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Randy Wattenbarger, MRAA Board of Directors
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Randy Wattenbarger

After receiving an engineering degree , Randy worked at a nuclear plant being constructed by Duke Power before buying into a small resort in southeast Tennessee. When the marine business outgrew the facility, property was purchased in a nearby town and the business has grown and prospered.

Cleveland Boat Center may be just over 100 miles from Charlotte, but something tells me you were pulling for Denver to win last Sunday. Talk a bit about how a certain quarterback converted you to a Broncos fan. 

Peyton and his wife are customers of mine, and I’ve seen him — briefly — out on the water a few times. I went to the University of Tennessee as well, and both of my kids were there around the same time as Peyton. I just think he’s been a great ambassador for the state, the school, the game and an example of what a pro athlete should be with so many young people looking up to his successes.  He was definitely the one we were pulling for to win.

Boating Industry recently named Cleveland Boat Center a “Top 100” dealer for the fifth consecutive year. What does the honor mean to you and your team.

Having been a marine dealer for the last 45 years, being selected to be in such an elite group makes me appreciate the value we’re able to pass onto our customers by subscribing to the industry’s best practices.  I’m proud of how we treat our customers, and I’m proud of how we treat our employees.

Cleveland Boat Center recently experienced a burglary, which made local news and spiked your blood pressure. Explain what happened and how you dealt with the aftermath.

It happened last week while we were getting ready to go to the boat show. We had a lot of work going on and were dealing with a lot of other issues. Evaluating what happened, I believe whoever got this boat wanted this one specifically. I don’t know what motivates people. There were brand new 2016 boats sitting just a few feet away. Whoever it was got in and disabled the gate operator by basically bringing tools and taking it apart. They left the gate standing open, had bolt cutters, cut locks off 14 of our warehouse units and took a 20-foot section of fence down all the way to the ground. The police found the trailer the next day about 60 miles away in another county, but they haven’t found the boat yet. I called all the dealers in the Knoxville area and told them to keep an eye out because it should be pretty easy to spot. We had cameras and lights in the area — and you can see them — but you can’t recognize anybody.  It doesn’t make any sense. It is what it is, I guess.

Has this happened before? How about some advice for other dealers forced to confront security breaches.

It’s very disheartening. This happened once before many years ago — maybe 35 or 38. Someone hooked up to one of our customer’s boats and left. The police and insurance company never did find it. Oddly enough, 10 years down the pike I was at another dealership and there sat the boat. I recognized it immediately because it was tri-hulled with apricot paint. The statute of limitations were gone, and the people who owned the boat had gotten their insurance settlement, but that was the only other time we’ve had a boat stolen. My advice: call the police, call the insurance company and check everything. You might go weeks or months before realizing they got something else. The boat might still be there, but something might be missing. The bottom line is if you’re dealing with someone determined to get something you’ve got, and they do their homework, there’s not a whole lot you can do outside of setting up a machine gun. They talk about guard dogs, but anyone who would do this would shoot the dog in a heartbeat. Cameras are a deterrent, lighting is a necessity, but I guess the biggest thing is to make sure you’re properly insured and have all your documentation in order.

As chairman of the MRAA Board of Directors, what should we look for in 2016.

Our organization is perpetually interested in improving the marine industry and is the face, if you will, of how we are perceived in the public. We’re encouraging all dealers to become Certified because one of the big negatives in our industry is that there’s no uniformity of qualification for dealers. A few states do have franchise agreements, but it’s not universal. Dealers focused on making sure people who participate in the activities we provide have a quality, safe experience also have to compete with less invested dealers who are doing it for a hobby or less altruistic reason. When you go through the Certification process and get your employees involved, they realize your business is best served by putting a person in the right boat — even if it’s a used boat or a less expensive boat. If it doesn’t meet their needs and puts them in a financial position they don’t want, you’re going to lose them.


Randy Wattenbarger
3125 Waterlevel Hwy,
PO Box 4642
Cleveland, TN  37320

Phone: 423-472-1201