(The following article is featured in the latest issue of Lake Life Magazine available this week.)
After more than a half-century in business, one area boat dealership is tripling its indoor showroom.
Hughes Marine Service, the only marine dealership in Pittsylvania County, opened in 1965. The dealership sits roughly 30 minutes away from Smith Mountain, Leesville, Hyco and Mayo Lakes.
When the project is complete, the air-conditioned showroom facility will have room for 20 or more boats, 10 WaveRunners and a large accessory and parts department.
“We’re super excited about that,” co-owner Mary Yeaman said. “There won’t be anything like it this half of the state.”
The small business currently employs 15, but her husband and co-owner Andy Yeaman noted that the expansion will add jobs to the community as well.
“It’s going to change everything,” he said.
Gaither Hughes opened the business before Smith Mountain Lake, the largest manmade lake situated entirely in Virginia, was even full of water. His first hire was Carroll Yeaman, father of current owner Andy Yeaman, to fill the job of a mechanic.
Hughes died unexpectedly three years later, and Carroll Yeaman continued to manage the business for his widow, Brenda Willis, until 1989 when he would go on to buy the company.
“Once our family bought them out, it became a family affair,” said Mary Yeaman. “Since then, we have just continued to grow.”
Hughes Marine is consistently one of the top five Yamaha dealers in the country.
“It’s deceptive what we’re able to do out of little old Virginia,” Mary Yeaman said with a laugh.
While local boaters eyeing the Pittsylvania County side of Smith Mountain Lake make up a significant portion of the business at Hughes, the Yeaman family sells boats all over the East Coast from Maine to Florida. Recently, they even sold a boat to two brothers who ventured up from Texas.
“We have a very large internet presence,” Andy Yeaman said. “We may have the model or the color that they want. Now, with what’s been happening with COVID, the inventories are very low. People are driving cross-country to buy a boat.”
Even pre-COVID, Hughes was and is a high-volume stocking dealer. Usually around June, the business has 20-30 pontoon boats on the lot. April to June is peak season for Hughes Marine.
“We come back from Christmas, and it kicks in pretty quick because of boat show season,” Andy Yeaman said.
As crazy as it sounds, Mary Yeaman said, COVID was a triumph for the family business.
“It forced people to slow down and spend more time at home,” she said. “Boating is naturally socially distanced. All of a sudden, a lot of our customers that were only weekend residents moved to the lake full-time. Our season exploded last year.”
As was the case with most, however, COVID brought a unique set of challenges for the family business as well.
“The challenge began when the availabilities dried up,” Mary Yeaman said. “Plants were closing. Yamaha WaterCraft might have had an entire fleet of boats built but no windshields, because the windshields were built in New York. Nothing could be shipped.”
As COVID scares and exposures became numerous, it began wiping out boat production plants, the couple said.
“We are still struggling with parts for service and delays,” Mary Yeaman said.
Andy Yeaman added, “From what I’m reading, the industry is looking at a two-year recovery to get inventories anywhere close to back where they need to be. Parts, trailers, motors, boats — everything is going to be a struggle for the next 24 months.”
Andy Yeaman said most customers have been understanding. However, he laughed, as the weather gets warmer, the level of sympathy goes down.
The couple’s son, Drew Yeaman, is a freshman ocean engineering student at Virginia Tech. He is working for the family business this summer and said his parents’ trade has been most influential in his career aspirations after college.
“I want to go work for someone else first,” Drew Yeaman said. “I want to be a boat designer and work for some of the manufacturers, and then come back here.”
Drew Yeaman said that when you do what you love, you never work a day in your life.
“That applies to all of us. Boating is our passion,” Mary Yeaman replied. “It’s what we do on the weekends. It gives us an insight into our customers. There are only ten weekends of summer — we have a commitment to get you back out on the water because we know how we would feel to love our weekend plans.”