Home ShopTalk Modernizing the Ancient Mariner

Modernizing the Ancient Mariner

Boat building is the world’s oldest profession, dating back to ancient times and such cutting edge projects as Noah’s ark. What happens when you combine this time-honored tradition with the tech nouveau of electronic commerce? You might expect a titanic clash of cultures. And to a certain extent that’s been true. Marine parts provisioners and chandleries were not among the first to tie their lines to the Internet’s mast even though marine parts can be exceedingly difficult to find in local markets. Among those to finally cast off and brave the Internet’s waters is Go2marine, a firm located just a few nautical miles from downtown Seattle.

Situated in a harborside suite of second story offices, just above the tallest mast sails of the cruisers and yachts at Eagle Harbor Marina on Bainbridge Island, Wa., Go2marine.com has successfully launched a business that merchandises more than 50,000 pieces of marine gear, from engine parts to foulweather gear, and from anchors to sophisticated navigational systems. What truly sets Go2marine apart from others is the depth of hard-to-find parts they offer, some custom made.

Far from the early mover advantage, Go2marine was a latecomer, able to steer around the marker buoys left by other dot-commers who had plied the same technical and marketing channels. It has taken a fisherman’s patience and perseverance to pay off. Both of those qualities can be found in the friendly demeanor of Chief Executive Officer Hal Cook with whom we sat down for a lesson in how one company has charted around the tradewinds. This captain knows what it takes to get boats back on the water and that very often the parts cannot be found from the mainstream suppliers.

Seattle24x7: Hal, Go2marine got started at a time when many online businesses were on the wane. You were sailing in a sea that had lost its wind. How were you able to get started?
Hal Cook: When we started looking at this business, we were not looking at Internet trends. We were looking at the reality of our marketplace. The marine industry is incredibly fragmented. There are many different types of boats and products, scattered literally around the world. And yet all that means nothing to somebody who owns a boat in one corner of the world and can’t find the products he or she needs to go boating again, whether it’s fishing or using the boat for recreational purposes.

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Seattle24x7: What has fractionalized the industry?
Hal Cook: A lot of it is simply the nature of the beast. It tends to have evolved from a cottage type of industry with niche markets. The fact is that not every store in every port can carry all of that inventory because their local market isn’t large enough to support all of the products, and so you have people wanting things that come from all over the map, parts and products they can’t get at the local chandlery.

Seattle24x7: What gives you the confidence that you can go up against the big guys?
Hal Cook: They all have existing stores that determine what they carry– things that will move quickly in their local market. We don’t have that problem. Instead, our challenge is to spend our resources and energies on things that people can’t necessarily buy at their local store, especially those-hard-to find parts (naturally, we carry the other things too). By networking with our supplier partners, we can quickly offer the customer a great choice of parts and products to purchase. Furthermore, through our internet catalog, our customers are not limited by time of day, store location or lack of product information.

Seattle24x7: How are you inventorying the product?
Hal Cook: We have strategically partnered with a key group of suppliers internationally that use our electronic infrastructure to fulfill orders. For most orders, the appropriate warehouse or supplier partner is notified electronically the instant a customer places an order. Some orders also require follow up by phone, but usually orders are seamlessly transmitted by our behind the scenes “Extranet” that provides the order details and shipping information.

Through this proprietary back-end software that we have painstakingly developed over two years and at great expense, we post the order just for that warehouse to ship. We’ve already coded in ahead of time all of the product information. The customer sees the product on the Go2marine web site and they click on the buy box. Behind the scenes it’s instantly routed to the warehouse that has the inventory.

Seattle24x7: How many products do you have in your catalog? Do you do custom work?
Hal Cook: We have about 30,0000 SKU’s online right now, and another 20,000 in the cue to go online. We have certified engine mechanics and experienced engineers on staff, and so a part that you might need for a Mercury engine, OMC, Volvo, Perkins, etc., we can identify it and get it to you. You can also order a shaft made specifically for the requirements of your boat. Just give us your shaft dimensions and transmission model and we can quote to you a new shaft. You should see how fast these shafts are machined. They are very economical. .
You can’t go to a local marine store and get that kind of stuff. It’s taken a lot of computer work behind the scenes, a lot of data entry, a lot of pictures and diagrams, a lot of moving parts that people don’t see, all of which have to work seamlessly together correctly. That’s a difficult thing to do.

Seattle24x7: What drives your marketing?
Hal Cook: The marine market is not a commodity kind of thing that is so heavily shopped that you have to play a lot of games with pricing. What we’ve done is said, “What is the most economical way to service this industry for the recreational and the professional boater and how do you deliver information to them twenty-four hours a day and how do you let them order twenty-four hours a day?” The answer is great partners and suppliers, and putting the complete catalog on the Internet. Of course, it takes a great expense to really get it to work right. We’ve borne that expense and that effort and that energy to get all of the pistons firing in the right order.

Seattle24x7: Are your attracting customers from overseas?
Hal Cook: We just had on order from New Zealand, we get orders from Indonesia and Thailand, the United Kingdom, Spain, and closer to home, Puerto Rico, Bermuda, Guam, and Samoa.

Seattle24x7: Tell us about your own background?
Hal Cook: I spent 25 years in the commercial fishing industry, probably 40 years in the recreational world, ever since I was a little kid, building boats and sailing boats. I’ve always been putting boats back together again and looking for the parts to do it.

Seattle24x7: What’s been your biggest surprise in getting on the Net?
Hal Cook: If there’s any surprise I guess it’s the amount of work, although we knew it would a tough job, and it has been. But we’re real pleased with what we’ve come up with. We’ve just had to pay attention to every little detail. I think that’s probably the biggest undoing of projects like this, a lot of people are not willing to pay the price to get all the details straight. It is obvious to us that this is the most efficient way to get people the right parts.

I’m also amazed at the number of people who are using the Internet and the number of people that have two phone lines. You expect that for offices but we are constantly having people calling us from their homes and talking to us on one line and surfing the Web on the other.

Seattle24x7: Congratulations on your success, Hal. Here’s to smooth sailing ahead.

Go2marine can be found at http://www.go2marine.com

Larry Sivitz is the Managing Editor of Seattle24x7.