By Lucy Chabot Reed
Fort Lauderdale-based Lewis Marine Supply, a 62-year-old chandlery, hosted an open house on Thursday to welcome back old clients. With new owners and operators since early March, the store and warehouse now has a new look and feel.
“This is just a visual representation of what we’re doing, upgrading and updating the business, the logo, the shop,” said Chelsea Beyer, new president of Lewis Marine. “We have been spending the past weeks getting back in stock and back in business to get our existing customer base back.”
Lewis’ core customer base of builders and repair service providers remains a key focus, but she was quick to add that the company is not strictly wholesale. To that end, the entry/lobby area has been reconfigured to offer quick access for will-call clients, some retail items for impulse buys, and two counters of computers and chairs for searching the company’s catalog and ordering parts.
While parts are picked from the restocked warehouse, customers can wait in the new lounge, complete with television, coffee machine and comfortable seating.
And there is a new client she hopes to attract — boat captains — who are not a retail consumer but not wholesale either. Lewis Marine was acquired by private equity investor Brooks Smith, a Fort Lauderdale resident and avid tournament angler who owns a fleet of sportfishing boats and employs several professional captains and crew.
“There’s a need in that marketplace of fishing boats and mid-size yachts,” Beyer said. “They’re not getting the same service as the big boats get with the established provisioning companies in town.”
It was important for Beyer to dispel the rumor that Lewis Marine Supply had fallen into bankruptcy.
“The business itself was never in bankruptcy,” she said. “There were two businesses here: Lewis Marine Supply and the entity that held the land.” The latter was in bankruptcy for about a month, she said. Smith now owns both Lewis Marine and the property.
All the satellite Lewis Marine stores were closed prior to the ownership change, but six company trucks run 16 routes around South Florida to deliver parts. Two more trucks are on order, Beyer said, and they are considering adding more.
“This is it — Fort Lauderdale — this is where it all is for the boating industry,” she said.
Improvements are continuing for Beyer and her staff of 35 employees, who have an average tenure of more than 20 years with Lewis Marine.
“There’s a lot of legacy stuff that hasn’t been updated in a long time,” she said, noting computer hardware, software and warehouse management systems are all planned. And the company’s website will eventually handle a sophisticated e-commerce platform, ideally in time for the fall season.
Most recently from Minnesota, Beyer is used to being in management and leadership positions in industries that don’t typically have many women at the top. She had top sales and management positions with fuel company ConocoPhillips and specialty chemicals companies Ecolab and Zep.
“This is a great opportunity to introduce a different look to the industry,” she said. “I get to learn so much of history by bringing in a different perspective.”
Lucy Chabot Reed is publisher of The Triton. Comments are welcome below.