Local boating business boom during the pandemic

Business

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Not every story coming out of the coronavirus pandemic ends with sinking sales or business closures. Take the boating industry, for example. The National Marine Manufacturer’s Association shows record-breaking sales for powerboats, and a local boat club owner says this has actually been his best year yet.

“Well when the pandemic started, listening to the governor’s orders, we really thought we were going to go out of business,” said Andy Sutter, who owns Freedom Boat Club in Portsmouth and Norfolk.

In March, Sutter did what most businesses did, he basically shut down services as COVID-19 numbers grew. He eventually only had 90 days of money left to pay employees.

“Then I applied for the [Paycheck Protection Program] and that came in. So that was a big benefit because we were still making boat payments, and still making insurance payments, and I was putting personal money into the club.”

A short time later, this U.S. Navy Veteran was also approved for the small business loan.

“When I got it, I laid down next to my desk and in the office there, so you’ve been there, I laid down and I was like ‘Oh my God! We’re actually going to make it.'”

Sutter hired an ICU nurse who knows CDC cleaning guidelines to help with training to clean his boats. In April he sold some boat club memberships.

Then, a boom.

“When May came and everybody had been cooped up for eight weeks, they were like, ‘Oh wait. We can go boating? We can socially distance on a boat?’

They can and they did. Freedom Boat Club went from 48 members at the beginning of the year to 173 members. 29 of those memberships came in May alone.

“I had gotten to the point this summer where I had 17 boats and then, on a Wednesday, all 17 of my boats were actually all out on the water. We had to hire more people. I had to hire another Navy veteran,” said Sutter who makes it a point to hire veterans.

Sutter says he believes the pandemic really made people focus on what matters most, spending quality time with family.

“Now they get to enjoy something like water sports that may have interested them in the past, but they never really took the steps to do it.”

Sutter says he knows other local business are not as fortunate right now, so he is doing what he can to help them as well.

To learn more about Freedom Boat Club of Hampton Roads, click here.


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