Life in Maryland / Success Stories
Annapolis boat dealer makes a summer splash
By Amanda Winters /
September 09, 2019
Kate Dawson, director of operations

Making a splash in America’s Sailing Capital is easy when you have an experienced team like Annapolis Yacht Sales (AYS).

For more than 65 years, AYS has sailed its way to success—the company has expanded to four locations throughout the Mid Atlantic and was named the top seller of pre-owned sailboats in Maryland this year. The company also recently received the 2019 Best Distributor Award by Lagoon Americas for selling the most units in North and South America.

With help from a supportive waterfront community, loyal customers, and a booming boating industry, AYS has made a name for itself not only in Maryland, but across the globe.

We sat down with Kate Dawson, director of operations for AYS, to learn more about this successful sailing company.

Congratulations on becoming the top brokerage sailboat seller in Maryland this year! What do you attribute to your success and sales?
Thank you! Our team works really hard to do the right thing for our customers and we were thrilled to pull this data and recognize their efforts. I attribute the success to our focus on our customers. 

When a buyer comes along, they know our listings are priced right, good quality, and that our brokers know the boats intimately. Our standards of customer service and history in the industry make us stand out as a brokerage house our clients can trust to guide them along the process of buying or selling. It’s a wonderful feeling to help transfer the dream of boat ownership and we pride ourselves on being part of that journey.

You were recently named to Inc. 5000’s list of the fastest growing companies. How has the business changed in recent years, and, what was your reaction to seeing the Inc. rankings?
We were ecstatic to learn of our place on the list!  We’re a 65-year-old company earning a spot as one of the fastest growing companies in the country—that’s really special.  When the new owners took over in 2012, they expanded into the power market, opened new locations, and tripled the revenue of the company.  

We’ve now expanded our staff and infrastructure to support that growth, and while that doesn’t come without challenges, we now have a strong, unified team with a vision for the future. We cater to all types of boating from sail and power boats of all sizes, new and used, to servicing all makes and models of boats with mobile service and highly experienced techs.

How do you navigate the challenges of operating a seasonal business? What does the off-season look like compared to the summer months?
Funny you should ask, as we always say ‘we’ll make that a winter project’… expecting to have the down time to catch up… and we never seem to slow down!  We certainly have our busy selling seasons in the spring and fall, but service stays busy year-round between spring commissioning, winterization and many of our customers plan ahead for big winter projects like re-powers or interior overhauls.  Many of our clients are preparing for their boat purchase for years, so we’re ready any time of year to find the right boats for them. 

We also have winter boat shows in Florida and we host a Lagoon Escapade in the British Virgin Islands in January. We’ve teamed up with Navigare Yachting to create opportunities for our clients to charter their boats year-round and we’re excited for the future of this partnership. We certainly find ways to stay busy all year!

The company’s mantra is “let there be not one unhappy customer.” How much does customer service impact the day-to-day operations of the company?
Customer service is the driving force of our business every day in everything that we do. Our team really embraces the feeling that our ‘AYS Family’ extends beyond our staff and to our customers. Getting together each year at our AYS Rendezvous is like a family reunion where we get to catch up on where everyone’s been cruising and how the kids are doing after college. 

The pictures we share on social media, when a client takes delivery of their new boat, isn’t just to boast about another boat sold. We’ve been through the journey with that customer and we’re so proud and excited for them to be living out their dream. I always hope our customers feel that energy in every aspect of their interactions with us. This is a fun, exciting, recreational industry and we’re passionate about being on the water ourselves. Sharing that passion for the water, knowledge of our boats, and being thorough in our process to satisfy our clients’ expectations is what we strive for always.

How has Annapolis and its community impacted your business?
Annapolis is a small town with a huge boating industry. Customers fly from all over the world to Annapolis specifically to shop for boats. We just recently closed on a brokerage boat for a client who bought a one-way ticket from Florida and is now headed back home down the Intracoastal Waterway on his BENETEAU! We love when dealers from other parts of the country tell us how much they love visiting Annapolis during the fall boat shows. 

We recognize how lucky we are to have been part of this vibrant, historical, water-loving town for more than 65 years. We love supporting local events such as the Annapolis Maritime Museum’s Tides and Tunes Summer Concert Series where we get to support a good cause, connect with the community, and our customers and staff get to kick back and enjoy some great music together at a great venue. It’s partnerships like this and the Boatyard fishing tournaments, Hospice Cup, and the boat shows that connect us to the town as well as its people. 

What advice would you give to an up-and-coming business looking to locate in one of Maryland’s waterfront towns? 
Find a way to connect to the community to understand its energy and what makes it tick. There’s something so special about waterfront towns in Maryland. While each has its own claim to fame and distinct destination attractions, we’re all tied to the Chesapeake Bay and the recreation, pleasure, and joy it brings us. Get involved in preservation efforts. Learn about the history of the town. Connect with other local businesses and join the community!


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