SailTime is the world’s largest boat membership company with 35 locations worldwide. With SailTime, members can boat all season long on a new model yacht for a simple low monthly fee.
We recently interviewed Douglyss Giuliana, owner of SailTime Boston, about this franchise opportunity. Giulana shared with us how much he spent getting his franchise up and running, what a typical day looks like for him, and lastly, what advice he has for potential franchisees.
How long have you owned a franchise?
What were you doing before becoming a franchise owner?
I worked in the software industry for about 14 years, mostly with small start-ups. At the time I stumbled upon SailTime I was also getting my MBA at Babson College.
Why did you choose your franchise?
Honestly, my motivation at the time was simple and two-fold. Find a way to own a sailboat that paid for itself. And put my MBA to the test in a business of my own.
What were some of the challenges you faced when starting your franchise?
There were four successful sailing clubs very close to my location, so competition was fierce. The larger clubs had long histories and hundreds of members. However, they were going after the same audience, and they left a significant market underserved. That provided a great opening for SailTime Boston, as long as I could provide the appropriate service. Luckily, being part of a franchise gave me the ability to get up to speed quickly, and to offer a level of service far beyond that of the clubs, even at my small size. The hardest challenge remained getting my marketing message to the right audience and building name recognition.
Where did you research or get advice about starting a franchise?
I spoke to classmates and professors at Babson to get an understanding of the legal issues with being a franchisee and also comparing starting a business on my own versus being a franchisee.
How much did you spend before your doors were officially opened?
About $15,000, which included the down payment on the first boat in our fleet.
What does a typical day look like for you?
A typical day changes depending on the part of the year. However, the majority of time is spent on answering inquiries from prospects (sales) and serving current members (service). Sales tasks could involve replying to emails, sending out contracts or meeting prospects at the marina. Service duties include respond to member issues and requests via phone or email. I also spend time each week inspecting the fleet and performing some boat cleaning, maintenance and safety checks. I may also direct some service partners in cleaning and maintenance duties as well, so I can get back to selling.
What is your secret to success?
Well first, I would say I am on the road to success, but not yet where I hope the business will be. So far, we have grown because of a dedication to two things — quality of service and honesty in sales. With so much strong competition around us, we can only succeed by providing superior service all around. That means better boats, better scheduling and better maintenance. And being very responsive to members. In sales, it is important to me that we are only selling to those prospects that will get a great value from what we offer. It doesn’t help to make a sale to someone that later finds out our program isn’t a good fit for them and then have them leave unsatisfied. We are honest about the strengths and weaknesses of our program so we can attract those members that truly benefit from our offering and come back year after year.
What would you do differently if you had to do it all over?
The biggest mistake I made early on was setting my pricing too low. I didn’t value my product enough against the competition. It has been difficult to slowly raise my prices to appropriate levels while not upsetting my existing client base.
Where do you see your business in five years?
I expect that we will double our size in the next five years. Interest from owners in adding boats to our fleet is exploding and expanding into new brands and models. That will also attract new members. Our biggest challenges will be finding marina space to accommodate all of the new vessels and expanding our staff to continue our rigorous service and maintenance program.
What is one trend that really excites you?
The recent move to collaborative consumption — or the sharing economy — is very positive for my business. Services like Zipcar, Airbnb and Rent the Runway allow consumers to get the benefits of an asset without having to own, store and care for it. They can still enjoy the experiences they seek, like a beautiful sunset sail against the Boston skyline, without the hassles of cleaning and maintaining the boat. And of course, without the high cost.
What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?
Todoist: This is an excellent and easy to do tool. I can quickly enter new items as they come up, schedule them and get reminded every morning of what I need to complete. I can use it on my phone or on the web, so I am never out of touch with it.
IFTTT: This service (If This Then That) allows me to create automated actions that makes me more productive and prevents me from forgetting things. For example, it will add events on my Google Calendar to my Todoist list so I don’t forget to prepare for them. If I am in the car and think of something important to do, I can call IFTTT and it will email me the message so I can take care of it when I am back at my computer. I like any tool that saves me work and lets me focus on the important stuff.
Amazon.com: The two things I love most about Amazon is the incredible breadth of products they offer and free 2-day delivery as a Prime member. I can put a boat bilge pump, the latest business book, and a new running watch in my cart and have it two days later. That saves me time and money.
What advice do you have for others looking to own a franchise?
There are great many benefits to owning a franchise that ultimately result in two important benefits — faster start-up and decreased risk. However, the success and growth of the franchisor, which is critical to franchisee success, lies with the people at the helm. It is vital to get to know these people and understand their strengths, weaknesses and motivations. You are hitching your wagon to theirs, so belief in them in crucial.
Would you recommend others be franchisees? Why?
The strength of being a franchisee lies in not having to invent everything yourself. This decreases your costs, time to launch and risk. In any business that requires expensive investments, whether it be in technology, infrastructure or marketing, being a franchisee is clearly beneficial and should be strongly considered.