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The Great Outdoors Marine: The biggest little boat dealer in North America

Lori Wolfe/The Herald-Dispatch Phil and Diane Daniel are the owners of the Great Outdoors Marine located at 4611 Route 152 in Lavalette.

Lori Wolfe/The Herald-Dispatch
The Great Outdoors Marine is located at 4611 Route 152 in Lavalette.

Lori Wolfe/The Herald-Dispatch The Great Outdoors Marine is located at 4611 Route 152 in Lavalette.

LAVALETTE — What began as a couple’s love of the outdoors has grown into a nationally and sometimes globally recognized boat dealership.

The Great Outdoors Marine and Sports Shop in Lavalette was recently recognized as a “Top 100″ boat dealer in North America for the third year in a row.

“It’s not about sales volume -selling a lot of boats will sure get you noticed – it’s more of a market share and how a dealership is doing in comparison to competitors in the area,” Phil Daniel, who owns Great Outdoors with his wife, Diane, said. “It has to do with things such as the type of facility and dealer’s overall profitability, too.”

There are more than 5,000 boat dealerships in North America. To be considered for the “Top 100″ requires being nominated and completing an application Phil Daniel said takes several weeks – and that’s merely the beginning of the process.

“There’s a panel of people from different aspects of the boating industry and they examine the dealers,” Phil Daniel said. “They look at numbers, profits, what is spent on advertising and what the gross margins are. It’s a rather detailed application.”

The panel reviews all applications and picks the 100 best.

The Great Outdoors Marine is the only West Virginia boat dealer ever to receive this award earn Marine 5-Star Certification, another measure of quality for boat dealers.

The Great Outdoors achieved the certification in 2012 and was one of just 15 dealers in the United States to receive the distinction, which Diane Daniel said is a certification that is ongoing and reviewed annually.

In 2014 at the annual Tracker Marine Dealer Conference, The Great Outdoors was named a Top-10 Tracker Marine dealer in the world based on sales volume and customer service index scores, which measures customer satisfaction based on quality, delivery, customer satisfaction and overall performance.

Twice in the past five years The Great Outdoors was the No. 1 dealer in the country for Sweetwater pontoons.

The Daniels admit their business ventures have progressed significantly since buying the Beech Fork Lake marina nearly 30 years ago.

“We started at the marina at Beech Fork Lake in 1986,” Phil Daniel said. “(Beech Fork) is a pontoon lake, and we really got interested in pontoon boats. In 1991 the closest boat dealer to us, which was owned by the same guy who did all the service on our rental boats on Beech Fork went out of business. So, we started thinking that we need to do something to keep our service going and get a source of pontoon boats for future rentals. We decided to move into his old building; it’s where Roger Smith is now. We never really had aspirations to grow into something like this, but the need was there and we just grew.”

The rapid and sustained growth of The Great Outdoors, Diane Daniel said, can be largely credited to their joining of a conglomerate of dealers called a “20 Group” that focuses on networking by sharing ideas, financial information and different business practices.

Diane Daniel said a “20 Group” meeting that took place at Great Outdoors about 18 months ago is the impetus for having the store’s unique indoor dock for viewing pontoons.

“We used to have a wall separating our showroom because we had an archery range,” she said. “Someone in the group asked, ‘Do you have an archery range back there now?’ I said, ‘No.’ They said, ‘Then why not take this wall down?'”

Phil Daniel said soon after the wall came down, the dock went up.

Serving such a large area is both a blessing and a curse. Phil Daniel said he considers the geographic coverage of The Great Outdoors to include the entire state of West Virginia and stretching as far west as Lexington, Kentucky, and as far north as Columbus, Ohio.

“In the boat business, the area customers come from is pretty large,” Phil Daniel said. “It’s a bigger area for boat buyers than the average car customer. There are a couple of dealers in Charleston I would consider our competitors, but locally there isn’t any really.”

The Great Outdoors’ 20,000 square-foot building sits on about 2 acres with close to 200 new and used boats for sale on 5th Street Road. The business employs 17 at the store and seven at the marina.

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Follow reporter Brandon Roberts at and via Twitter @HD_Business.


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Ernst settles in quickly on Guam: Lifelong sailor enjoys sailing with the Marianas Yacht Club

Lt. Sarah Ernst, commanding officer of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Assateague, really likes being on the water. She spends most of her day on the water, of course, and her ship is awesome, she says, but instead of going home after a long day of work she often heads out to the yacht club to bob some more.

Ernst grew up a sailor — she was on her high school’s varsity sailing team; she sailed for her college team, too — and the thrill of nerding out about trim angles and yaw just isn’t found in an office, even when it’s on a ship.

She’ll put her skills to the test today during the 38th Annual Goodwill Regatta and, if the Assateague is in port, again in a couple weeks during the 2nd Annual GTA Sail Thru Life Regatta.

“We’ve been sailing fairly regularly,” says Sail Thru Life defending champion Jeff Bell. “It’s nice to have a fellow sailing enthusiast.”

Ernst grew up in Massachusetts and her father and grandfather taught her to sail at the Buzzards Yacht Club. By the time Ernst reached high school, she was on the varsity team at her local public school during the year and at the yacht club all summer.

“I’m happy being on pretty much any boat,” Ernst says. “The yacht club was kind of like this one. There weren’t a lot of polos and martinis. It was mostly sailing.”

As college approached, Ernst was leaning toward a military academy, and when the Coast Guard Academy sailing coach heard about Ernst’s talent, he showed an interest in having her on the team and helped sway her choice.

She studied naval architecture and sailed a double-handed dinghy — two-woman, 16-foot boats — during collegiate regattas against Harvard, Yale, Tufts and other New England schools.

“I was sailing every day and racing every weekend,” Ernst said. “You get really good when you do it that much.”

Exposed to Lasers

When Ernst graduated in 2006 she was stationed in Seattle, where she immediately found a local yacht club and bought her first Laser.

While she’d been working sails her whole life, Ernst said it was the first time she’d really gotten experience with Lasers and it showed in local races.

“I finished last a lot,” she says. “The guys there showed me a lot about Lasers. … There’s a lot of fine controls. Three inches of tension on one rope can make a huge difference in boat speed.”

The Laser community in Seattle is passionate and Ernst studied hard, picked up tips from the local sailors and was only just starting to become an expert when she was transferred to Alaska.

Ernst sold her Laser to an old college teammate and moved to Alaska, where she met her husband and spent her free time wearing a dry suit to keep warm while she played around again on double-handed dinghies.

She liked the scenery and work in Alaska, but longed for a reprieve from the cold, rain, dry suits and dinghies.

Dream come true

Six years after she’d arrived, Ernst was pegged to move to Guam. She arrived last June and not long after she took command of the Assateague her sailing dreams came true.

“I saw some Lasers one day and I was like, where did those come from?” Ernst recalls. “I was at Gab Gab and I saw them at the yacht club. … Now I get to sail here, which is awesome, without a dry suit, which is awesome.”

After a frantic, scenic tour of Piti and everything surrounding the port, Ernst and her husband finally found the Marianas Yacht Club. She went inside, connected with Bell and she’s been an active member ever since.

“We’re always welcoming the new people coming down,” Bell said. “We’re a very word-of-mouth organization. We usually get new members just by people showing up and saying, hey, I want to get on a boat.”

Ernst joined the club and started borrowing a Laser whenever she wanted to hit the water. It’s a bit different than Seattle — there’s no reef at the club there and the boats aren’t rigged the same way in Guam — but the community is the same.

Like the Laser specialists in Seattle, Bell and Ernst trade tips as they prepare to compete in weekend races.

Guam’s sailing community also is smaller than Ernst grew up with, but the passion is the same.

“There aren’t as many competitors here, but it’s nice because the attitude is much friendlier. There’s not a feeling of fierce competition,” she said.

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88th Bacardi Cup Headlines the 6th BACARDI Miami Sailing Week presented by EFG Bank

MIAMI, Feb. 28, 2015 /PRNewswire/ — The 88th Bacardi Cup and the 6th BACARDI Miami Sailing Week (BMSW) presented by EFG Bank begins on Monday, March 2, with the Bacardi Cup for the Star class; on Thursday March 5, for the J/70, Viper 640, VX One and M32 classes. 173 boats with competitors from 15 foreign nations will travel to Miami, FL to compete for the BMSW title for 2015.

BACARDI Miami Sailing Week attracts elite competition to all of it’s competing classes. Every class has sailors fighting to defend their BMSW titles from last year, while new sailors enter into the mix.

60 entrants in the Star class include last year’s BMSW winner, Olympians, National Champions and Yachtsman of the Year, which makes for a competitive fleet.

The J/70 fleet top 3 finishers from BMSW last year will have to fight against each other, and this year’s J/70’s Worlds runner up for this years’ title.

The Viper 640’s reach a record number of entrants with 35 boats registered for the BMSW that doubles as their final event of the EFG Pan-American Championship. The top 3 finishers from last year’s event will be present to fight for the BMSW title.

The VX One is making their 2nd appearance at BMSW with 25 entrants. Last year’s BMSW winner will be challenged to defend his title against other great sailors, including the current North American Champion, Midwinter Champion, and the winner of this year’s St. Pete Nood.

Six high performance catamarans will premiere in the M32 class competing in their 3rd event of their Winter Series in the BMSW.  

The BMSW is not only for competition, but also benefits Shake-A-Leg Miami, Team Paradise, and Sailing Heals in the Pro-Am Regatta and Gala.

The BACARDI Village Hospitality for the BMSW will be set up at Kennedy Park, with BACARDI rum, food and music for all the competitors. There will also be an art exhibit entitled Sailing Dreams by Vicki DaSilva featuring 10 light paintings that present to the community how she interprets the beautiful sport of sailing into art.

For more information visit and

This is a STUDIOMILANO event.

To view the original version on PR Newswire, visit:

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