With surprisingly little fanfare, the newest of California-based West Marine's 20 full-service marine stores opened in Annapolis last Thursday.
The large, well-stocked store occupies part of the former Safeway store at 111 Hillsmere Drive, in the Bay Ridge Plaza across from Quiet Waters Park.
West Marine, known to East Coast sailboaters and powerboaters primarily through its extensive and widely circulated catalog, has 18 outlets on the West Coast, spread from San Diego at the southern end ofCalifornia, to Anacortes, Wash., in the San Juan Islands just south of Vancouver.
Its first East Coast opening was in Miami, Fla., in November, and a third East Coast store will open on Long Island at the end of February.
"West Marine has been a major player on the West Coast for a number of years," said East Coast District Manager David Johnson. "We want to be the No. 1 choice for boaters here, too."
Although the region around Annapolis already has a number of excellent marine retail outlets, Johnson said he believes West Marine can provide a good new alternative.
"All of the local competitors are doing a good job here," he said, "but we feel we can offer a new level.The size of the company offers some inherent benefits to that. The obvious ones are that with a large operation, you can buy right and transfer the savings to the customers. There's also the breadth of product you can carry to try to satisfy all of a boater's needs in one stop.
"Of course, we can never be all things to all boaters. We won't be carrying jet-skis, or getting into sail-making, or anything likethat, for example. But we can do our best to satisfy the majority ofboaters.
"The main reason for our success is the customer," Johnson explained. "The customer is always at the top of our organizational chart. Customer service isn't a new thing, yet there are very few that really deliver on it."
The youthful, energetic Johnson is a native of Seattle who served for 5 1/2 years as West's Northwest regional manager before moving to Annapolis to take on his new East Coast responsibilities.
"Basically, I had a choice of wherever I wanted to live on the East Coast," he said, "and Annapolis was it."
The logic of the company's opening a store in Annapolis was just as clear, he explained, pointing to sales from the nationally circulated catalog as a key indicator for locating new stores around the country.
"You really couldn't just open another marine store and hope people will come find you," he said. "Our catalog has helped blaze the trail."
Johnson said the store's location, five miles up Patuxent Boulevard and Forest Drive from U.S. 50, and even more convenient to Back Creek marinas, and hours, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturdayand 9 to 6 p.m. on Sunday, reflect the company's commitment to serving boating customers.
Another company policy meant to help providegood customer service is the boating experience levels of its employees.
"We only hire boaters," Johnson said. "We want people with a range and length of experience in boating to be able to answer questions people might have."
Interviews last month to fill the 16 positions at the store were very productive, Johnson said.
"It's a realcompliment to the region the numbers and quality of the people who applied," he said. "We found enough good candidates to open three stores here."
From the West Coast, Johnson brought with him Annapolis store manager Bob Hazen and assistant manager Chris Matarona, but local customers will find a number of familiar faces.
Johnson himselfis a long-time sailor with extensive cruising experience. The interesting credits on his resume include having built a 40-foot Garden cutter which he sailed to the South Pacific, and finishing off a Westsail 36 to sail in his home waters of the Pacific Northwest.
Now, he said, time constraints of his job mean that he "mostly sails on otherpeople's boats" to fill his on-water time.
In addition to retail sales of a broad range of marine products, gear and equipment, West also serves a wholesale function for marine industry professionals through its Port Supply departments.
"The Port Supply division is somewhat known here," Johnson said. "We're a little bit unique in that our wholesale customers don't have to go to a special counter or anything, and we offer wholesale sales through our retail stores, the sameregisters, the same sales associates to answer questions and help the customers."
Activity in the new store continues in a flurry of last-minute organization and set-up, but the operation is already verymuch under control.
Although the store and its staff are now essentially ready to serve customers, grand opening festivities will takeplace next month.
From March 7-8, the store will be celebrating its opening on a major scale and offering "literally thousands of dollars" worth of giveaways you won't want to miss, Johnson said.
Ribbon-cutting ceremonies are set for 7 p.m. on March 6.