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Franchisees experience newfound freedom at Freedom Boat Club

Photos courtesy Freedom Boat Club

By Peter Saunders
Launched in the U.S. in 1989, but only going mainstream over the past few years, Freedom Boat Club is a franchise concept that has benefited from changing times. Its 100-plus units across 21 states offer private memberships enabling access to club-owned boats, which appeals to both baby boomers, who are giving up on boat ownership and maintenance as they age, and millennials, who support the ‘sharing economy’ with the prioritization of experiences over goods.

“Our customers are not tied down to a single location or type of boat and we offer free unlimited training, which is especially valuable to newcomers,” explains John Giglio, president and CEO. “The maintenance-free, affordable nature of our services especially attracts the younger demographics the recreational boating is working hard to reach today.”

The Florida-headquartered business has now entered the Canadian market with its first international franchise. Sandy and Jamie Purdon signed on earlier this year and have set up their base of operations at Reed Point Marina in Port Moody, B.C.

“We believe there is tremendous potential for growth,” says Sandy. “We plan to open six locations across the 
Lower Mainland.”

One of the Purdons’ challenges was ensuring a sufficient inventory of boats would be available for their grand opening in April. Boating hobbyists themselves, they pulled together a mix of popular brands, including Campion, Ranger Tug, Bayliner and Hewescraft, and worked with other marinas to arrange enough slips side-by-side.

“We had to wow our customers right from the start with a great selection of boats to get them to join,” Sandy says. “I’d say half of them are experienced boaters and half are new.”

Pictured left to right are: John Giglio, president and CEO, and Jamie and Sandy Purdon, the first Canadian franchisees.

And while building brand awareness is also a challenge in terms of local advertising, some Canadians are already very familiar with Freedom Boat Club.

“We have a tonne of Canadian members here in Florida during the winter months, as we’re a snowbird mecca,” says Giglio, “so it was only natural to push our expansion into Canada. It was a real feather in our cap when the Purdons came along, as we rely heavily on our franchisees’ localized knowledge to navigate the marina industry and they had a business plan all mapped out. Recreational boating is different everywhere.”

By way of example, the system’s next Canadian franchise may be in Montreal, where boats need not endure saltwater.

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