Greg Kaufman: Fawcett Boat Supplies

Greg Kaufman started working at Fawcett Boat Supplies in 1973 while on summer break from college. More than 30 years later he’s still there.

Fawcett’s is the only marine supply store on Annapolis’ City Dock. “We are unique because we are a waterfront location so our customers can access us by boat, which is very unusual,” says Kaufman. Located at 110 Compromise Street in the heart of downtown, the store also gets a steady stream of walk-in business year ’round. “We have a niche. We’re very sailboat-oriented.”

Kaufman is from Annapolis, grew up on the water, and was majoring in geology when he started working at Fawcett’s. “My options were that I could teach or go to Alaska and dig for oil, and I didn’t really want to do either so I ended up here.” Over time, he had done practically everything in the store, working on the sales floor as well as outside sales and rigging. When the owners decided to sell, he put together a partnership with three friends and bought it in 1986. Two have left the partnership and the remaining partner, an avid sailor, leaves the day-to-day running of the business to Kaufman.

The business has changed dramatically since Kaufman and his partners bought the business. “There used to be a lot of small boat suppliers,” he says. But a few large chain stores have gobbled up much of the competition. “We really concentrate on our mission which is personal service and technical expertise,” says Kaufman. “Our staff has hands-on boating experience so they’re very knowledgeable and make recommendations which you won’t find in the chain stores.”

The industry will continue to see more consolidation of suppliers, leading to less selection and variety. “We do a lot of wholesale business to the various boatyards. If they need to place an order, they can call and talk to a live person who is experienced, instead of just getting a recorder on the telephone.” The wholesale side of the business attracts boatyards and service entities and equipment installers from as far as 100 miles away.

The business was started in 1948 by Arthur Fawcett, a retired textile executive from New Jersey who wanted to open a bookshop. He teamed up with Dick Hutchins, a student at St. John’s College who was into sailing. Hutchins talked Fawcett into opening a boat supply shop along with the bookshop because there wasn’t one in Annapolis at that time. World War II was winding down, and recreational boating was just starting up. After about six years, Fawcett retired again and Hutchins, Bill Simmons and Coleman Dupont bought him out and ran the business until they sold it to Kaufman and his partners.

The peak season for the store is April through October. But last year was a rough one. “In September, we had three feet of water in the store,” says Kaufman. “We started out in February with the big George Washington birthday sale and there was a snow storm. Then the war in Iraq started, which didn’t help the customers’ moods at all. Then we had 26 days of rain in the spring. That put the kibosh on the early boating season activity. Then, in September, we had Isabel.”

Hurricane Isabel plowed through Annapolis knocking out powerlines and causing record high flooding downtown. The staff went beyond their normal preparations for extreme weather—a high water drill. This time everything was moved not one but two feet off of the floor. But when the storm had subsided, they found the water had peaked at a high of three feet, a full six inches over the top of the desks. “It was pretty heartbreaking to walk in here and see everything floating around,” he recalls stoically.

That was only the third time there had been water in the building. Painting, sheetrock repair, and restocking the shelves went on around the clock. “It was a humongous effort for our staff to get everything cleaned up.” Fawcett’s was back open for business in five days, just in time for the annual boat show.

Kaufman talked enthusiastically about the importance of Fawcett’s ongoing relationship with the boat show that began with the first one in 1971. “We’re very appreciative of everything the boat show does for us. They bring a lot of business to us so we try to facilitate putting it together.” The boat show rents the store’s dock and part of the parking lot, and Fawcett’s sells its soft goods and foul weather gear at the sailboat and powerboat shows.

In 2003, Kaufman’s wife Susan ran 12 booths at the boat show. She had been in real estate for more than 18 years when he asked her to put together a booth 12 years ago. “I convinced her to come and help me,” he recalls with a grin. “She enjoyed it, and she’s been here ever since.” She also orders the soft goods, books, boating shoes and foul weather gear for the store while Kaufman oversees inventory and overall management of the business.

The wholesale business allows the store to maintain the deep inventory, broad selection and price competitiveness of the national chain stores.

“We try to maintain our niche and our focus,” says Kaufman “and try to do it better than anybody.”

To find out more about Fawcett Boat Supplies and seminars go to www.fawcettboat .com.

Connie Harold is an award-winning playwright and marketing professional based in Annapolis.


What event in the Annapolis area are you most looking forward to in 2006?

Powerboat Show
Sailboat Show
Renaissance Festival
Seafood Festival
County Fair

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