Sweetwater Landing Marina – A Florida SBDC Success Story

Brandon Mayer, a 2014 management graduate of Florida Gulf Coast University’s (FGCU) Lutgert College of Business, decided to take his father’s advice and not get a job after graduation. His father had always told him that the abbreviation for job was j.o.b., which stood for “just over broke.” Instead, his father always encouraged him to own his own business, saying that it was better to own something where your work pays you back, says Mayer.

Mayer heeded his father’s advice. As the new owner of Sweetwater Landing, a marina providing dry and wet boat storage in Fort Myers, he has opted to chart his own course in the business world.  The recent graduate explains how he combined his father’s advice with his love of being on boats and near the water, something he’d learned to appreciate growing up. During college, Mayer nurtured this love by working at South Seas Island Resort on Captive Island, cleaning boats and doing what he refers to as “grunt work.”

“That was fun even though I was just cleaning boats,” says Mayer. “I thought that running a marina would be even more fun.” And so the idea of owning a marina was born.  He started to research local marinas online, visited four that were for sale, and decided on Sweetwater because he like the growth and expansion opportunities the marina offered.

As a student at FGCU, Mayer walked into the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) office located on campus and set up an appointment to meet with certified business analyst, Norm Jacobson.  As a management major, he was aware of the resources available at the SBDC because some class projects had allowed him to work on business plans for SBDC clients.

In February of 2014 he met with Jacobson to discuss the next steps required to make his vision a reality. “I wasn’t even sure who or what I needed,” says Mayer. “I just knew I needed to be pointed in the right direction.”

Mayer credits Jacobson for flagging key caution points in the $1.5 million land buying deal.  “He cautioned me not to jump into it too quickly.  He wanted me to make sure things were what they seemed to be.”  With respect to due diligence, Jacobson helped him understand the permitting process, and if the marina was in fact good land to purchase as determined by an environmental inspection.

Property that has had oil, gasoline and flammable chemicals stored on it can sometimes be problematic, explains Jacobson. “A new owner can get whacked [with fines] if they own the land 50 years later.” He also walked Mayer through important facets of insurance topics, like flood plain insurance, given the marina’s proximity to the Caloosahatchee River.

Jacobson was also quick to point out to the young entrepreneur that he was purchasing land from a subsidiary of Bonita Bay Group (BBG), one of the largest landholders in Southwest Florida.  “It’s really important to do your due diligence when buying property from the 800-pound gorilla,” says Jacobson, adding that BBG has a fleet of lawyers backing them up.

As is protocol, Jacobson gave Mayer three attorney referrals for him to choose from to support him through the process. Mayer selected one of referrals, the attorneys from which helped him with the due diligence, the closing process, setting up the legal entity for the business, and creating the legal contracts for things like boat rentals and use of boat slips. They also represented him to close the land transaction with the marina broker.

Mayer actually arrived at the offer price on his own.  He had observed that the marina had been on the market for more than one year, and that the price had consistently dropped from $2.5 to $1.8 million.  He arrived at his offer of $1.5 million based on Lee County tax records and local sales, and financed the deal with a loan from his parents.

On June 10, 2014, Mayer became the official owner of Sweetwater. He kept two of the original employees so that he didn’t have to learn everything from scratch, and hired his cousin, also an FGCU student, to work with him three days a week. So far, the income from the marina has been better than originally forecasted.

While Sweetwater has always offered dry and wet storage for boats, and overnight stays for boats traveling along the Caloosahatchee, Mayer has already expanded the business offerings to include powerboat rentals and boat detailing.  He also plans to establish a restaurant at the marina.

The young owner credits Jacobson with being a great sounding board, and the SBDC with providing the right recommendations that made the process easier than it could have been. “It’s kinda fun to do things as you want,” he says, adding that he still takes advice from people. “I learned a lot through the process and I’m still learning a lot,” says Mayer.

Jackie Aaron