MarineMax’s winter rendezvous in Key Largo offers an inside look at what makes the company so successful.

It’s the experience we take you on. That’s what makes the difference,” MarineMax’s Azimut Brand Manager Andrew Schneider told me as owners gathered and mingled over brunch at the Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo. And the experience, an expertly choreographed rendezvous, attracted dozens of yachts and hundreds of guests.

The sun-drenched weekend rendezvous in March included activities such as a pig roast on the beach, kayaking and a golf tournament. Other, less-common events included a pickelball tournament and a cooking class.

“We’re bringing the Italian lifestyle to Americans with Italian boats,” explained Abbey Heimensen, director of marketing at MarineMax. “One thing we all fight against is time. We want our guests to arrive and have everything planned for them. Like an adult day camp.”

The annual winter rendezvous, which alternates between Key Largo and Key West, is just one event MarineMax offers its customers. In the past the company has hosted week-long ski trips, Mediterranean cruises and even a dinner in the Vatican. Why organize such extreme events, I wondered. Cruising from his home in Coral Gables to the rendezvous aboard his Azimut 80 Flybridge, four-time Azimut owner Hector Fortun shed some light on that idea for me.

“I enjoy getting to meet the other boat owners. These events create great camaraderie; you also get to meet and become part of the MarineMax family.”

He went on to explain that he finds it easy to make friends at events like this one because all the participants share one thing in common: a love of boating. “We’re all connected by water.”

During the weekend I was able to witness these friendships firsthand. “We haven’t met you yet,” I overheard one couple stay to another. “Yeah, this is our first rendezvous.” “Thought so. We’ve been to about twenty of these events.” Conversation continued to flow and a fast friendship formed.

Family was a word used frequently by many owners at the event, including Carmelo, who owns an Azimut 95 Raised Pilot House. He came to this country from Italy as a boy with just $60 in his pocket.

As a young man, he washed cars for money, then worked his way up to mechanic before buying his own car dealership, and then several more. Carmelo is on his fourteenth Azimut, yet he hasn’t forgotten his humble upbringing and the value of family.

Video: Dan Harding's LIVE Facebook video from the rendezvous:

Now retired, Carmelo is quick to invite people on his boat. At the rendezvous, he asked employees of Azimut and MarineMax, and me, aboard for a sit-down Italian dinner at noon. He leaned in towards me during the impromptu meal and nodded toward the rest of the group. “If they eat at my table, they’re family.”

What’s the secret to having a strong working relationship with a builder for more than three decades? I asked him. “ The secret is, they treat me well, and I treat them well.”

Creating and nurturing new friendships is one benefit of attending a MarineMax rendezvous. Another is the chance to take advantage of the expertise of the various Azimut and systems techs who walk the docks. They’ll often check in with guests to see if they have any issues or questions. If someone has a problem that can be fixed on site, these pros do so then and there, free of charge.

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“We’ve had the Kenyon team come aboard and show us how to use the grills. MAN reps will come on your boat and fix any issue you might have, and you meet canvas guys and other systems experts,” said Fortun. “It’s great.”

Encouraging owners to push away from the dock and spend time with friends (or what many call “their boating family”) out on the water. At its core, that’s what boating is all about. I realized MarineMax is successful not just because they sell great boats, but because they’re really promoting boating itself. That sounds like a successful strategy to me.

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