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Boat Sales expanding into new year

Vic Winebarger and his crew at Boat Sales of Lake Wylie invested in themselves before, and they’re banking they’ll be able to do it again.

Boat Sales closed Dec. 23, and will open after the new year with an expansion into the former restaurant and club space at 4376 Charlotte Highway. Grand opening is Jan. 9. Store hours and contact information remain unchanged, and the existing location will stay open.

“That’s going to be service and parts, where we’ve always been,” said Wendy Blalock, finance manager.

The new store will serve as a ship store, featuring boat and motor parts, water sports equipment and safety gear. The new spot will have an indoor showroom for the aluminum boats that put Boat Sales on the map in recent years.

The location has plenty of “nautical history,” said Winebarger, who opened Boat Sales in 2006. It has been everything from a river store to a bar and club, but probably is best known as the original River Rat location.

“The building has got some history to it,” Winebarger said. “That’s one thing I wanted to keep.”

Boat Sales is making its own history. It opened in a former car wash behind a gas station, and began selling aluminum Veranda pontoons in 2011.

The store has been new dealer of the year and three-time national dealer of the year. It does more than $3 million in sales annually, including 30 boats in a single show earlier this year in Charlotte.

“We’ve grown from nothing but service, and we sold a few brokered boats,” said Roy Reynolds, an original Boat Sales employee.

Part of the company’s success was good fortune, particularly getting the Veranda franchise that has the store selling boats up and down the eastern seaboard.

“Part of it is, we sell as many boats away from here as we do here,” Reynolds said.

Having Lake Wylie so close helps, he said. There are maybe 70 boats on Lake Wylie that came from Boat Sales. Not to mention how many were sold there from out-of-towners who flew or drove in to visit the company.

“Nobody’s going to buy a $40,000-$50,000 without driving it,” Reynolds said.

Still, the current space put most everything but service outside. They’ve sold boats in the snow. When the new space opened up, the company jumped. The bought not only that building but all four in the shopping center where they leased space, for about $1 million.

Now customers will have a more inviting experience, they say.

“We can do it all in one building,” Winebarger said. “I’m thinking more of the same customers, maybe some new ones. It’s basically to give them more of a one-stop shop.”

The apparel and smaller items went from “boxes in a cedar chest” to a full display area. Despite making more “dollars per square foot than any place in the country,” Reynolds said, staff is eagerly awaiting the move.

More positions will bring Boat Staff up to 11 employees. The new items on display won’t make or break a bottom line on their own, but they may just bring in a customer who finds a boat, that will.

“One or two of them is going to stumble up and see a new boat,” Winebarger said.