The power of digital marina marketing for small marinas: The astronomical one-year leap of Lake Marion’s Marker 79 Marina
On a “big picture” scale, the traveler driving over Lake Marion on I-95 sees an enormous lake with rolling beaches flush against wooded State and National parkland. Specks of people lounge on the beach. Pontoon boat fishermen trolling for bass and crappie navigate around the tops of standing trees that were never cut down when the lake was flooded.
Zoom that lens down to the micro level and just south of the I-95 bridge in Vance, South Carolina is a tiny cove with Marker 79 Marina, its name derived from its location approximately 79 miles from Charleston Harbor. Neighbors and boatowners who reserve slips at Marker 79 gather around a long gazebo that was once an outdoor bar. The smell of pork butt in a smoker and whole chickens slowly grill-crisping wafts to the cruising boats and floods the breeze with the nostalgic scent of good food and even better memories. In this six-mile stretch just south of the Interstate there are four marinas strung along the shoreline.
Elliott Elkins’ Marker 79 Marina is the one without a single empty wet slip.
Elliott Elkins bought Marker 79 one year ago. He lives with his wife in their RV on-location and they run their business out of their personal craft moored just offshore. On any given day Elliott might walk down and chat with customers like the retired couple installing radios in their sailboat, or play with his grandkids. Marker 79 is the definition of a small family-oriented marina, and in one year, its business has more than quadrupled.
I can tell you, initially we had five boats here. And now we have 23. The only reason we don’t have more is because I’ve got to put more pilings in to be able to increase my slips…I had to turn a boat down yesterday. I’ve got three people on a waiting list and I’ve stopped putting people on the waiting list because I don’t know when I’m gonna have more room.
Marketing the marina: choosing the team with the right strategy for small marinas
When Elliott bought the business, he made two immediate moves that paid off:
- He started using Dockwa to organize and track his slip reservations,
- He browsed Google for a quality company that knew how to market a marina.
Hammer & Nail’s strategy isn’t some vague marketing wizardry – it’s a simple approach. We created a clean, vibrant, and user-friendly website. We made it intimate and personable – specific to Elliott’s location on Lake Marion. A major conversion point was to instill convenience in the site for potential customers. On the Marker 79 website, almost every single page has the Dockwa slip reservation form tastefully located as a direct call-to-action for Lake Marion visitors.
Lake Marion is home to over a dozen geographically dense marinas. It was easy to gauge that to achieve substantial growth, Marker 79 needed to be the most visible. We achieved this by utilizing a sharp SEO focus on the Marker 79 Marina website and by literally putting Marker 79 on the map. Any marina that wants to be seen should have an account on all major platforms – A Google Business Profile is location One. Anyone that pulls up Google is going to glance around the lake and most likely click on the marina with a well-rounded profile, This means pictures, hours, contact info, good reviews, and a list of amenities. Yelp, Marinas.com, ActiveCaptain – they’re next.
The bottom line goal for us? On this giant, 110,000-acre lake, Marker 79 needs to be visible near the top on the first page of Google search results for “Lake Marion marinas”. In 12 months, Elliott’s slip reservations jumped from five when he started to 23. He still can’t keep up with the influx because the first impression by potential customers is, “wow, this must be the best marina on the lake”.
A view of the traffic on Lake Marion on a gorgeous sunny day.
A small marina owner on a large body of water could feel overwhelmed from a marketing standpoint. How can I improve against such vast competition? A small marina’s advantage is often found in its intimacy. Elliott spoke to this when he took over Marker 79:
There used to be a bar here, a big gazebo bar about 45-50 feet across. And we have two grills and a smoker up here. So we’ll cook out and invite everybody up here to eat…We had smoked ribs, and a Boston butt this past weekend…We got a Blackstone griddle and a regular gas-fired grill. So, we can cook. And we do. A LOT.
Elliott recognized the value of getting to know the neighborhood. The first week they re-opened, Elliott and his wife put out flyers all over the neighborhood and invited everyone to come down, just to say hello and have a good time. They grilled up 15 chickens and did just that.
The power of our digital marina marketing strategy coupled with Marker 79 building its standing as an invaluable piece of the community – it’s an unstoppable combination. Visitors to Lake Marion can look up marinas, easily find Marker 79, and instantly feel a sense of being at home. And if your marina hosts outdoor BBQ shindigs on any given day, that’s just a delicious bonus for everyone. Or as Elliott put it:
“We’re tryin’ to take care of everybody that’s taking care of us.”
Hammer & Nail has the same mentality. Your status as a small marina with a specific personality is a benefit.
When Elliott looks outside at night, he sees small crafts going out to the islands to party, pontoon boats out for catfishing, and a full moon reflected off what the neighbors call the best view on the lake. He’s fully aware of the beauty of his little slice of lakefront. Our expertise is helping everybody else find their way to exactly what he sees every night.
Article by Hammer and Nail Marketing
WHAT IS HAMMER & NAIL?
Hammer and Nail Marketing is a boutique marketing firm that helps small to mid-sized marinas get noticed by boaters. If you’d like to focus on operating your marina without the additional responsibility of marketing, get in touch with us.
We’re boaters ourselves from a background of operating a family-run marina. From a group of experts who know the water, let Hammer and Nail Marketing help you be the waterfront your local boaters see every time they cast off.
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