BoatSales of Lake Wylie project tops $1 million

Drought, devastating recession and crippling fuel prices. BoatSales of Lake Wylie has seen and survived all three since opening in 2006.

“People ask us about the recession a lot, but we also had to outlast that drought, too, and fuel prices when they shot up,” said Vic Winebarger, the owner of Boat Sales of Lake Wylie. “It wasn’t long after 2008 we were the only game in town.”

But Winebarger’s company survived the lean times and is now poised to capitalize on Lake Wylie’s growth. The company recently bought and refurbished of a new $1 million retail and showroom facility next door to its current operation on Charlotte Highway in Lake Wylie. That’s the building that was once home to the River Rat Restaurant and, later, Roadhouse Lounge (the River Rat restaurant is still open on S.C. 557).

Winebarger envisions the new space as a full-service “ship store,” that will offer a full parts department, a new Yamaha outboard motor room, apparel, watersports equipment and marine safety products.


It’s all changed

Winebarger, who’s been in the marine industry since 1985, said the expansion is his first since the end of the recession.

 “You had manufacturers mothballing their plants and many just never came back,” Winebarger said.

The cruiser and high performance boat markets, in particular, have never recovered, Winebarger said. Industry wide, sales are still roughly 40 percent lower than they were in 2005 to 2006. Aluminum fishing boat sales also remain far below their peak in the late 1990s, he said.

That’s not to say it’s been all bad news, Winebarger said. He expects pontoon boat sales to be roughly 25 percent higher this year than last year, and newer four stroke outboard motors — generally more fuel efficient than their sterndrive motor counterparts — will be his top seller.

“The pontoons are a good fit for a lot of customers,” Winebarger said. “Particularly families, because of the space they offer. Combine that with an aluminum deck, which costs a little more but lasts forever, and pontoons just make sense.”


Surviving on parts, service and preowned

A key feature of his operation? An electric trolling motor repair area that he called one of the keys to surviving the recession.

“Guys fishing tournaments can’t wait a week to get their trolling motors fixed,” Winebarger said. “We’ve always offered fast repairs, but now that service work will be done in our new building.”

Boats and their accessories, especially complex electric trolling motors and gas powered outboard engines, are big ticket items, Winebarger said.

“Customers want assurances that they’re going to be able to get these things serviced and repaired when they need to,” Winebarger said.

But many of the dealers and shops that serviced those customers went out of business, leaving boat owners in a lurch, Winebarger said.

“It really opened up that work for us and we took advantage of it,” Winebarger said. “Considering the fact that nobody could get financing for a new boat of any kind for a couple years, that service work was huge for us.” 


Banking on Lake Wylie

While the marine industry hasn’t fully recovered, Winebarger believes his operation is well positioned, considering Lake Wylie’s explosive growth.

“The growth of this place in recent years has just been phenomenal,” Winebarger said. “I think we’ll approach 35,000 cars driving past this place every day, and that’s huge for a business our size.”

And the reaction to his restaurant retrofit?

“We’ve had a lot of people that have already dropped by and told us they appreciated us sort of keeping that place alive,” Winebarger said. “When you hear comments like that, you know you’ve done something right.”

What: BoatSales of Lake Wylie expansion

Who: Vic Winebarger

Purchase price: $1 million

Projected opening: Mid-January

Address: 4376 Charlotte Hwy., Lake Wylie, SC

Contact: Call 803-631-5430 for more information

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