By GREGORY ZELLER //
Warmer than usual weather and the coming start of spring have boaters itching to pull off the winter shrink wrap. SlipFinder is ready for them.
SlipFinder – a super-simple berth-booking app for boaters on the go – is already on the case, searching for open slips, securing reservations and facilitating payments at some 200 marinas up and down the East Coast and along inland waterways.
That’s “way more” marinas than were logged in when SlipFinder first put to sea in 2015, noted cofounder Todd Brice, the owner of Amityville marina Yacht Service Ltd. who launched the iOS and Android app a year ago with veteran boat-sales specialist Keith Cooper.
And with a year of marketing under their belt, the cofounders are looking to make a much bigger splash this season.
Still, the cofounder acknowledged the app is not catching on as fast as its creators might like, in part because of the nature of the marina industry.
“A lot of the issues we’re having involve trying to get marinas to move to a technology platform they haven’t been with before,” Brice told Innovate LI. “A lot of them aren’t comfortable with it yet, and there’s been a lot of hand-holding.
“It’s a very old-school industry,” he added. “There are multigenerational parties who own these marinas, and when they see a ‘newfangled thing’ come through, they might be a little hesitant to hop on board.”
Also slowing SlipFinder’s spread, according to Brice, was an unusual phenomenon occurring in southern waters this winter. While SlipFinder representatives have dutifully marketed the app to marinas across Florida since the northern boating season wound down last fall, they’ve found few takers – mostly, Brice noted, because Sunshine State marinas were packed, and because most boats never weighed anchor.
“A lot of people migrated their boats down to Florida this winter,” he said. “Maybe because it was so cold here last winter, or because fuel prices are cheap and it’s easy to get a boat to Florida right now.
“But they don’t move them,” Brice added. “They’re like condos down there. It seems, more than usual this year, people took their boats down to Florida and kind of used them as a living space.”
While he hasn’t put his finger on the pulse of Florida yet, the veteran yachtsman knows “nothing ever stays the same” in the boating industry, so this winter’s slow southern business could be very different next year. So could SlipFinder’s northern business, now that winter 2016 is melting away and the app has a full year in its wake.
Boaters seem to get it more readily than marina owners, according to Brice, but with 200 marinas already tuned in and the boating public looking for more, “we’re hoping there’s a bit more traction with marina owners this year.”
“We’ve been to countless boat shows, and [boaters] are looking for a greater inventory of marinas,” Brice said. “I think everybody is accustomed to firing up the Uber and there’s a car two minutes away. They’re accustomed to big and grand and they have an expectation that they’ll be able to do whatever they want whenever they want.
“But it takes time to build that.”
Fortunately, SlipFinder’s creators are builders. That includes building a direct-marketing program for marina owners that includes U.S. mail feelers, cold calls and “just showing up at their doorstep,” according to Brice.
It also includes building new functionality into the app, designed to make the process even simpler for boaters and dockmasters. Brice noted only that “we certainly have things in the pipeline,” and while he wouldn’t give specifics he did predict the new bells and whistles would help SlipFinder reach flank speed sooner.
While it’s raising those sails, it will continue to look for new sales: The cofounders are already looking to hire intern-level staffers to push the app at regional marinas this summer. And they’re always tweaking, Brice noted, working to make the app even more seaworthy state.
“There’s always something you want to tweak or change,” he said. “Always somebody who has a slightly different pricing model than you anticipated, or something else you want to accommodate. You’re always looking for balance.”