Business

Boats Group decides Miami is the place to be, anchors headquarters

Boats Group is the parent company of several large online marketplaces for boats of all sizes.
Boats Group is the parent company of several large online marketplaces for boats of all sizes. Boats Group

A quarter of Boats Group’s customers are in Florida, many of them in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area. Now the parent company of the world’s largest online marketplaces for boats is steering its corporate headquarters to Brickell.

Currently based in Norfolk, Virginia, Boats Group owns recreational marine brands Boat Trader, boats.com, YachtWorld, CosasDeBarcos, all online portals for buying and selling boats, and YachtCloser, which sells a tool used for yacht closings to yacht brokers. The company plans to complete the relocation to Miami this summer and will add 80 new jobs in the Miami area, said Sam Fulton, CEO of Boats Group.

Boats Group has already filled about 20 of the 80 positions, many of those tech positions such as software engineers and product managers, and are actively recruiting for more, said Fulton, an e-commerce executive who took the helm of Boats Group CEO in November.

Sam Fulton - Boats Group - Headshot
Sam Fulton, CEO of Boats Group

Fulton formerly held senior executive positions at Orbitz for more than 13 years, most recently as senior vice president of the company’s U.S. consumer travel business and president of Orbitz.com, and continued in e-commerce leadership roles at Groupon. Then he got a call from Apax Partners, the private equity firm that acquired Boats Group last summer.

The opportunity: Although Boats Group was already the leading marketplace for buying and selling boats, there were strategies and processes not being done in a best-in-class way that could be fixed, driving even more growth, Fulton said.

Once on board, Fulton wanted to bring the company closer together — literally. In addition to its headquarters in Norfolk, many of the company’s software developers were in Vancouver, and it also had offices in the United Kingdom and Spain. Boats Group has already begun closing the Norfolk and Vancouver operations in order to consolidate most of the functions in Miami.

“I come from a background where you try to get your team in close proximity to each other so that they can collaborate … and those are all businesses that scaled very effectively,” he said. “In one facility, you will get more productivity and better communication between the teams.”

Why Miami? A big reason was the customer base already in Florida.

“Every company should want to be close to their major customers and should want to have regular engagement with their customers, and being headquartered out of Norfolk, that was more difficult,” said Fulton, who has lived in Chicago for the past 20 years and has moved his family here, settling into Pinecrest.

The relocation also offers Boats Group a physical presence in the largest boating market in North America. The region’s thriving marine industry is responsible for more than 136,000 jobs and $11.5 billion in annual economic output, according to the Marine Industries Association of South Florida.

Boats Group will occupy the 23rd floor at 1221 Brickell Ave. Beyond the panoramic views of Biscayne Bay, Boats Group’s new headquarters will feature an open layout without offices, he said. The common area can also be utilized for hosting meetups and hackathons to engage with local talent, Fulton said. “I love the vibrancy of Brickell. It is one of the things that attracted us here as a company. There are a bunch of reasons to think we made a really good decision.”

The Miami-Dade Beacon Council assisted Boats Group with the relocation.

“This successful relocation showcases Miami’s growing innovation ecosystem and Florida’s ranking as the boating capital of the U.S.,” said Sheldon T. Anderson, interim president and CEO of the Miami-Dade Beacon Council, in a statement. “Boats Group perfectly matches our community of entrepreneurs and innovators.”  

Boats Group is recruiting for software engineers and product managers as well as marketing, finance, sales and account management talent. “These are good paying, in-demand jobs. We will be actively competing for them and looking to bring more opportunities for those higher paying jobs,” Fulton said.

Boats Group employs about 190 worldwide. Its brands attract over 65 million unique visitors annually to more than 300,000 boat and yacht listings. Its digital solutions serve over 5,000 dealers and brokers in more than 143 countries.

Fulton said South Florida’s tech community will be seeing Boats Group’s teams hosting meetups, user groups and hackathons and quickly getting involved in the community.

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg

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