In 1912, Alonzo Fisher started what is now known as Fisher's Marina on the banks of Buckeye Lake in Ohio. Although he was known as a great businessman and for having great vision, it's doubtful he could have seen Fisher's Beach-that was later changed to Fisher's Marina as the beach side died off and the marina side continued to grow-becoming such a crucial part of the Fisher family for several generations to come.
"It was all started by my great-grandfather Alonzo and someday my son Josh could be the fifth generation owner," says current owner Ed Fisher. "It went from Alonzo to Ed Fisher, to my dad Ed (who they called Pete because he was tired of being called Junior), to me about 20 years ago."
Today Ed and his wife Debbie own and operate the full-service marina and their children Josh and Julie continue to be a big part of the family-owned business. Although they initially encouraged Josh to look at other possibilities since he grew up in his grandfather's shadow and was always around the marina, wanting to work at Fisher's Marina is in his blood and that can be traced back to his own father.
"I was rigging new boats at 14 years old all by myself and that includes full instrumentation," says Ed. "Our family has been at it so long that we go all the way back to when they used to build their own to sell."
Adds Debbie, "I told my mother-in-law once that she didn't give Ed a pacifier when he was a baby, but a spark plug."
But working in the family business has both its advantages and disadvantages. While it does keep the family all together, there are some opportunities missed out on, like summer vacations.
"The strength is keeping the family together," says Debbie, "but at the same time it does keep you from having a `normal' so to speak family experience because your summers are always busy."
Located on Buckeye Lake, about 30 miles east of Columbus, Ohio, Fisher's Marina proudly carries the Harris FloteBote line; in fact, they're the oldest Harris dealer in the nation.
"Pete Fisher purchased the second boat off of Harris line in 1957 and we've been a full line Harris FloteBote dealer ever since," says Josh. "We're also an Evinrude dealer and have been since 1945."
Built on a solid foundation that firmly believes if it works, don't change it, the marina has been selling Harris FloteBote pontoons since the late 50s and that's something that won't be changing anytime soon.
"They build a nice boat and it's very well built," says Ed. They build a great boat and that's why we've stayed with them for so long and that's basically why."
The solid quality and construction helps keep the boats looking like new longer, which is a big selling point for the family.
"A customer will pull up to the gas dock in a 10-year-old Harris and someone will ask them when they got their new boat," says Josh. "And then you've got another boat that is 2 years old that doesn't look nearly as good. On the pontoons the seats hold up, the dashes do better over time, these Harris boats just seem to wear a lot better."
Today Buckeye Lake supports four full-time marinas and at one time there were seven local marinas, which means a lot of competition for customers. But as different manufacturers have come and gone, the Fisher family has continued to find success with the Harris FloteBote line and it's the quality that they're able to see and recognize when they get a chance to look closely at other brands of boats.
"You get what you pay for," says Debbie. "We store a lot of boats and winterize them so we get to see the different boats and you can really see the difference in quality. We're constantly comparing other boats to Harris FloteBote."
Years ago in the 60s and 70s, the family says the Harris pontoons were everywhere, but since other pontoon manufacturers have started up, the customers now have more options to pick from. If Ed could make one suggestion to the manufacturer, it would be to help them out by promoting themselves as a company better.
"Harris had one of the better performing three log pontoons before everyone else in the last 10 years, but they haven't patted themselves on the back," says Ed. "Other companies do a better job at promoting themselves while Harris will out perform, is better built and ride smoother than the others, but they just haven't patted themselves on the back."
"Most of their advertising is word-of-mouth," adds Josh. "But once a person owns a Harris they won't own anything else."
Selling What Works
At Fisher's Marina, the mid-level Super Sunliner is the most popular model today. Although they do sell some of the higher-end models to retired people who have worked hard all of their lives and just want something nice, they find most people are just happy with the mid-level models and that includes Dave Thomas, the founder of Wendy's, who once owned a home on Buckeye Lake and bought a Super Sunliner from Fisher's Marina.
"From the Sunliner up to the very best that they make, the pontoon still has the same structure, same flooring, everything is the same," says Ed. " A lot of people know that and don't want all the fanciness. They tell me that the boat is built just as good as the best one, so they buy the lesser expensive pontoon and that's what we see a lot of. Now Harris has come out with an entry-level line for those who want to get into pontooning for around $20K or less, which is great."
As the marina is closing in on its 100-year anniversary as a business, with five generations of family involvement, you can be sure this marina is here to stay. And besides its commitment to customer service, it's also safe to say the Fishers will be selling Harris FloteBote pontoons for more generations to come.