New owner navigates Long Level Marina toward growth
Brandon Kline looked out over a wide section of the Susquehanna River and talked about the possibilities.
A company seeking a team-building experience could rent his newly built conference room and discuss business over a catered lunch, while taking in a view of the glistening river. They could linger on his hardscaped patio or perhaps rent one of his pontoon boats for an afternoon of fun.
These are just some of the ideas that Kline, 27, has put into motion since his family bought the Long Level Marina nearly a year ago. The marina sits on 30 acres along Long Level Road just outside Wrightsville in Lower Windsor Township, York County.
“I’ve worked seven days a week since we took over,” said Kline, who also runs Brandon’s Beverages, a beer distributor on Mt. Rose Avenue near York. “I pretty much work non-stop.”
Kline’s father, Dave Kline, who ran Kline’s Services until he sold it in 2015, was the financial backer for the marina venture. Brandon wouldn’t say how much was paid for the company, which dates to the 1930s. But he said more than $100,000 has been invested since the purchase.
“There is so much growth potential. We are looking at a 50 percent increase in sales,” said the 2009 graduate of Hempfield High School in Lancaster County. That translates into gross sales this year of about $2 million to the possibility of $3 million, he said. “It just needed some revitalization.”
The change in ownership comes as boating activity in Pennsylvania had been falling after the economic downturn in 2008. Boat registrations in York County hovered just over 13,600 between 2007 and 2010, according to the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission. They have been steadily declining since, hitting 12,617 in 2016, the commission reports.
Nevertheless, York and Lancaster counties rank No. 3 and No. 4, respectively, for the number of boat registrations in the state, making York County a prime spot for people who want to tap the market for servicing recreational boaters.
Joe Filmore has been working about 15 years for Lake Clarke Marina, which is just up the road from Long Level Marina. The economic downturn hit the recreational boating industry, generally, but he said he is seeing an increase in activity over the past couple of years.
Filmore figures Kline is getting into the business at a good time. Although they are in the same business, he doesn’t view Kline and Long Level as a direct competitor, at least as it has played out in the past. Lake Clarke Marina tends to service older-model boats, which leaves enough business for both companies, he said.
“People pulled back from recreational boating but it seems to be picking up,” Filmore said.
Kline acknowledges that the industry has been through rough waters since 2008.
“It really died off, and a lot of boat businesses went out,” said Kline, who earned a business degree with a concentration in management from Millersville University in 2013. “They had too much inventory and couldn’t survive.”
But a lot of new people are getting into boating, he said. “I think more and more people are wanting to get out and learn about the river.”
He considers Lake Clarke Marina a friendly competitor.
“They have their customers, and we have ours,” Kline said. “They are a soft competitor because it is not like we are fighting for business.”
Kline’s investments have included remodeling his showroom and updating his inventory. From life jackets to motors to boat parts, the shelves of the service center and adjoining store are packed.
“Anything you could want or need for a boat,” he said.
The marina’s 30 acres allow for storage of about 500 boats. While he has been able to squeeze in a few more spots since taking over the business, his growth has largely involved increasing rentals and providing other services. The store specializes in Mercury and Yamaha motors, he said. It also has stepped up its marketing, using Facebook and BoatTrader.com to reach customers.
The 2017 season has ended, and prices will change before next spring and summer. This year, though, a full-day rental of a pontoon boat was $275 for 8 hours on a weekend day or $250 for 8 hours Monday through Thursday. Holiday weekends garner higher rates.
His plans include investing in new pontoon boats to rent out next season. Kline also wants to break ground on a new showroom as soon as he can get the permits.
“So far, it has been good,” he said. “We are ramping up the rentals, the sales and pretty much everything. It has been a really good experience. And being by the water is a great perk of the job.”