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Mapleton Marine

Making Waves in Mapleton

The Schull family finds that family time and family values can be found on the water and in their business, Mapleton Marine.

The boating industry in Minnesota is making all sorts of waves these days. According to data from the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), Minnesota ranks fourth when it comes to new-boat buying nationwide (behind Florida, Texas, and Michigan). In 2015 approximately 11,000 new boats were sold in Minnesota. At an average of $34,427 per boat, that’s $379 million coming in. Estimates put the number of used boat sales around 44,000 for the same year. Maybe not surprising statistics, after all, we are in the land of 10,000 lakes. Boating is ingrained in the culture.

“It’s part of what you do as you grow up,” says Josh Schull, General Manager of Mapleton Marine. “People here, that’s what they’ve always done. They go to the cabin, or they have a friend or an uncle or a relative who has a lake home.”

That’s the way Josh grew up, on the lake and surrounded by boats off the water as well. Thanks to his father, Jim, who started Mapleton Marine when Josh was just a kid back in 1986. At that time it was just Jim and a single helper. Today, the company employs 10 people and has expanded beyond what he ever thought was possible. It stems from his deep belief that boating can bring people together, and being out on the water is an experience you can’t put a price tag on.

Jim says, “My boat’s my psychiatrist. When I have things buzzing in my head, I go jump in the boat. It’s something about the solitude of the waves—whether you’re catching your fish or not is not important. It’s getting in touch with nature more than anything, what God has made. It makes you humble.”

With a year-round location in Mapleton, each January through March, the Schulls take their show on the road. For 27 years now, Mapleton Marine has hosted its winter boat show at the Madison East Center in Mankato, nestled among medical supply stores and Mayo Clinic offices. The mall hallways are stuffed with gleaming watercraft, party pontoons, and boat lifts. The trek to Mankato each winter is an important part of Mapleton Marine’s business plan. Even though lakes are almost always frozen over that time of year, stats from NMMA say 36 percent of powerboat owners decided to purchase a boat after attending a boat show.

Mapleton Marine is a full service boating dealership, a one-stop shop when you’re heading out onto the water. They do new and used sales from their showroom and warehouse, detailing, service and parts, storage, and more. Mapleton Marine is one of the largest dock and lift dealers in the entire state of Minnesota. Holding their boat show at Madison East Center each winter helps the company stay visible to Mankato-area residents (Mapleton is located 15 miles south). Plus, the beginning of the year is the perfect time to purchase a boat, with many manufacturers offering declining rebate programs. This means that a boat purchased in January would be eligible for the highest rebate amount, with rebates decreasing through March. Once April 1st rolls around, boaters want to be ready to get out on the water and not waste a single second of the nice weather. 

It’s the way Jim was raised and it’s what fuels his business decisions. He credits his love of boating to his father, who bought him a boat when he was just 15 years old. “I was raised on a farm (and we still live on the farm). My dad came home from an auction with a 12-foot cedar strip boat with a 25hp motor, and he said, ‘There you go, boys.’ I have two brothers and a sister. All we knew back then was that if you pulled on it long enough, it would start, and to the lake we went.”    

It’s a love Jim immediately passed on to his son Josh. Making him his first mate on the water and in the business.

  “I was always involved in some form of the business growing up,” reflects Josh. “Cleaning boats, sweeping floors, going to boat shows with my dad. When my dad first started he was the only person that handled the sales and sometimes at boat shows when it was super busy it was hard for him to talk with everyone that came by. So when I was a kid, 7, 8, 9 years old, I would go to the shows with him; my job was to talk with customers that were looking at boats until my dad was able to finish up with his customer and help the customer I was talking too. He would tell me to ‘just talk about boating, fishing, hunting, the weather whatever will keep them around until I can get to them’. I guess this is maybe how I got my introduction to sales.”

The State of Boating   

According to Jim and Josh, boating is slightly on the rise these days. “The technology of the engines and the quality of the boats is going up,” says Jim. “Of course, that technology has driven the price up. In 2005 you could buy a pontoon with a 60 horse motor for under $10,000 whereas today, it’s $7,800 just for the motor.”      

The boating industry relies on disposable income as new boats typically sell for between $10,000 and $200,000. But, there also has to be a desire. “People have to want to boat in order to buy a boat,” says Jim.

Josh admits that it’s difficult to get younger people into boating, particularly those who might be starting families and graduating from college with student loan debt. This particular issue is one the entire industry is currently struggling with.

Although the industry is still predominantly male-driven, Mapleton Marine sees lots of female boaters. “With some customers, the wife likes to fish and the husband doesn’t,” says Jim. The NMMA reports that fishing is the number one reason for owning a boat in Minnesota. The state ranks second in the U.S. for fishing participation according to the DNR, with nearly a third of residents age 16 or older holding a fishing license (behind Alaska, at 40%).   

Josh says the reason for boating, though, really should come down to one thing. “I guess I would ask them… do you like to have fun? It’s pretty simple. If you’ve never done it, why not try it? If you like to have fun, you’ll have fun going out boating. You just will.”    

In addition to technology improving over time, safety in boating has significantly increased over the years Jim has been in the business. The NMMA regulates safety standards as far as flotation, motor size, wiring, and general construction. “When we first started, how do I say this… When I first started, you had a lot of noise, a lot of smoke. Engines coughing, spitting, and sputtering was the norm.” 

Today, all boaters really need to know is how to turn a key. “If you can turn a key and fill it up with gas, you’re good to go,” says Josh.

The Mapleton Marine Difference     

“We’re probably one of the only Marine dealerships in southern Minnesota with a master technician on staff,” says Jim. The body that certifies these master technicians is Mercury Marine®. Master status is the highest qualification a technician can achieve in the Mercury Marine Dealer Network, demonstrating outstanding performance and professionalism, and a commitment to provide only the highest standards of service. The master certification process can take anywhere from two to five years of trainings and product-specific courses. Mapleton Marine currently has one master technician on staff and a few others on their way.

Another thing Mapleton has focused on over the years is building customer loyalty by providing help at every step along the way. “We have their trust,” says Jim. “We pick up their boat and bring it to our store, winterize it, store it. In the spring they’ll call and we’ll meet them at the landing. They get to enjoy their boat for another summer.”      

“We always tell people that we can do as much or as little as they want us to do,” adds Josh. They encourage people to shop around. In some cases, Mapleton Marine will be most cost effective. Even if they’re not, the company sets itself apart through great customer service. “The one thing I can guarantee that we will have above anybody else is our customer service and how we take care of our customer before, during, and after the sale. I think that’s been proven for 30 plus years,” he says. This makes sense because what Mapleton Marine is selling is fun incarnate. A boat isn’t a necessity—it’s not something that anyone has to have. Mapleton Marine appreciates that. “You’re coming to us to in order to let us help you to go out and have fun. We want to take care of those people that take care of us. It’s kind of a mutual respect that we have,” Josh says.    

Jim says it was important to him to include “honesty” as one of Mapleton Marine’s company values. “We do what we say. We treat people like we want to be treated. Fairness is the only way that works,” he says. “We have to make a profit, but we’re not greedy. That’s how I was brought up.”     

All Aboard: How They Got Started

In vocational school, Jim switched from the auto line to the marine line. “An outboard motor does not drip on you when you’re underneath it working on it,” he explains of his decision.

For Josh, it was a little different.

“I started full time during my sophomore year of college in 1998 as the parts manager. From there I moved into the sales portion of the business in 2002 with my dad and then our sales manager Gary Reise. From that point I worked as a salesman until 2011 when I moved into the Sales Manager position after Gary passed away and now currently act as General Manager for the entire business.”

All Work And No Play?

“Of course we all like to go boating,” says Josh. “Unfortunately, when it’s nice enough to go out, that means other people are boating, and we need to be taking care of customers. I usually have to go on vacation to get on a boat for fun.”   

“I do a fishing trip on Father’s Day week, that’s been a tradition for the last 10 years,” says Jim. “This year I’m getting into more of a family style boat instead of just a fishing boat, because I’ve got grandkids to play with.”

Best Boating Around Mankato:

  • Lake Washington (on week day)   
  • Madison Lake   
  • Lake Jefferson    
  • Duck Lake (Jamestown Township)    Lake Francis   
  • “Wherever your friends are at, I think, is the lake that you choose.” —Jim

Boating Helps Anchor Schull Family

“My earliest memory of boating was being at our cottage on Duck Lake and riding in my dad’s Baja boat,” remembers Josh. “A little back story on that boat. My dad sold that boat to a customer across the lake in 1988 and then the boat got passed on to his daughter and son-in-law years later. Since 1995 I’ve tried to purchase the boat back but I never was able to get it done. In 2013 I was finally able to buy the boat back. I completely restored the boat back to original condition, new upholstery, new paint job, and new motor. This was my dad’s first boat he purchased when he started Mapleton Marine and the first boat that I truly remember growing up in. It was special to both of us. After keeping my purchase a secret from my dad I gave it back to him on Father’s Day of 2013. Now my kids get to enjoy the very same boat that I did when I was kid, something that is super special to me. We spent every weekend at the lake along with our friends, family and loved everything about the lake. Being at the lake and boating is one of my fondest memories growing up as a kid.”

This connection between family and boating is one that has strengthened Mapleton Marine over the years. “Boating is one of the most rewarding experiences a family can have together. It’s hard to get people to even sit down and eat dinner today at the same time,” he says. “But with a boat you do things together all day or all afternoon long with the family.”    

Off The Water And Into The Wild

In 2004, Josh took a brief hiatus from Mapleton Marine to start his own business, “Wild Excursions” which he still operates today. Through Wild Excursions, Josh traveled the world to film and edit big game hunts for television and personal clients. “Growing up in a small town farming community, I was taught that if you work hard, good things will come,” he says. “When I started, I didn’t know anybody in the outdoor industry. I just brought a camera and started calling people and going to shows and shaking hands—the same way he [his father] started Mapleton Marine. You work hard, earn your customers, and continue to work hard to keep them.”

Lines Sold At Mapleton Marine

  • Crestliner   
  • Premier Pontoons   
  • Hewitt (based in Nicollet, MN)   
  • Pier Pleasure (based in Mankato, MN)   
  • Mercury Marine


Mapleton Marine
Mankato: 304 State Highway 22 North, Mapleton, Minnesota
Phone: (507) 524-4588
Facebook: Mapleton Marine

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Outboard engine sales continue to surge on the strength of constant innovation

As buyers gravitate to larger vessels, bigger engines are becoming commonplace.

The growth in recreational boating over the past several years has been achieved in large part due to corresponding advances in outboard power. It’s impossible to walk through any consumer boat show these days and not be struck by the overwhelming prevalence of outboard engines. From lightweight portables to behemoth V8s, outboard engines continue to dominate sales figures not just here in the U.S., but all around the world. 

According to the latest data from the National Marine Manufacturers Association, sales of new outboard-powered boats have been growing steadily for the past six years. From annual retail sales to the order of 100,000 units in 2011, NMMA shows retail volumes charting steadily upward through September 2016 – the most recent data released – when they approached the 150,000-unit range. That is a substantial rate of growth by any measure and today four out of five new powerboats sold are powered by an outboard engine.

Freshwater fishing boats currently represent 45 percent of all outboard boats sold, notes NMMA, followed by pontoon boats (32 percent) and saltwater fishing boats (19 percent). Yet it is the rapid growth in the pontoon and saltwater fishing categories that have driven the sharpest gains in outboard engine sales, as these segments continue to achieve year-over-year growth rates in the high single-digit and low double-digit range. 

“Pontoon boat sales continue to grow year after year, which obviously represent a direct benefit to outboard manufacturers,” said Evinrude product marketing manager Jason Eckman. “Today’s pontoon boats have evolved to such a degree that they’re nothing like what they were even 10 years ago. The boats get bigger and they’re continually pushing boundaries with more and more amenities, but buyers still want to have an exciting ride and a bit of performance. This has been driving demand for larger horsepower outboards for some time, and now we’re seeing multi-engine pontoons emerge on the market from several different manufacturers. At one point this might have been considered a completely outrageous idea, but as more people experience it and enjoy the performance edge that twin engines bring, multi-engine pontoons have begun to emerge as a bit of a growing trend, while focusing even more attention on the pontoon segment and driving further sales.”

The growth of the pontoon segment has been a key factor in outboard sales.

It isn’t just pontoons which have grown larger and come to demand bigger engines. The entire boating market seems to be experiencing an upshift as consumers gravitate to increasingly larger product. 

“Boating is getting bigger, but not in the sense that everyone’s out there buying 350s and 400s,” said David Foulkes, vice president and chief technology officer at Mercury Marine parent Brunswick Corp. “The distribution curve is definitely moving up. People who previously would have bought a 60 are now buying a 75, for example, and people who would have bought a 90 in the past are now more likely to buy a 115. The overall volumes in that mid-range are still higher than for the very top end, but the whole curve is sliding upward. Our new 350 and 400 recognize that upward shift and provide new options for those customers who would have previously bought a 250 or a 300.”

Steady growth in the saltwater fishing segment has also driven demand for outboards, and in particular for the high-power units that carry the greatest margins. 

“Certainly we’ve seen significant, sustained growth in that category,” said Gus Blakely, vice president / division head at Suzuki. “Saltwater fishing has become a huge market for large outboards, as boat builders keep upping the ante with 35-, 40- and 50-foot center consoles that do more than just fish. But in addition to that, or maybe because of it, more recently we’re seeing the entire fiberglass recreational boat market begin to rebound. It’s coming back in a major way, and further driving outboard sales. There are boatbuilders such as Stingray and Formula which used to use sterndrives exclusively or near exclusively, and they’re now introducing boats with outboard power. Their dealers can now sell the boat they’re familiar with, but with all the added benefits that an outboard brings, like more cockpit space or being able to tilt the motor up out of the water when it’s not in use. The impact of that is significant.”

Indeed, fiberglass runabouts in the 16- to 30-foot category now represent a significant portion of the overall outboard market, according to Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Statistical Surveys, Inc. In its data from December 2016, SSI shows fiberglass outboard-powered runabouts marking a staggering year-over-year sales increase of 21 percent. This far outpaces year-over-year growth for other outboard-powered categories like pontoons, saltwater fishing, aluminum fishing and bass boats, and represents the only outboard-powered boat category to post double-digit growth.

The hot market

Outboards not only enjoy massive market share right now, their slice of the pie seems to grow bigger every year. SSI data shows sales of 127,981 outboard-powered boats of all types in 2012, growing to 136,488 units in 2013, 146,818 units in 2014, 157,052 units in 2015 and 165,435 units in 2016. 

Honda BF150 Angler Qwest

Contrast this to a corresponding decline of sterndrive-powered boats over the same period, with volumes of 16,666 units in 2012, 15,060 in 2013, 13,923 in 2014, 12,941 in 2015 and 12,472 last year. 

“Prior to the downturn the cast iron sterndrive market was doing really well,” said Honda Marine OEM sales manager Dennis Ashley. “But coming out of the downturn the market shifted strongly over to pontoons, and cast-iron sterndrives fell out of favor. As a result, the fiberglass boat builders started bringing out new outboard-powered deck boats and runabouts that are really nice, and designed to be able to compete head-on with pontoons. They’ve gained some momentum and I think they could be the next leader in the market. A lot of these are 3,000-pound boats that take 300 horsepower engines, and over the past couple of years that’s a big part of where the growth in sales of larger outboards is coming from. People want a sporty ride, and it all comes down to that power-to-weight ratio which inevitably favors outboards.”

Additional factors cited by boatbuilders in favor of outboards include easier maintenance, increased cockpit space, and quieter operation. 

“The market shift to outboard power has been closely associated to the types of boats that consumers want to buy today,” Foulkes said. “Outboard-powered deck boats are creating demand for outboard engines in a segment of the market where there wasn’t much demand 10 or 15 years ago. People are buying outboard-powered pontoons today, where in the past they might have bought a runabout, because they can go 50 miles an hour and still seat a dozen people and do tow sports and all kinds of things. The big crossover saltwater fishing boats, which now offer the kind of accommodation a cruiser used to have, are also outboard-powered. All of these categories are particularly strong right now, and they are all contributing to driving the growth in outboard power.”

Relentless technological development

165,435 outboard-powered boats were sold in 2016.

While it may be tempting to suggest that it is the lower cost of outboards which gives them an edge over sterndrives – particularly in the wake of the EPA’s  evaporative emission regulations that came into effect in 2010 – the fact is that is has been rapid-fire technological development that has truly driven the market. The addition of features like digital throttle and shift, automatic trim and digital positioning systems not only make boating easier, they add tremendous value in the eyes of prospective buyers. That is particularly true today, as time-crunched professionals have less and less time to spend honing their skills on the water. 

But it’s not just newbie boaters who want all the bells and whistles. The old salts do too. 

“When serious boaters are ready to purchase a new boat, they want more full-featured products,” said Yamaha Marine Group President Ben Speciale. “Yamaha mechanical engine systems are very reliable and operate the engine well. I will be the first one to state, however, that once you use a digital throttle and shift engine, it’s hard to go back to mechanical again. This digital technology fully integrates boat control systems to create a unique experience for larger boats. To me, the system really makes big boats drive like smaller boats, and makes boating more approachable.”

Of course the desire for automation and easier operation exists at every horsepower level, which is why new technologies are usually quick to move across the entire product line. 

More builders are opting for outboard power on runabouts and deck boats.

“Every boater wants to have the best experience they can have,” said Eckman. “The migration of advanced features down through the model range in outboards is a bit like the migration of advanced features in the automotive industry. Things like power steering and power windows and automatic transmissions were all introduced on premium vehicles, and today you find them even on the base models. With our launch of the G2 in the 150 horsepower class last year, we brought features like digital shift and throttle that nobody else in the industry had into that horsepower range. Power steering and automatic trim are other features that have also now become available in the 150 horsepower class. They make boating easier, and they make boating more fun.”

They also encourage boat owners to consider repowering boats they already own. Eckman notes that one of the new G2 150 models introduced last year specifically targets the repower market.

“There are a lot of new fiberglass boats being sold today, but there are a lot of existing fiberglass boats that are being repowered as well,” said Blakely. “Families appreciate the dependability and ease of ownership that comes with the technology that’s found in today’s four-strokes. Today’s consumers do their research, and when they look at the features and benefits and the value for their money, the decision to repower is usually pretty easy. Repowering an outboard boat is straightforward, and it’s an easy way to completely change the entire ownership experience.” 

The fine line of costs and benefits

While advanced features clearly make boating easier, they can also add to an engine’s price tag. That’s a major reason why new technology is typically introduced on larger engines, since their typically higher margins and retail price tags help cushion development costs. Those investments are further offset when the new technology inevitably migrates down through the rest of the model lineup.

Fishing boats are another driver of outboard sales growth.

“There is always the need to strike a balance in bringing high-end features to lower horsepower,” Speciale said. “Our new lightweight 25 horsepower four stroke includes lots of new features found in larger engines. And it’s 25 percent lighter in overall weight, driven by technology from our second generation V6 four strokes. This is a balance between cost and value to the consumer.” 

This balanced approach is a key reason that outboard manufacturers increasingly describe cost in terms of ownership rather than acquisition. Where a new outboard may carry a higher price tag than the engine it replaces, new technologies that improve fuel economy and reduce service requirements can significantly lower the overall cost of ownership. 

“It doesn’t really matter if someone’s driving a big offshore boat in Florida or a little jon boat in Arkansas or a pontoon in Michigan, people just want to have fun in their boat,” said Ashley. “People don’t buy boats and engines, they buy what those products represent. They’re thinking about the good times they’re going to have, not what the maintenance schedule looks like. They look big picture, and that’s how we as an industry need to look at it too. We’re selling an experience, and our job is to make boating as enjoyable and carefree as possible.”  

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