|By Lee Howard, The Day, New London, Conn.|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
"I wanted to do something tangible and hands-on," Russ said.
So, nine years ago, he bought the 150-slip Bayreuther Boat Yard in
An avid boater, he spent months searching for a marina to buy in
"It was a diamond in the rough," Russ recalled. "By the time I got her, it was pretty run down."
"We have some of the best bass fishing on the eastern seaboard," Russ said.
But marinas come with a lot of overhead costs just to maintain the facilities, Russ said, to say nothing of the extra expense of upgrades, rising insurance premiums and new environmental requirements. And he wanted to do things first class, becoming one of the first boating facilities in the state to be named a certified clean marina.
In addition, Russ built 28 permanent shallow-draft moorings and a private launch ramp that he invites the public to use at a nominal charge. Three Belles personnel -- a total of nine year-round and 18 in the summer -- also will be happy to launch a boat for a family that wants to get right on the water as soon as they arrive.
"We cater to everybody -- all different economic strata," Russ said. "For your money, you'll get more here than anywhere else."
Three Belles doesn't cater to huge yachts, with 50-footers about as big as they get and the average being about 28 feet. But Russ aims at providing services that even some of the bigger boat yards do not provide, such as having a mechanic in during the weekends.
"We've saved lots of weekends (for boaters) by having a mechanic here on Saturdays and Sundays," Russ said. "It's one way we try to differentiate ourselves."
Russ has upgraded the marina's buildings, landscaping and pool, installed a security gate and in the past few weeks set up a video camera so families can watch online as their boat is being launched before their arrival. Protected by
Russ said the kayak-rental business that he started last year was so successful that he is adding more boats this summer. He also has recently invited a community crew club to take advantage of the Three Belles facilities.
"Almost everything we do is designed to get people to come here," Russ said. "We would like this to be a community where there's a lot going on."
But the big push this year, he said, is to develop an e-commerce website where
Russ said he has not been able to raise fees at Three Belles since he first took over the facility because the economic circumstances of many boaters have changed, resulting in some leaving and others taking on more maintenance work to reduce costs. Unlike some closed yards, Three Belles allows outsiders as well as customers to work on boats at the marina.
The economic stagnation has made it more imperative to develop other revenue sources, he said, and to control costs as much as possible. Unfortunately, expenses are always on the rise, he said, including a recent tax hike of 42 percent.
"Finding ways to grow the business is our biggest challenge," Russ said.
The challenges were particularly intense in 2010 and 2011, after
"It's taken us a while to claw our way back," Russ said.
But Russ, who has an apartment on site as well as a home in
"It's been a lot of fun," he said. "It's given me a great sense of accomplishment in watching the business grow."
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