “We’ll need at least one full-time sales person,” he said. “They’ll be responsible for Vision Boat Works, brokerage and used boats (taken in on trades).”

    Taxi service

    Several of those workers will be needed for Inner Harbor Marine’s planned water taxi service, Kelly said, scheduled to begin operations next spring.

    “Next month (September), I will be ordering five boats from Vision Boat Works,” he said. “They’ll be exclusively for the water taxi and should be delivered this winter.”

    The water taxis will be hybrid boats that run on electricity and are backed up by an onboard diesel generator. Each will have a capacity of 12 passengers and will feature a small refrigerator, stereo and air conditioning. The boats can be enclosed during hot or cold weather, with air conditioning or heating.

    The taxis will run up and down the Milwaukee River, from Inner Harbor Marine’s headquarters to bars and destinations along the river.

    “The nice thing about our location is that Peter Renner (developer of the Harbor Front Condos) integrated a water taxi area between the two buildings,” Kelly said. “And that’s right in front of my (marina) office. We can capture people walking by, our ship’s store is right there and people might want to buy a boat when they’re here.”

    Inner Harbor Marine plans to have bars and restaurants sponsor the taxis, which will display their logos. The taxis will stop at the sponsoring bars and restaurants. Rip Tide Seafood Bar & Grill, located just south of Inner Harbor, was the first restaurant to commit to sponsor a taxi, Kelly said. 

    Customers will buy a one-day pass for the taxis, Kelly said, allowing them unlimited rides between stops.

    “We’re hoping to run until 2 a.m., pending Coast Guard approval,” he said. “As long as the bars are open, I think we could run.”

    The water taxis will also be available for chartered tours, Kelly said, and Rip Tide will offer catering for the chartered boats.

    Concierge connection

    Inner Harbor Marine will also house Inner Harbor Marine Yacht Management, a concierge service for captains of large yachts traveling to or docked in Milwaukee.

    “We’re a service for the captain to lean on for whatever he needs,” Kelly said. “We’re a one-stop for every big yacht that comes in from out of town.”

    Inner Harbor Marine Yacht Management has already helped several yachts with cleaning, oil changes, supplying and even bringing in a chef.

    “One captain called because he needed a private chef for a full dinner,” Kelly said. “We were able to put the Rip Tide chef onboard for them.”

    Kelly recently hired a manager for a Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.-based division of Inner Harbor Marine Yacht Management, so captains who have used the service in Milwaukee “can still call us there.”

    The concierge service will be offered to recreational boaters next spring.

    “It’s going to be the same service, but we’ll spin it a little different,” Kelly said. “It’s going to be turn-key concierge service. We’ll clean, service and stock your boat at your request.”

    Boaters who are underway, such as sailboats taking part in races on Lake Michigan, will also be able to use the service.

    “We’ll take their stuff by boat and drop it off for them at the starting line,” Kelly said. “That’s the extra mile.”

    Sales alterative

    Kelly is a partner in International Yacht Network (IYN), a Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. based brokerage network that started about four years ago. Inner Harbor Marine uses IYN to sell boats, he said.

    “The easiest way to sell your boat is to find someone who wants to buy your boat,” Kelly said. “We advertise on 72 different industry Web sites. And we have a number of different brokerage vehicles to sell to the demographic that can afford them (the boats).”

    Many other boat brokerage services look for a percentage of the net sale price, Kelly said, but IYN uses a different model.

    “We ask the owner a question – ‘What would you sell your boat for?'” Kelly said. “The owner sets their price. For example, if they tell us they’d sell their boat for $85,000 and we list it and it sells for $100,000, IYN clears $15,000 on the transaction.”

    On the flip side, if the boat only sells for $86,000 or $87,000, IYN will only clear $1,000 or $2,000, Kelly said.

    “No one else in the Great Lakes is doing this,” he said. “They’re doing it in Florida and on the East Coast.”

    The model has also been extended to other dealers who want to liquidate older inventory or models that are slower to sell.

    “They’ll give me the net number or the least amount of money they’ll take on the boat,” Kelly said. “We re-inventory it and put it online on IYN. We also put it in our location with our signs. We’ll work customers, show it and maintain it.”

    Having a rotating stock of used boats coming in and out of Inner Harbor Marine’s boat slips at Harborfront condos will also help the new marina, Kelly said.

    “It looks good for me to have a fluctuating inventory in front of the store,” he said. “(We want to) always have something new and always be taking something away.”

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