Widgets Magazine

Joe Flotteron of Peconic Water Sports on the Uniqueness of North Fork Bays, and the Good Life of Being a North Fork Entrepreneur Instead of a Banker

Q: How did you come to the North Fork?  A: My parents used to summer here so I did too.  After college I got a job in NYC at a bank, did that for 10 months but didn’t like it. So I moved to the North Fork full time, returning to work as a captain in Sag Harbor—wake board/water ski boats.

Captaining and coaching on wakeboard/ski boats had been my summer job for years, since I was 17. It used to be you had to go to the Hamptons to have a boating business because that was where the money was, so I would take the double ferry commute across Shelter Island every day for something like six years.

On the 4th of July weekend 2012 I was North Ferry heading to Sag to captain and I noticed Mitchell Park was full, and there were all these yachts in the harbor.  I realized that the North Fork was either ready or shortly would be for this kind of business.

Q: So you founded Peconic Water Sports because Greenport on July 4th weekend convinced you the market opportunity was close?

A: Yes. In 2013 when we first started, we were really slow. We had one boat docked at Preston’s, and the waters there are a little tough for this business, very choppy. We went to the south side for many of our clients.

2014 was the first year we started really see the business grow and develop on the North Side, and last year was like nothing we’d ever seen. The growth and interest that you’d see, especially on holiday weekends, was amazing.  We meet a lot of people who have relocated here from the Hamptons, squeezed out of there by prices and traffic.

Now the North Fork is very established. I employ about 15 people, we all live in Greenport, and it’s great. We service the North Fork, Shelter Island and the Hamptons.

We opened our second location—in Sag—last summer.

Q: Is your North Fork business still based in Greenport?

A: No, we moved to Goldsmiths in Southold, that’s where we’re based now.

On the North Fork we do everything in one place. The North Fork has tons of marinas, and that’s what we need.  The South Fork is not like that. So we have slips in Sag for charter boats, and we just rented space in Southampton for a small fleet of jet skis.

This summer we’ll have six boats, 10 jet skis. We do kite boarding lessons, we do paddleboard and kayak rentals. The boats are for wake boarding, waterskiing, tubing.

jet-ski

Q: Do you offer a summer camp?

A: We do a kids program, it’s a little like a camp, they come every morning on weekdays from late June to early September. We’ll take a really cool five year old up to a 14 year old, up to six people per boat, grouping by skill level/age, and they have a great time. Kids can come a week at a time, or book the whole summer.

In the afternoon it’s all charters, with captains and a crew, they teach you and do everything needed so the customers can just enjoy the boat. A lot of our customers are second homeowners or summer renters who are using us an alternative to owning a boat.

Q: What do you mean, your business is an alternative to owning a boat?

A: To have the boat we run costs more than a hundred thousand to buy plus tens of thousands to operate. Most people who have a boat don’t use it more than 40 hours a summer. With us they can book 40 hours for $10,000-$12,000 and they don’t have to deal with the boat when they’re not using it, don’t have to repair, clean, winterize or store it.

Q: It’s January so you’re not running boats on the North Fork now. When will you open up, and how long does the season run?

A: We open around May 20th. The season ends based on weather and demand—it’s been getting longer.  Originally it shut down at Labor Day, but last year we were running into October.

Q: By starting and growing your business, you’re clearly investing in the North Fork, building a future here. What do you like best about this business and the North Fork?

A: Everything. I work and travel all over the world—I’ve bee in 25 countries in just the past few years. And I come live and work here because the North Fork is so special. The bays are unique—deep, you can drive the boat anywhere. It’s not like the South Fork or the Jersey shore where there’s all these sand bars. There’s also many places you can go to get away from everyone, have all this open water to yourself.

The bays are just really really beautiful. My favorite stretch of water is from where we are in Southold heading east, you go through Greenport harbor and out to Orient and it’s just incredible.

I’m down in Miami right now and it's beautiful and all—we have started a winter operation down here—but when I’m on the water I’m thinking ‘you know it would be better if it were like home.’ Our bays are really just that special.

Q: How did you get into the water sports boat charter business?

A: I grew up doing this stuff. The camp, and the charter business model is just me doing what I was doing as a kid. My parents had whaler and then a ski boat when I was a kid. I got really good at wake boarding, enough to get some sponsors.

When I was 17 and started looking for work I got the job in Sag Harbor I immediately started coaching. It’s not easy to make a living just being good at the sport, with sponsors, because there’s no scene for this out here, not even really anywhere in the Northeast. Down South there’s an established circuit. When I worked at the bank, I started in September and still did captaining on the weekend.

Q: After college you worked at a bank—a career job—but quit to start this. Why?

A: I didn’t like being inside all day, and I didn’t like the structure of it, the repetition. There’s something really cool about when you run your own business on the North Fork, there’s an integration into the whole community. It’s infinitely more fulfilling than being part of this enormous faceless machine. It’s tangible, it’s just more fun.

There’s something really fun about your clients too—they’re sharing the highlight of their day, or week or summer—you’re existing in this high water mark for people.

miami-wakesurf-pic

Q: You keep expanding your business, from the North Fork to Sag to Southampton to Miami in the winter—do you have a general expansion plan to grow your business, or is there some size you want to stop at?

A: I don’t really know—each of my expansions has simply been the next logical step. The first year, because of our website, people wanted to rent jet skis, and we didn’t have them, but we thought 'well, we could.' Then people from the Hamptons were calling, wanted the jet skis, so we added Southampton. In the winter we don’t use the boats, but we have them, so we’re trying Miami.

Expansions have been taking advantage of market opportunities as they become clear, next logical steps, not part of a background plan.

Q: So you started as a summer person; were you a city kid?

A: No. We came out here from central Jersey, we were the only people I knew who did that. We weren’t Jersey shore people, we like the water and the community here more. My parents moved here full time 10 years ago, and they split time between here and Florida now.

It’s what all Italian people from the tristate area do, eventually. They all move to Florida for the winter.

Q: You clearly have the background in water sports, but where did you business background come from?

A: My dad works in finance, and I studied marketing and finance in college. When you graduate, that next logical step is you’re leaving and need to get a job. I did the logical thing and got the job at the bank. I  didn’t fit in there, but that’s what motivates me. I know if don’t succeed I have to go get a real job, and I’m just not willing to do that yet.

We work really hard all summer, seven day weeks sun up to sundown, May through September,  October, and maybe a winter block December through March, but the upside is these big blocks of time in the off seasons to travel. We usually travel to surf, or ski. Usually it’s also about going to new places to do new things.

I’ll go anywhere and do anything at least once.