Father and son's secret? Pulling the boat world together
By Dave Anderton
Deseret Morning News
DRAPER — Boat lovers, start your engines.
Father-and-son team Bruno Vassel III and his son Bruno Vassel IV own and run one of the fastest-growing businesses in America called iboats.com.
Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News
With summer fast approaching and reservoirs rising, one father-and-son team is transforming the boating industry, using the Internet to bring together thousands of customers with dealers, wholesalers and manufacturers.
Welcome to iboats.com, perhaps the Internet's largest site for marine equipment and boats.
Bruno Vassel III and his son Bruno Vassel IV started the Draper-based business in 1998, at the height of the dot-com craze.
Seven years later, business is soaring. The company's first full-year revenues were $58,000. In 2005, revenues are in the low eight-figures.
Last fall the MountainWest Capital Network named iboats.com Utah's fastest revenue growth company. It also ranks No. 48 on Inc. magazine's 2004 list of the top 500 fastest-growing privately held companies in North America. The company has over 50 employees and is hiring.
This year sales again appear record-breaking.
"We anticipate growth this year over last year of probably at least an additional $3.5 million," Bruno Vassel III said. "Sales for the first quarter are up some 53 percent over the first quarter of last year."
Their secret? Instead of competing with dealers, iboats.com made friends, by designing Web sites for boat dealers throughout North America and the world, allowing dealers to list new and used boats on their sites.
"Because we get over 1.5 million people a month — that's not hits, that's people — coming to our Web sites, that's a huge amount of traffic," Vassel said. "When these dealers get a Web site from us they sell more boats, so they love us to death."
Jim Prindle, owner of Dam Bait Shop, a small bait-and-tackle shop in Wilmington, Ill., says his new boat sales have doubled since joining iboats.com.
"I have people e-mailing me from all over the United States to buy boats," Prindle said. "Of course, I wouldn't have that otherwise. It's increased our business from people in the Chicago area, people that normally wouldn't come down. It links the whole world together."
Prindle pays iboats.com a monthly fee for his Web site. If someone, for example, is searching for a 12-foot john boat on iboats.com or through an Internet search engine, Prindle's Web site pops up.
In addition to boat sales, the company offers more than 100,000 parts and accessories, partnering with manufacturers and large wholesalers. Customers purchase their products online through iboats.com. The order is then shipped to the customer directly from the manufacturer.
While business is thriving, less than 1 percent of the company's revenues come from Utah customers. Most business comes from the big boating states with a growing segment in international sales.
Vassel estimates that less than 10 percent of the 73 million boaters in the United States know about his Web site.
"That's good news, bad news," Vassel said. "There's a huge continuing opportunity for us."
Vassel said his model has few competitors. His site, he said, is the only one bringing small shops together.
"It has been fragmented as an industry," Vassel said. "Most of them are mom-and-pop shops with five or six people, and that's their living. They just can't compete with the big catalogers or big box stores, and so what we've done is pulled this together."