Draper duo brings together aspects of water sports online
As published in the Deseret News.
By Lois M. Collins, Deseret News staff writer
Bruno Vassel III and his son, Bruno Vassel IV, always loved boating, water skiing, fishing, diving and sailing. So it wasn't surprising that when they joined forces to start a business, they turned to a field they knew well.
What has been surprising, particularly considering the difficult time that many dot-com companies have had, is how well their Draper-based operation, iboats.com, has done as an Internet-only business. The most successful dot-coms have generally proven to be those backed by traditional bricks-and-mortar businesses. The Vassel business operates solely in cyberspace.
They've brought aspects of boating and water sports together online, providing the Web tools that boating manufacturers, dealers, engine rebuilders and consumers need to find each other. The marine industry is huge, estimated at about $36 billion a year, according to the elder Vassel.
For dealers, they build, maintain and host professional-caliber Web sites, whether for a small or large operation. That helps level the playing field for mom-and-pop organizations that have had trouble competing with the biggest companies. Instead of investing thousands in technology, they hire iboats.com to create, host and maintain their Web sites, as well as process sales transactions if desired.
Engine repairs are a fact of life for boat owners. Eventually, something breaks or they run aground. In the past, people have had a hard time finding replacement rebuilt motors at a decent price, and the guys who rebuild them have had to wait until someone happened along looking for a particular year and model to buy, Vassel III said. There are more than 8.7 million used outboard motors out there. Somewhere. Finding the right one can be a costly business.
So the father-son team went looking for rebuilders, anywhere in the world, and promised to help them sell their rebuilt parts for a share of the sale price. Sometimes that means pairing a rebuilder in Oregon with a boater in Japan. They are happy to do it.
They also offer a Marine MegaMall, where the dealers whose Web pages they host can offer boating accessories, parts and equipment for sale. The store is prestocked by iboats.com, which has made deals with distributors willing to drop-ship merchandise directly to the consumer, cutting down on time and middlemen. Iboats.com processes the secure credit card transactions, as well as maintains some of its own inventory. The boat dealers also can add their own inventory and set their own prices if they'd like. How hands-on they are is a matter of choice.
But the big selling point for iboats.com is the amount of traffic it can deliver to Web sites, helped by the fact that they've secured many watercraft-related domain names, not to sell or cybersquat, but to develop and use. They own more than 450 domain names, from BoatRetailers.com to Boatmotors.com, TackleShops.com and iSailing.com. Each one has real content, including links to other pages and the company's customers. They've surpassed the 1 million mark for unique visitors each month, and the number has been growing at a rate of more than 35 percent a month, Vassel III said.
Iboats.com also provides thousands of links to all aspects of boating. "When someone finds us, they can find anything they need," said Vassel IV.
That means everything from reports on weather and tides to a specific rebuilt motor, his father said.
Because they want to be "the" place to go for marina-related information and services, they feature not only their clients, but others as well.
They've been successful in part because they've eschewed the traditional Internet business model. They've gone after the trade organizations, partnering with them to offer discounts and services. And they've managed to attract the biggest trade associations, according to Ben Rowell, who joined iboats.com from the marina industry and oversees those association partnerships.
The privately held company, which has 20 employees, is "approaching profitability," according to chief financial officer Gordon Peterson, who said that "instead of a land grab, where you go deep, wide and big and hope to make it up (the costs) in volume," they've focused on being partners, not competitors with dealers.
"We didn't get a lot of funding, so we grew like a normal business. We've focused on fundamentals," Peterson said.
Copyright 2001, Deseret News Publishing Co.