South Florida was reeling from the effects of three major hurricanes about the time I first realized something was wrong in the marine industry.
One bewildered captain after another hustled into our offices begging for a slip that would provide safe harbor for their vessels. Some suggested that price gouging had raised its ugly head, but it was apparent to me that “grinding” appeared to be the order of the day.
I will not soon forget my frustration after the fourth or fifth long-time captain judged our facility guilty by association. Throwing his wallet onto my desk before asking if we had any space available, and then opening our conversation by calling us all “a bunch of damned pirates” was upsetting, to say the least.
The captain’s disparaging comments helped me realize that his long-term association with the local yachting community had left him feeling used.
“Fair-weather friends are a dime a dozen around here,” he said. “After spending tens of millions of dollars at numerous facilities over the past decades, who do you think wanted to give me a fair shake in my time of need? Nobody. I’ll point my bow north after this and never come back.”
Whether it is dockage rates, sheets of plywood, medical supplies or donuts, is it possible that our industry may be so short-sighted as to grind our customer base with inflated prices at a time when it seeks our assistance most? If so, then what might that say about the manner in which we operate our businesses? And what might that indicate about our future?
It is clear that in spite of what South Florida has contributed to the worldwide yachting industry explosion, we have no guarantee that our reign will continue. With the diminution of waterfront maritime facilities to condos, those facilities that remain have an increasing responsibility to represent the industry well.
Gouging cuts holes into a solid base, but grinding rips away at its foundation. To those who elected to grind our customer base by charging exorbitant rates at a time when we should have all pulled together to emulate a sense of fair dealing, you should rethink your actions. Not only have you hurt yourselves in pursuit of a short-term gain, but you’ve left an opportunistic image that the rest of us will have to endure.
We dodged a bullet this time as the storms flew past us in every direction, but watch all those captains heading back down river as they shake their heads and vow to take their business elsewhere. Their options are expanding and the noose will continue to close around the marine industry here unless a much-needed change takes place.
Leaders in this industry need to stand up, do the right thing and avoid a short-sighted perspective. There are many customers and there will remain an abundance of business to benefit the entire industry if it is willing to do so. Otherwise, a continuance of short-sighted opportunistic impressions will grind away the delicate foundation that has taken the South Florida marine industry so many decades to build.
Fort Lauderdale Shipyard