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No, we promise, this is not one of those “fish tales” when the size of the snook grows a foot with each retelling. Straight truth: Two years ago, Fish Tale Boats built a new, 7-acre, $5 million headquarters in Fort Myers and—that same year—added a Naples location. By this past January, it had out- grown the Naples shop, moved up the street to a larger building and opened a new dealership in Bonita Springs.
Surely, this ship must have an awfully good captain.
Let’s make that captains. The company is owned by the Fricke family, brothers Travis and Justin and their mom, Diane, who bought the dealership with her late husband, Bruce, in 1996. Bruce, who died unexpectedly in 2010, had worked “from the ground up” at Fish Tale in its original Fort Myers Beach location, and his boys, apparently, have inherited his drive.
“What we went through when my husband passed away was kind of a shock,” Diane says. “[Travis and Justin] really work together so well, and I’m really proud of them in everything they have done and for all of their accomplishments.”
Growing up, Travis, 33, remembers scrubbing boats, answering phone calls and sweeping the shop floors of his parents’ business. He and Justin, 31, lent a hand whenever needed. The parents dreamed of the boys taking over one day, Diane says. They stayed close as they got older, attending Florida Gulf Coast University—Travis for accounting and Justin for management—while diving deeper into the family business.
“The expansions kind of came naturally with the way things have been going and the opportunities with our brands,” Travis says. Fish Tale Boats serves the tri-county area (from Port Charlotte to Marco Island), selling and serving boats from manufacturers such as Chaparral, Grady-White and Robalo. “Those are top-quality brands,” he adds.
The company has experienced sales growth exceeding 40 percent in the last year, largely from Robalo transactions. Travis anticipates steady growth this year.
“I don’t like huge ups and downs; we don’t have that problem,” Travis says. “Overall, it’s been a manageable growth with certain areas taking off more.”
The boating lifestyle is certainly in demand in Southwest Florida, and Fish Tale Boats, which has more than 40 employees, isn’t the only business benefiting from that. But what sets Fish Tale Boats apart, Travis says, are the unique opportunities to represent premium boat builders. For example, Fish Tale Boats got to unveil the new Chaparral 300 OSX, a state-of-the-art, 30-foot outboard, during the Naples Boat Show in January.
“Usually they would unveil it at a big boat show like Miami, but we were able to do it here,” Travis says.
Chances like that result from the close, reliable relationships the Frickes have developed with brands like Chaparral over decades.
Fish Tale Boats extends that closeness to customers, which adds to their buoyancy.
“We take care of our customers. You hear that from a lot of people, but we really do,” Travis says. “Service is key to boating because boats are a long-term relationship for proper care and service.”
Fish Tale Boats has many returning clients, he adds. Some of them have even owned 10 vessels or more.
The company also promotes the social aspect of boating. It holds events and has group meetings for trips and other experiences.
“We have a good social base because people come to the area wanting to do fun things with their boats,” Travis says. “It’s not just about going out on the water, it’s about meeting other people.”
Despite the growth in dealerships, the Fricke family does not plan to expand outside of Southwest Florida. Rather, they plan to continue building on the product and service quality they’ve honed for more than 20 years. It’s easy to trust the process with family by your side, Travis says.
“Family is tough, but it’s also dependable,” he says. “The key is to have family.”