Boat business buys new building, expands

Published on Sunday, 31 August 2014 20:11 - Written by Casey Murphy, cmurphy@tylerpaper.com

 

 

Karl Jackson and Shannon Ritzert spend so much of their time selling and working on boats, they don’t get out on the lake much anymore.

The longtime friends started Ski-N-Sport in Tyler in 2005 and recently relocated and expanded the business, which specializes in selling and repairing Nautique boats.

Their path to getting into the boat business was an unusual one.

Jackson, 51, was unemployed after losing his job as an adolescent drug and alcohol abuse counselor in Longview when he stumbled across a job at Southwest Correct Craft, a boat wholesaler formerly operating a warehouse in Garden Valley.

Jackson was a water skier before he started working with boats. He had tinkered on cars for years and planned to start his own mechanic shop to do paint and body work.

“Since I was a kid, I’ve always been a mechanic,” he said. “Going into business for myself has always been a goal of mine.”

He planned to work at Southwest Correct Craft while building up his shop but his career took a different path. After starting at the company in 1991, he became service manager and hired Ritzert a year later and trained him in repairing and servicing boats.

Ritzert, 38, was working for his parent’s nursery business and was looking for a change when Jackson hired him. He had also worked on vehicles since he was a kid.

“If I ever wanted anything as a kid — a motorcycle, a go cart — I had to find it and fix it,” he said, adding that his parents gave him a car that didn’t run when he was 14.

Jackson moved up to sales manager and Ritzert became service manager but after several years, the men realized there was nowhere else to move up in the business.

That led to Jackson discovering his dream of becoming a business owner.

In 2005, the men, who both live in Mineola, opened Ski-N-Sports in a former tire shop at 2000 WSW Loop 323. They became a Nautique dealer and service business. The boats are designed for water skiing, wake boarding and other water sports.

They sell used and new boats, as well as boating accessories, such as skis, wake boards, tubes and life jackets.

“It takes all of it to make it work,” Jackson said when asked what part of the business was most popular.

Through the years, the troubled economy and droughts have caused people to give up boating and being on the lake, causing the men to try to keep their heads above water.

“We sell a premium product,” Jackson said. “Consumer confidence is really important to our customers.”

After renting the small space for nearly 10 years, the partners followed their goal to buy their own property on Texas Highway 155 South, which Ritzert calls “boat row.”

They moved the business to the new facility, which housed Texas True, on July 1 and still have a lot of work to do, Jackson said. The building was a boat dealership more than 20 years ago and had fallen into disrepair.

They have plans to repave the parking lot, add storage buildings for customers’ boats and upgrade the buildings.

Moving from a 3,800-square-foot building, which included a showroom and two bays for repairing boats on less than 1 acre, to a 6,400-square-foot showroom and 4,000-square-foot shop with five bays on 4 acres will allow them to grow the business. Now that they have the room, they plan to hire another technician to help their only employee, Matt Henry.

“We’ve needed to expand but when you’re busting at the seams, there’s only so much you can do,” Jackson said.

Ski-N-Sports has customers throughout East Texas, as well as Arkansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma. A customer from Mississippi is bringing an old boat in to be restored. They also will service boats at area lakes so customers don’t have to come to the shop.

Jackson said they gained a reputation for service while working at Southwest Correct Craft and have carried and grown that since starting their own business.

“We’ve been here a long time,” Jackson said. “We’ve built a reputation.”

Jackson typically takes care of the sales side of the business and Ritzert the service, but the men share everything. “Both of us are good at what we do, as far as mechanics and sales,” Jackson said. “We’re horrible business guys.”

Since they spend so much time working on other people’s boats, they don’t have time to enjoy the lake much anymore.

Ritzert said he has been to the lake only once this year and it was to test run a customer’s boat.

“If you want to ruin a perfectly good hobby, do it for a living,” Jackson joked.