The Early Years
When they were young boys, Travis and Justin Fricke started at the bottom by scrubbing boats.
As boat owners know well, that’s physical and demanding work. The brothers also learned to answer phones, operate the forklift and sweep the floor of the service department at their parents’ boat dealership, Fish Tale Boats. After all, that’s what is expected when you grow up in a family business. Their mother, Diane Fricke, learned growing up on a farm that everyone contributes to the business regardless of age.
That experience explains a big part of the success of Fish Tale Boats. The family run business recently opened a new $5 million dealership on U.S. 41 in Fort Myers, expanding from humble origins in Fort Myers Beach and earning national awards for sales and service along the way.
When Diane and her husband Bruce Fricke purchased Fish Tale Boats in 1996, they envisioned passing the business to their children one day by training them from an early age. “It was always my plan for my kids,” Diane says.
The Middle Years
In addition to working in different parts of the business, Justin and Travis attended Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers and earned degrees in accounting and marketing. Those skills became invaluable when the recession hit Southwest Florida.
The education and training also helped the young men step up when their father died in 2010. Bruce was a self-made entrepreneur, rising from forklift operator to sales and rigging at Fish Tale, buying the business with Diane from its longtime owner. “He had a vision of grooming them for the business,” Diane says.
Under the Fricke leadership, Fish Tale grew significantly, especially during the boom years of the early 2000s. When the recession hit the Frickes kept their best associates and remained loyal to vendors, which they consider to be like extended family. “You always help your family,” says Diane Fricke.
The Frickes knew the recession wouldn’t last forever and looking after longtime associates and vendors would pay off in the recovery. After all, they had always taken special care to hire the best people and they remained loyal to them even though that meant making financial sacrifices.
Boat manufacturers such as Robalo and Grady-White also supported Fish Tale during the recession. Like Fish Tale, boat builders were loyal to their own employees and vendors despite the short-term costs, knowing that good times would eventually return.
This is why the Frickes have chosen to sell boats from manufacturers who treat their own employees and communities with the highest standards. This attention to people translates into the highest-quality products, they reason.
Fish Tale Boats Today
Indeed, now that the economy is growing again, Fish Tale is benefitting from the goodwill the Frickes have generated with associates, vendors and manufacturers. They relocated to the former Scanlon Acura property at 15581 South Tamiami Trail, a larger and more convenient location near the corner of U.S. 41 and Briarcliff Road in Fort Myers.
The seven-acre site has more than 100 boats on display from top-selling boat builders including Avalon, Chaparral, Grady-White, and Robalo. The renovated 14,000-square-foot Fort Myers state-of-the-art sales and service center includes the latest technology for boat maintenance and repairs, including a new hydraulic trailer, forklift and hoists capable of lifting boats as long as 38 feet.
A new fleet of trucks and mobile vans can be dispatched to handle any job for dockside service at many marinas or to pick up boats. In total, the Frickes have invested an additional $500,000 in new equipment to service customer boats.
In addition, Fish Tale now employs 40 people, a 43% increase from the previous location in Fort Myers Beach. The in-house staff includes skilled marine technicians specializing in Yamaha engines, Garmin electronics, air conditioning systems, fiberglass, painting, and plumbing. When it comes to selecting outside vendors, Fish Tale seeks out the same qualities they value: local family businesses that care deeply for their employees and business relationships in the community.
“We are so excited about the new facility because new and returning customers will continue to receive the top-notch service they’ve been accustomed to from our family,” Diane Fricke says.