The philosophy of servant leadership Bluff Creek Marina proved to be key to its success as the only full-service marina on Lake Possum Kingdom in Strawn, Texas. The marina has grown by leaps and bounds by focusing on the needs of its employees and customers. This mentality has led to a series of renovations aimed at increasing business, the addition of several innovative profit centers, and is one of the many reasons why Bluff Creek Marina has been awarded the Marina dock age Small marina of the year 2021.
Nestled beneath the dramatic cliffs surrounding Possum Kingdom Lake, or PK Lake as it is known in the community, Bluff Creek Marina has grown exponentially since its inception in 1980. The marina began with 40-50 wet slips and a small boat shop. “There were no bathhouses or any of the extra amenities that we offer today,” said Brandon Pendergraft, assistant general manager of Bluff Creek Marina. “I started working at the ship’s store in Bluff Creek when I was 16. I hadn’t thought how difficult things were until VIP Marinas acquired the marina in 2012 and began major renovations.
Bluff Creek was the second of 13 marinas now owned by VIP Marinas. Bluff Creek Marina has now become the standard of excellence that all new VIP Marinas acquisitions follow. The facility has also become the headquarters for the entire VIP Marinas family.
Today, the full-service marina has 195 covered wet docks available in 14 sizes capable of holding anything from personal watercraft to yachts and full-size houseboats. Boaters also have access to Wi-Fi, fresh water supply, laundry facilities, showers and toilets. Over the past few years, Bluff Creek has built a new fuel dock, installed a pump station and updated its sales center.
In 2019 and 2020, the facility constructed a new dock with 47 additional wet docks.
In addition to wet docks, Bluff Creek Marina offers indoor dry storage with 70 standard and oversized units. The facility is safely located in a fenced and gated area so boaters can rest assured that their vessels are safe during the off season. With its wet holds full and expansion not an option, the marina intends to increase its dry storage area. “This will allow us to accommodate more boaters and increase our revenue,” said Dan Ongley, general manager of Bluff Creek Marina. “And with our concierge service, we’ll take boats out of dry storage and launch them at our courtesy dock, which is a great convenience for our customers.”
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Felecia Ongley, COO of VIP Marinas, said 2015 was a major turning point for Bluff Creek. “PK Lake had been dealing with a major drought for some time, but when the reservoir started to fill that spring, which was around the same time we opened our new boat shop , we were able to take the marina to the next level.”
The ship’s new 1,600 square foot store suddenly became the iconic place on the lake, where everyone wanted to congregate. Katie Pendergraft, director of operations for Bluff Creek Marina, said the store has become a major profit center for the facility. “We sell snacks and drinks, clothing, life jackets and we operate the boat rental business from the store,” she added. “It’s the place to be during the summer, the atmosphere is amazing.”
Bluff Creek Marina views its concierge services as an essential part of its overall operations. The property’s secluded location on PK Lake means it must offer a wide variety of amenities and services. “We have a small window of opportunity, about five months, to capture outside business,” Felecia said. “We need to make sure that every customer, whether they’re in a fishing boat or a 60ft yacht, gets the VIP treatment.”
Bluff Creek’s service and sales departments are among its many amenities. The in-house service center is staffed by mechanics with over 20 years of experience and can accommodate almost any boat. “Our clients have second homes in the nearby Sportsman’s World neighborhood and others come from Odessa, Midland, Dallas and Fort Worth. We even have boaters from Austin, although Lake Travis is right there,” Brandon said. “Our service technicians deliver top-notch work, and our customers appreciate it.”
Since many marina guests have second homes in the area, we offer boat pick-up. “We’ll come to your house, pick up your boat, service it, and bring it back,” Dan said. “When our customers visit us at the weekend, they just want to have fun. They don’t want to worry about whether their boat needs fixing.
The pandemic has brought another group of customers to Bluff Creek Marina’s doorstep, thanks to its commercial department. As an authorized Can-Am and Sea-Doo dealership, Bluff Creek reported record sales in 2020. Although they continue to experience service and distribution disruptions due to supply chain issues, Felecia and Dan believe that sales will continue to grow over the next boating season.
VIP Boats and Yachts also operates a sales center in Bluff Creek. Selling everything from Berkshire pontoons to Prestige yachts, the boat sales center has brought a whole new group of customers to Bluff Creek. Felecia said these new boat owners would never have heard of Bluff Creek if they hadn’t visited and purchased a vessel from VIP Boats and Yacht. “As much as we loved our secret world, the pandemic has helped us by bringing an influx of full-time people to the lake,” she added.
The boat rental business at the marina is another sector that has seen a dramatic increase in the number of customers. Bluff Creek has seven rental boats and three rentals from Sea-Doo which has led to a lucrative profit center for the facility. Brandon said the rentals are a big hit with people who don’t have time to own their own boat, but like to come to the marina. “We have people who rent the same boat two or three times a year. It is more profitable for them to rent a boat a few times a year when they visit the lake rather than buying their own boat,” he said.
Many boat rental customers end up buying a boat and eventually renting a slipway at the marina. “We wanted the boat rental service to be an asset and a pleasure on the lake, but we also wanted to use it to help people discover PK Lake. We want it to be an experience and hopefully these people will fall in love with boating, eventually buy their own boat and become a boater for life,” added Felecia.
A multifunctional team
All of Bluff Creek Marina’s growth and success is due to the team that manages day-to-day operations. VIP Marinas service leadership philosophy makes every member of staff feel like they play a vital role in the future of the marina. “There’s nothing Katie does that I won’t and vice versa. We don’t have the mentality that something isn’t our job,” Felecia said. “Dan, Brandon and Katie wear multifunctional hats. They can do everything from moving docks to repairing boats, renting slips and even cooking pizza. And our staff appreciates that we all work together because that we care about the marina and our customers.
As the marina prepares for another boating season, all eyes will be on welcoming existing boaters to the lake and making new boaters feel like a home away from home. “We want the marina to thrive and succeed. PK Lake is our home,” Felecia said. “We have a family spirit here, between our team and our customers, and that makes us unique.”