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At West Marine, it’s always been about the boat, but now boaters are getting their due.
The retail chain, founded in 1968 by Randy Repass as a nylon rope retailer called West Coast Ropes, made its name as a one-stop shopping destination for all things boat-related.
“For years, we’ve been The Home Depot of boats, if you will,” said Peter Jelinek, West Marine’s DMM (at left, above).
But three years ago, the Watsonville, Calif.-based retailer decided to change things up. A focus on boating hardware shifted to include what Jelinek describes as “for the boater” apparel, accessories and footwear.
“One of our strategies has been to complete our customer’s shopping experience by being just as strong in ‘for the boater’ as we are in ‘for the boat.’ And the footwear is obviously a big part of that,” he said.
West Marine declined to give exact sales figures for footwear (the company went public in 1993), but Joseph Sun, associate VP of planning, said that to date in 2010, the retailer has seen double-digit increases in the category, on top of what he characterized as a “very good year” in 2009. (According to a company statement, second-quarter income before taxes was $36 million, a 12 percent increase from a year ago.)
The retailer’s focus on the boater is reflected in the stores.
“If there was a choice that needed to be made between footwear and hardware categories, in the past, we’ve typically picked the hardware categories,” Jelinek said. “Now we’re looking for a balance.”
Making space for footwear has been made easier by West Marine’s three-year-old flagship store program, which focuses on larger floorplans. At 25,000-to-30,000 square feet — as opposed to the previous 8,000-to-12,000 square feet — Jelinek said the new stores allow for expansion into footwear and apparel, as well as area-specific interests, such as fishing and water sports.
“Over the next few years, you will see us open between three and five of these big-format stores every year,” Jelinek said, noting that the shops have been designed by Columbus, Ohio-based firm Chute Gerdeman.