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Friday, July 8, 2016

Southwest Florida’s Business Spotlight: An Interview with John Giglio, CEO of Freedom Boat Club

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Doug: Hi, this is Doug Leugers, host of Southwest Florida’s Business Spotlight, where you meet local professionals who can help solve an abundance of problems. It’s our way of keeping business local right here in Southwest Florida, a community I love, and I know you love, too.

Today, you’ll meet John Giglio, CEO of Freedom Boat Club. You’ll learn what a boat club is and if it’s for you. At the end of today’s podcast, John and I will have a special giveaway for our loyal listeners: a super-special discount if you’re interested in joining the Boat Club. So stay tuned. Without further ado, welcome to the show, John.

John: Thank you, thank you for having me.

Doug: Why don’t we start off by telling everyone kind of an overview. What is a boat club?

John: Boat clubs are an alternative to traditional boat ownership. Clubs are a way for our members to get out on the water, try a whole bunch of different boats in a whole bunch of different areas, and determine whether they like boating, number one, and whether or not boating is something that truly fits into their lifestyle. We truly make it simple and easy for our members to get out on the water and enjoy themselves.  

Doug: So why do people join a boat club versus, say, owning a boat themselves?

John: Well, traditional boat ownership is very expensive. I don’t think that’s a secret in the industry at all. One of the big factors and competitive factors we have these days is, really, time. When a member joins the boat club, what we give them is time on the water to enjoy themselves. When you have a boat and own a boat, while you certainly enjoy it and there’s a lot to it and a lot of fun to be had, you also spend a lot of time getting the boat ready before you take it out. Then, you spend a lot of time putting the boat back away when you’re finished with it. When you join a boat club, specifically Freedom Boat Club, you spend 100% of your time actually on the water enjoying yourself. There’s no better way to connect with friends and family than out on the water, disconnected from the daily grind and technology, and all the other things that make it very difficult to enjoy yourselves.

Doug: Absolutely. I can personally attest to that. My wife and I have been members of your boat club going on two years now. It’s been an amazing experience. We just get online and book reservations. When we get to the boat dock, your guys load up our boat, we take off, come back a few hours later, they unload the boat for us, and we’re on our way.

John: It’s the only way to go boating, it really is.

Doug: You don’t have to worry about maintenance, don’t have to worry about storage, don’t have to worry about any of that stuff. Definitely, definitely awesome. So, how long has Freedom Boat Club been in business?

John: We have been in business since 1989. The company was founded in Sarasota back in 1989, and we have been operating successfully ever since then.

Doug: Awesome.

John: Currently, on the West Coast of Florida here, we have 17 corporate-run facilities. We’ve grown from one location in Sarasota back in 1989 with only four boats to 17 locations on the West Coast with 450 boats and 110 locations nationally with about 1,200 boats in our fleet.

Doug: And we can pretty much use all of those locations, is that correct?

John: You sure can. Yes, you sure can.

Doug: So, if I want to go out across the states and go out to Miami, I can use that location?

John: Correct, you sure can. As a member of the club, you have unlimited access to your home port, and then you can use all other locations across the country four times a year.

Doug: Awesome. How does the, say, reservation or booking process work?

John: That’s a great question, and when we’re bringing new members on board, the big question is, “How do I know if I’m able to get a boat?” We’re able to accomplish that through our reservation system. The way our system is set up, each of our members can book up to four reservations at one time. You hop online, you book a boat. Say you want to book a boat on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday; at the end of the day Monday, you’ve used that boat and the reservation rolls immediately out of the system so you can book another reservation. You can always keep four rolling reservations in the system at one time. During the week, we have boating from eight to five, and then we have extended hours during the summer months. So if you want to take a sunset cruise, you can grab a boat from 5:30 to sunset. On the weekends, we do split-shifts, so you can book a boat from sunrise to one o’clock or two o’clock until sunset. If you want to use a boat for both sessions, you use two of your reservations to book it for the whole weekend day. We try to make it very, very easy and make sure the way our reservation system is set up and the ten-to-one member-to-boat ratio we keep, we can guarantee reservations for our membership.

Doug: Great. What type of boats do you have?

John: We have a wide variety of boats. We have inshore fishing boats, offshore fishing boats, deck boats, pontoon boats, we have sailboats in many of our locations. That’s one of the many benefits of boat club - you’re not limited to one kind of boat. If you want to go fishing one day, you grab a fishing boat. If you want to cruise the intercoastal the next day or just head to the beach, grab a deck boat or pontoon boat. If you want to do a little inshore fishing and don’t want to spend a lot of money on fuel, grab one of our skiffs and run around on that. In addition to that, we also have paddleboards and kayaks at some of our locations that are conducive to it.

Doug: Wow. Yeah, there’s a lot to choose from there depending on what you want to do. One of the most popular questions I get from my clients, John, when talking to them about Freedom Boat Club, is, they ask me a lot about the water and what it’s like boating down here, wanting to really get familiar with the area from boating terms. What do you offer in terms of boat training and safety classes and that sort of thing?

John: That’s one thing we take very, very seriously. It is the training and making sure our members are equipped to boat in Southwest Florida. We have a lot of visitors, as you know, from different areas of the country and they’ve boated in different areas of the country, but they may be in areas where they have a 30-foot tidal swing in 60 feet of water. Down here, we have two-foot tidal swing but we have three feet of water. So it’s very important that we teach our members navigation, boating safety, and what to expect on the water.

Before any of our members can take a boat out, we put them through a new member orientation. It’s a program that we have developed over the last 25 years of business, and we make sure that we teach our members everything they need to know to get out on the water and boat safely. So, in general navigation, what they’re going to see when they get out on the water - speed signs, channel markers, that kind of thing. It’s about a one-and-a-half-to-two-hours classroom program, and then we take our members out on the water. We teach them to operate the boats. We show them not only what they’re going to see out there, but we take them out there on the boats. In the West Coast of Florida here, we have about 35 US Coast Guards, licensed captains, that are our trainers. All of our training is one-on-one, so you sign up and go out with a captain and we teach you the rules of the road and make sure you can handle the boat properly.

For our members who want to go offshore, we have a secondary offshore training class, which is another two hours of hands-on training. We take you out the inlets, make sure you can get out, get back, and really, thoroughly focus on the safety aspect of boating. At any given time, if our instructors aren’t comfortable with the member operating the boat or the member themselves is uncomfortable operating the boat, that is one thing we do not skimp on. In our training program is completely free of charge once you’re a member of the club. We will train you seven days a week if that is what it takes to make you comfortable in the water.

Doug: Awesome. Now, another common question, John, I get, is, “Who are we allowed to bring on the boat?”

John: There’s no limit to who you can bring on the boat. The only limit would be the capacity placard on each vessel. You don’t want to overload them. You can bring friends, family - we’re even pet friendly, so bring your dog if you like. We want you to enjoy that boat just like it’s your own boat, and there are no restrictions on who you can bring.

Doug: Good deal. How do you qualify members to join the boat club?

John: We pride ourselves on the fact that we’re open to everybody. We want to be able to provide the boating lifestyle and boating experience to all of our members. We do have a one-time entry fee that’s required, and then there are monthly payments after that. Anyone who has an interest, we would love to get them out on the water as a boat club member.

Doug: Great. How does someone learn more or find out more about Freedom Boat Club?

John: Well, you can go to our website, which is FreedomBoatClub.com, or we have a national 800 number: 888-781-7363. You’ll be in touch if you send a request online or call that number, you will be put in touch with the membership executive that is local to the area you’re in and we will hopefully begin your boating adventure!
Doug: All right. Is there anything else you want to tell our listeners, John? Did I forget to ask anything?

John: No. Just if you are looking for an easy way, a fun way to get out on the water and learn how to boat on the West Coast of Florida, we would love to bring you on board.

Doug: Absolutely. I can attest to how great your service is. We use it a lot. I go out boating every week through Freedom Boat Club, and it’s really changed how we’re able to enjoy the area. We’re on the boat every week. The family loves it, and so does my fat beagle, Macy. We refer to her as shark bait. [laughs]. What kind of special are you running for people who decide to check out Freedom Boat Club and join?

John: Right now, we are running a special for podcast listeners: $1,000 off the entry fee. It’s a one-time entry fee, and we’ll take $1,000 off if you mention this podcast.

Doug: Awesome. That’s a good discount. Can I get that $1,000 off, by the way?

John: [laughs] Sorry, it’s not retroactive.

Doug: And then what are we giving away for our listeners today who are listening to this podcast?

John: We are giving away a $50 gift card to Bert’s Bar & Grill. Go to Facebook, like our Freedom Boat Club page, and answer one simple question: What year was Freedom Boat Club founded? Anyone who hops on Facebook and answers that question will be entered to win the $50 gift card to Bert’s Bar & Grill.

Doug: Okay, good. Now, just to clarify, if they go to your Facebook page, like it, answer the question, “When was Freedom Boat Club Founded?” and share the post, they can be entered into a drawing to win $50 to Bert’s Bar & Grill.

John: Absolutely.

Doug: Oh man, Bert’s Bar & Grill is awesome, too. You picked a good one there. Well, thanks for joining us, John.  

John: I appreciate the invitation, and let’s get out on the water.

Doug: All right. That was very informative and I’m sure a bunch of our listeners will find great value in that. Again, if you’re interested in learning more about Freedom Boat Club, you can go to their website, FreedomBoatClub.com or like their Facebook page, share it, answer the question, “When was it founded?” I hope you enjoyed this and found it informative. Thank you for joining us!