Dixie Bacon Bacon and Associates, Inc.

More than four decades ago, a husband and wife team began building small, experimental boats in the mountains of Massachusetts. Then they stumbled onto a business that they thought might make a little money on the side and, instead, became an opportunity of a lifetime that would lead them to the Chesapeake Bay and Annapolis.

"We backed into the business," says Dixie Bacon, owner and co-founder of Bacon and Associates, Inc. "When my husband was working on the boats, we advertised for secondhand sails and got as many responses from people who wanted to buy used sails as from those who could sell them." At first, the Bacons thought they would finance their boats by exchanging sails but, in no time flat, it was evident that selling used sails was where the money was. That was in 1959, and Bacon and Associates, Inc., has been flourishing ever since.

When the Bacons started their business, they were located in the Berkshires. "But we quickly realized we were too far away from the water. We only had lakes nearby. So we shifted in 1961 to Oxford, Md." They moved to Annapolis in 1963 where there was more water, better business locations and more traffic for their business.

Bacon and Associates is now located in its fourth site at 115 Legion Avenue, just one block off West Street. "We've grown so much over the years that we found we kept needing to find more and more space." The number of employees has also grown from just two people (Bacon and her husband, Douglas, who died in 1972) to as many as 10. That number varies depending on the time of year. During the winter, there usually are five employees, but in the summer that number can grow. "We often find our employees through our customers. They send them in thinking they would enjoy working for us," Bacon says. "It's a great source because we are looking for people who are interested in sailing and who know boats."

Currently Bacon has employees ranging in age from college sophomore to grandfather. According to Bacon, these employees have a tremendous collective knowledge of boats. "Some of them could sail before they could walk. Others can't remember not being able to sail. It's something like breathing for them."

Bacon attributes much of the company's success to word of mouth and good service. "It's like a good restaurant. If you have good food and treat people well, they will come. Over the years, word spread about our good service and we grew." Bacon also believes her company thrives because she follows what she calls the old-fashioned golden rule, do unto others... "It's all about being pleasant and honest. It's very simple."

When customers come in, it's important to Bacon that she and her employees help them learn things such as why a certain sail is better for their boat, how a sail should fit and how to use it. The importance of providing customers with information is a lesson she says she learned as a young girl. "Years ago, I wanted to buy new ice skates, but I had never purchased them before. My mother told me to research and find out why this pair was better than the other. In the process, I learned that some stores shove their product at you and say 'go.' Others explain to you which product is better and why. I liked knowing and think that is something we should offer each of our customers." She believes that if you give customers a fair break, they'll come back because they enjoy the respect they have received.

These business principles seem to be working for Bacon because generations of sailors continue to patronize her business. "Some of our customers from the very beginning now come in with their children and even their grandchildren," she says. "Over the years, we've developed personal relationships with these people. We've really gotten to know them."

And not only is Bacon and Associates a local business, but it is a global one as well. "Just this morning, we mailed a shipment to Pago Pago," says Bacon. Bacon has also sent sails as far away as South Africa and Okinawa.

On the local front, Bacon and Associates strives to play an important role in the community. Bacon has donated sails to historical buildings to use as awnings for outdoor parties, and when Main Street was resurfaced, some of the fences downtown were decorated with used sails from her company. "We've also donated sails to the Boy Scouts for their jamboree. They used them to make teepees. The fabric is ideal for painting."

A native "inlander," Bacon grew up in Des Moines, Ia., and studied aerodynamics at Drake University, though she never finished her degree. Later she began working for the National Weather Bureau as a weather observer. "I was good enough at the job to be transferred to Massachusetts where the observer wasn't doing as well." She then moved on to work for General Electric as an engineering technician in the company's research and development department, where she would meet her husband, a fellow GE employee. "I guess you could say I didn't have the usual careers for a woman of my time. I just did the best I could at what I was doing all the time."

After 43 years on the job, Bacon still loves what she does and sees no reason to retire. "If I'm still in good health, why slow down now? It's fun dealing with people, and I get to help them enjoy their hobby."

Bacon and Associates is open Monday through Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. during the winter months and, from mid-April to mid-August, the company adds Saturday hours to its schedule. To find out more about Bacon and Associates, Inc., visit the company's web site at www.baconsails.com.


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