As the CEO of Safe Harbor Marinas, Baxter Underwood oversees the largest network of marinas in the world. The properties cater to boaters with all sizes and shapes of craft, including megayachts. Due to some recent high-profile acquisitions like Lauderdale Marine Center, we spoke with Underwood, to learn more particularly about the plans for the properties, and how Safe Harbor Marinas is striving to up the ante on hospitality.
MegayachtNews.com: What attracted you to Lauderdale Marine Center?
Baxter Underwood: The first time I learned of it was 2005 or 2006. The owner ran it wonderfully, but in the era after he sold it to the Carlyle Group, it went to another level financially and with a new team to operate it—a higher level of excellence. It established a reputation of doing the right thing, service and amenities—hospitality and great boat service. We noticed that and were intrigued by that. We probably wouldn’t have moved on its acquisition if we hadn’t acquired Rybovich.
MegayachtNews.com: Since you acquired Rybovich a few months ago, some people might see it and Lauderdale Marine Center being the same. What does one offer that the other doesn’t?
Baxter Underwood: Space is a very important component to service. Lauderdale Marine Center’s 60 acres make it quite a large facility. The differences in their models are primarily the way things get done. In the marine industry, there’s no one size fits all. Captains and owners like to be in different places for different reasons. Similarly with the service required, you have captains, crews, owners, and even shipbuilders drawn to different types of service. Rybovich (below) has taken a consolidated approach to service. It manages start to finish in house. Lauderdale Marine Center takes a different approach—hundreds of contractors, excellent painters, excellent electricians, and more. For the captain or owner who wants to take that helm and control the different trades, Lauderdale Marine Center is the best at that. We wanted to offer both.
MegayachtNews.com: Do you plan infrastructure or expansion investments?
Baxter Underwood: A couple of years ago, we had already invested in a property on the New River with 31 slips—incredible timing. We’re in a great position to bring these sides of the New River together. I can’t say what we’ll do yet, because we’re still in the discovery phase. But the one thing that was clear is that these 31 slips offer more to customers.
MegayachtNews.com: Travel passes and membership clubs often unite properties as customer benefits. Do you have anything like these in the works for your East Coast holdings like Lauderdale Marine Center, Rybovich, and Newport Shipyard?
Baxter Underwood: The history of Safe Harbor Marinas has been doing that for boaters more generally. Those facilities cater to very large vessels. The evolution of the business has been investing in the amenities and providing better experiences at a lower cost. When we began investing, there was no network. It’s interesting to look at the Relais & Chateaux model, where the chateaux are all different, and the customers would all see each other as they moved around. It was a social experience. We see that same opportunity for boaters, to move through their journey and link up, to unlock more locations at a better cost of fuel and a better experience. (Editor’s note: Relais & Chateaux is an association of individually owned and operated luxury hotels and restaurants that recently began offering villas and private homes, too.)
MegayachtNews.com: Marinas have undergone dramatic image changes, from being considered glorified parking lots to destinations unto themselves. More companies understand especially that the crews can and should enjoy themselves, too.
Baxter Underwood: We focus on crews the same way we focus on the captains, the owners, or anyone else. They’re seeing new people and places. We have the opportunity to show them Palm Beach, or Fort Lauderdale, or Newport. If we can be that entry point in their experience, focus on making this especially better, we’ve taken the parking-lot analogy and made it more a hospitality analogy.
Safe Harbor Marinas shmarinas.com