By Jim “Chiefy” Mathie | New Pelican Writer
The downtown Fort Lauderdale skyline has a new nautical icon. West Marine has moved its headquarters from Santa Cruz, Calif. to 1 East Broward Blvd. Its sign is located on the large glass building at the northeast corner of Andrews Avenue. Initially, it will occupy three floors and 50,000 square feet with plans for expansion if necessary.
West Marine is an international company with over 250 retail stores and an e-commerce website that has become “the leading retailer of boating, fishing, sailing and paddling equipment”.
Started in founder and president Randy Repass’s garage in Sunnyvale, California, the focus was on ropes and sailing.
The first West Coast Ropes store opened in Palo Alto in 1975. Repass continued to expand the business by adding basic boat supplies.
“We were, and continue to be, a company of boaters helping other boaters. From salespeople to senior management, our associates know our customers’ navigational needs intimately,” says Repass.
Marketing director Lorene Frank said the move to Fort Lauderdale was done to meet consumer needs. Consumer trends have changed, especially during the pandemic, and the company is following the need to serve its customers, she said.
This clientele is increasingly young and now includes more women active in boating, fishing and water sports.
“Our move to Fort Lauderdale means we can better serve the sailing and boating communities. We want to be where boaters are, not only to support the existing community, but to welcome newcomers to the industry,” West Marine CEO Eric Kufel said in a press release. The economic impact will be the creation of 225 jobs, according to the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance.
Florida has been on the company’s radar for some time. In 2011, he built the nation’s largest boating store at State Road 84 and Andrews Avenue. This 55,000 square foot facility offers an extensive line of nautical products as well as a wide selection of apparel.
Consumers responded favorably to the larger store, and West Marine now has three other flagship locations in the state: St. Petersburg, Key Largo and West Palm Beach. In Broward, West Marine locations include Pompano Beach and Deerfield Beach.
Along with the increased corporate presence, several other initiatives will help South Florida boaters.
The company has a strong boating safety education component normally promoted in May. During the traditional start of summer, West Marine distributes safety tips for new boaters as well as comprehensive how-to information for many of their products.
There’s even a West Marine Pro section dedicated to wholesale pricing for businesses in the marine industry. This is to support the local maritime economy and is specific to the region. The idea behind the pro division is “to help the boater,” Frank says.
Another initiative she is passionate about is the West Marine Foundation, BlueFuture, dedicated to recreation and educating young people about aquatic life by promoting healthy and vibrant marine habitats and sustainable fishing. Once a year, grants are awarded to outstanding community-based nonprofit organizations that connect future generations to water through youth recreational and educational initiatives.
With Fort Lauderdale dubbed “America’s Venice,” it seems West Marine’s move has landed another “mega-yacht” on the waterways.