Discretionary funds are limited, and few businesses are investing in improvements, but Ray Fernandez has bucked those trends as he continues to build his family’s marina into an environmentally friendly New Jersey attraction.
Fernandez and his wife are the third generation to own and operate Bridge Marina, on Lake Hopatcong, since it opened in 1957. The marina recently won the title of the 2010 Marina of the Year by Marina Dock Age Magazine because of its unique business model and dedication to environmental stewardship, and it’s the only freshwater marina in New Jersey to be designated a clean marina by the Department of Environmental Protection.
“There are still loads of marinas that are still run the same way they were 20 years ago,” Fernandez said. “The majority of facilities don’t run in a manner they should in today’s environment, and they’re not terribly concerned or focused on what their job is.”
While many marinas operate more as a retail business, Fernandez says his business is hospitality. When his grandparents purchased the land the marina is on, they intended for it to be a place for families to spend time swimming and picnicking at their lakeside park.
“I provide memories and good times for people,” Fernandez said.
Services include dock slips with high-grade bumpers and a maintenance shop that provides boat and engine repairs, as well as cleaning, detailing and winterization.
Bridge Marina also offers a boating club for people who want to have flexible access to a boat without the commitment of ownership. According to Fernandez, boating clubs are popular in Florida, and are just starting to become more popular in New Jersey.
As Fernandez works to improve his customers’ experience, he continually is striving to improve the environmental impact his business makes on Lake Hopatcong.
“If I don’t take care of Lake Hopatcong, I may have boaters in 40 years, but they won’t have a lake to boat on,” Fernandez said.
Being certified a clean marina by the DEP means Bridge Marina meets at least 80 percent of qualifications, some of which include regulatory components. And the company has received grants from the New Jersey Sea Grant to develop ideas to add to the agency’s Clean Marina project.
“Ray is very ambitious, and we enjoy working with him,” said Michael Danko, a marine recreation agent who works for New Jersey Sea Grant.
Sea Grant generally focuses on costal marinas, but after working with Fernandez on the certification, “we realized there is an opportunity to improve” freshwater marinas, Danko said.
“We’ve provided our information to a number of marinas up there, and started to see interest develop,” Danko said. “He’s helped us improve our mailing list, so now all marinas in the state are getting (information).”
And while Danko said marina operators “might not be able to tie sales directly” to environmental improvements, they do add value, in the end.
“They know people want clean water and healthy fish … and boaters are starting to demand it,” Danko said. “If they want to attract good customers, these are the kind of things they need to do.”
“Some of our work has cost us more money, however, in the long term it’s going to save us more, no doubt,” Fernandez said, saying the improvements and projects may not increase cash flow, but they can increase sales and improve revenue.
E-mail Melinda Caliendo at email@example.com