Singleton Marine Group History From Mom and Pop to the National, Award-Winning Singleton Marine Group
Growing up in the late 70’s and early 80’s, I remember spending two or three fun-filled weekends every year on Lake Martin (in east central Alabama) with my aunt and uncle. I never envisioned that Lake Martin would be where I ended up on a daily basis or as the headquarters location of my future company. It all started in the mid 80’s when my dad, Philip Singleton, was managing road construction and development around the Lake Martin resort area. We spent the summer at the lake and loved water sports and boating activity. It seemed that we had a new boat every other month! In 1988, my dad purchased an old trailer park and gas station on Highway 49 on the far southeastern side of the lake. He decided to get into the marina business for the simple fact that it had to be quicker, cheaper and easier for him to trade in his boat than to wait on repairs for his existing boat. To him, getting into the marina business presented a great opportunity. Such was the beginning of what is now Singleton Marine Group, encompassing seven locations in three states.
Construction on our first facility, Blue Creek Marina, was complete in 1989 with the existing ship store, 100-unit stack storage capacity, a small two-bay shop and boat sales. In the beginning, we handled Dynasty, Riviera Cruiser, Regal, Crownline, Mako, Suncruiser, Lakescraft, and Harris Flotebote. The Harris Flotebote line of pontoons has always been the anchor line for the business, and we were the Top New Dealer in 1992. Within five years we were the largest Harris Flotebote dealer in the nation and have continued to be a Top Five dealer ever since.
In the winter of 1993, I came aboard full-time to take over the service department at the request of my dad. Service has always and will always be the reason we got started, as well as the reason we are still in business. The big changes started in 1996 with the opening of our second location, Parker Creek Marina, which is located on the far northwest side of Lake Martin. The acquisition of this site allowed us to better service our customers on the far end of the lake and enhanced their service experience. Parker Creek Marina was an existing marina that had not been maintained and was dilapidated. We opened Parker Creek Marina in the winter of 1996 with a new 2,000 plus square foot ship store with new gas docks and a new 184-unit capacity dry stack storage with 1,500 square feet dedicated to parts and service. That same year, we broke ground at Blue Creek Marina on a new 9,000 square foot parts and service facility and a new addition to the stack storage building. Also in 1996 we had the honor of adding Cobalt Boats to our new boat sales line-up, which was to have the biggest impact on the growth and expansion of our business. The addition of Cobalt Boats boosted us into the niche market we had been seeking. To complement this line- up, we added Chaparral Boats in 1998.
In 1999, we started construction on a new 10,000 square foot showroom at Blue Creek Marina, which has allowed us to display up to 23 boats in a controlled, air-conditioned, state-of-the-art environment. It also allowed us an additional 10 offices and much needed storage space. I recall telling my dad that there was no way we would fill all the offices we were adding. I’ll be the first to admit I was wrong!
In 2001, we approached the existing Cobalt dealer in Atlanta about a possible buy-out and things worked out positively. We began operating in the Atlanta market as Cobalt Boats of Atlanta in 2001 with no store. We purchased property on the well traveled Holiday Road artery that leads to Lake Lanier, and started the task of building. We planned to open in the winter of 2002, but we discovered things move a little slower in terms of approvals, as it took a painstaking 8 months just to get the required permits to build. Once they were secured, however, it took less than 60 days to complete the construction. In the meantime, we had partnered up with the Tews family at Hartwell Marina on Lake Hartwell and opened a sales location at their marina. This partnership is still going strong and the Hartwell Marina sales location is outstanding. We took part in our first Atlanta Boat Show in the winter of 2001 in a 10 x 10 booth, situated next to a man selling steaks. Surprisingly, the number of prospects that searched us out was astonishing! We were off and running! It took less than four years for the store to become the fourth largest dealer of Cobalt Boats in the world. Harris Flotebote was added to the line-up at Cobalt Boats of Atlanta in late 2004. This gave us both the top lake runabout and top pontoon boat to offer to our discriminating customers. We have found over the years that Cobalt boats and Harris Flotebote attract similar customers, with some notable crossover. In some instances, our customers have been fortunate enough to own both simultaneously. And our booth space at the Atlanta Show has continued to expand ¿ in 2006, we won the award for top exhibit in the whole show, which was much larger than that original 10 x 10!
At this point, we were operating Blue Creek Marina, Parker Creek Marina, Cobalt Boats of Atlanta, and the sales location at Hartwell Marina. We started to study the demographics and the business model for each location in order to analyze expansion opportunities. We had successfully developed targeted niche markets of affluent boaters, but we felt there was additional opportunity we were missing. We determined that our affinity and focus on the lake market would be ideal for a top-of-the-line tournament ski or wakeboard boat, so we began researching other Southeastern markets that lacked dealer representation for the lines we carried. We had sold several Cobalt Boats from Cobalt Boats of Atlanta on the south end of Lake Keowee (just northwest of Greenville, South Carolina). With major development just getting started in the area, we realized the potential future opportunity for a dealership at the north end of Lake Keowee. A piece of property became available on Highway 11 just south of the Cliffs Falls North gate, a high end resort and booming second home destination. This was the start of Keowee North Marine. We began doing business in the spring of 2005 and worked out of the Cliffs Marina that summer in order to better understand and study the lay of the land. After five months of work to secure building permits, we opened our new store, Keowee North Marine, in April, 2006. Meanwhile, back in Alabama, the spring of 2005 presented another great opportunity. A good friend, Lee Moore, who owned the Ski Club in Montgomery, Alabama, approached me. He wanted to move on to other things and was considering selling his business. The Ski Club’s signature boat line was Nautiques by Correct Craft, and this opened the door for that top-of-the-line ski boat we had been considering. Correct Craft was just what we needed to complete our sales line-up. We operated the store in Montgomery for the rest of 2005 and moved all stock and business to Blue Creek Marina that winter. Just in time for the 2006 model year change in July of 2005, we were able to secure the Nautique/Correct Craft brand for sale at Cobalt Boats of Atlanta and Keowee North Marine. We’ve already hosted some great special events featuring the ski and wakeboard boat line that have sold out to capacity crowds, so there is no doubt that this move was the right one for our model mix. As we were putting the final touches on our Keowee North Marine store in South Carolina, another great opportunity came knocking. The Harris Flotebote line became available on Lake Oconee just southeast of Atlanta. Since that area fell under our Cobalt Boats selling territory, we dashed off to Lake Oconee looking for a location. We approached and made an offer to the owner of 44 Marine. After working through the details, we took over the operations of 44 Marine in February 2006 and have since changed the name to Plantation Marine.
While hard to believe that this has all happened, it would never have come into fruition if all of the pieces had not fallen into place as they did. This wild ride has resulted in what is now Singleton Marine Group, the parent company of seven dealership locations in three Southeastern states. To top off our banner year, in November 2006, we were named #3 Dealer in the Nation by Boating Industry Magazine in their annual Top 100 Dealership rankings! In closing, I would first like to extend a special thank you to my parents and family who have made this all possible. The extraordinary staff of what is now Singleton Marine Group has been exceptional and professional and I have depended on them every step of the way. None of this could have been possible without their loyalty and commitment to customer service, and for that I would like to say “thank you!” In addition, I’d like to extend special thanks and appreciation to all of our manufacturers for their great products and their support. We are proud to represent your boat models and our team takes exceptional pride in the brands that we market and sell. Finally, I’d especially like to extend my sincere appreciation to all of our customers over the years at our various dealership locations for their patronage and support. We wouldn’t be where we are without YOU and we are grateful for the opportunity to be of service to you. We look forward to continuing to meet and to exceed your boating needs for many years to come. Austin Singleton President Singleton Marine Group January 2006