January Member Spotlight: Steve Baum
President/CEO, Boat Owners Warehouse
Steve Baum got his start in the marine industry in 1981, as a barnacle scraper at Fort Lauderdale’s Cable Marine. From barnacle boy, Steve worked his way up the ranks, eventually becoming president and CEO of Boat Owners Warehouse, a Cable company. He’s also served on the MRAA Board of Directors for a whopping 17 years, spending the last two as chairman. We recently had the opportunity to talk to Steve about how the boat biz, pizza and his New Years resolution.
Q: How did you get started in the marine industry?
Baum: I got my start in the marine industry in 1981. I’d just finished high school in Cleveland, Ohio in June 1980, and on a whim I decided to move to Fort Lauderdale in December of that year. It was a fairly easy decision; it was winter in Cleveland; and it was Spring Break for six weeks a year in Fort Lauderdale. I arrived on a Friday, and had a good time that first weekend on the beach. Monday morning I went looking for a job, and the first place I visited was Cable Marine, a full-service boatyard. They hired me on the spot, as a barnacle scraper and bottom painter. When I started in the industry, I literally didn’t know port from starboard. I spent the next six years working on boat bottoms and at the same time learning all about them and how to fix them. I also was attending college classes at night to learn about business. Elmer Strauss, George Cable and Joe LaFauci founded Cable Marine in 1978, and once they found out I was going to school at night they offered to pay for the classes, which was a huge help. Once I finished school, they promoted me to manage the parts department at the boatyard, which I did for a couple of years. Elmer, George and Joe also had started a separate company called DS Hull Company Inc. in 1979 as a distributor of large ticket items for boats; things like stabilizers, water makers and refrigeration units. In 1985, they started Boat Owners Warehouse, a retail boat supply store. In 1989, they asked if I would like to move from Cable Marine over to DS Hull Co Inc./Boat Owners Warehouse as the general manager, an opportunity I jumped at. I’ve spent the last 25 years building and refining our wholesale/retail model for aftermarket distribution and sales of marine parts and accessories. In 1995, Elmer, George and Joe approached me about becoming a shareholder in DS Hull Company and becoming partners with some of their children who were working in the business, as part of their estate planning and transitioning to the next generation. And that brings me to today. I’m now partners with Terri Strauss (Elmer’s daughter) and Paul LaFauci (Joe’s son), and the three of us operate three Boat Owners Warehouse stores located throughout South Florida; D.S. Hull Company Inc., a full-line marine distributor for 350 manufacturers; and Yacht Equipment & Parts Inc., a servicing dealer for warranty, repairs and installation on all the big equipment that we sell. I currently serve as president/CEO of the three companies.
Q: You’re currently serving as MRAA’s immediate past chairman. What’s it been like serving on the MRAA Board of Directors?
Baum: I’ve enjoyed every minute serving as chairman of MRAA these last two years. I got involved with the board 17 years ago when there was a Marine Accessories Committee formed as a joint venture between NMMA, MRAA, NMDA and the NMRA. That committee has since been dissolved, but I really liked working with all the other dealers and learning from them. There’s such a vast and deep array of marine retailing knowledge associated with the members of the board that you can’t help but learn every time you’re around them. I’ve served on the board for 16 years and have two more to go as immediate past chairman, then it will be someone else’s turn. I’ll miss the meetings, but I’ll still see everyone at MDCE each year. I’ve been involved with the board through some great times, as well as some very trying times, but I will say this: I feel like I’ve left the association in the best position that it’s ever been. I give all of the credit for this to Matt, Liz and the amazing staff that they’ve built. I was just glad to be there with the rest of the board to help guide them. I’d say that at the top of the list of accomplishments for MRAA is the development of the YLAC. This initiative was started prior to my chairmanship, but I think it represents the future of the association, as well as the entire industry, and I look forward to watching it grow. We have some amazing talent that’s come out of that committee, as well as some amazing people.
Q: With younger boating industry professionals beginning to step up, what kind of advice can you offer them?
Baum: My advice to anyone coming into the industry today would be to make sure you love what you do, because if you do it right, you’ll be doing it for a very long time. I’ve loved every day that I’ve worked in this industry, and I look forward to learning something new from it every day. Even as an 18-year-old barnacle scraper/bottom painter, I loved coming to work, working outside in the fresh air on other peoples’ toys… it was amazing. And back then, I needed to learn everything about this industry, so there were new challenges every day. Some of our customers have some really cool toys, and we’ve done work on some of the most amazing boats in the world. The advances in technology that have occurred in our industry over the last 34 years are incredible. I started in this industry nearly three and a half decades ago, and it really seems like only yesterday.
Q: Time to get real. What are five things most people don’t know about you?
Baum: (1) My favorite color is orange; not sure what that says about me. (2) My favorite food is pizza – from Geraci’s in University Heights, a suburb of Cleveland. Even after 34 years in Florida I haven’t found any better. I worked there for about a year when I was 14. (3) I’m still a Cleveland Browns fan, although I think the last time they were in the playoffs I still lived there. (4) I love to scuba dive, even though I don’t do it as much as I would like. (5) I wear shorts to work most days, one of the many advantages of working in the marine industry. I couldn’t wear a suit and tie every day, although I do put on long pants when I meet with bankers.
Q: What’s your number-one business resolution for 2015?
Baum: My business resolution for 2015 is the same as it is every year: Stay focused on yourself, not the other guy. Keep it simple. Our customer is the only reason we exist. The thing that makes us unique is the experience that we offer our customers.