CHUGGING ALONG: From yacht repairs done from the family basement, Conanicut Marine Services Inc. co-founders Bill and Marilyn Munger have grown the Jamestown business over four decades. Pictured above, they see hope for expansion, including possibly adding a third boat to his ferry fleet.
Founder and President Bill Munger started Conanicut Marine Services Inc. by doing yacht repairs from the back of his truck and in the family basement.
Begun in 1974 with his wife, Marilyn, who often goes by “May,” when Munger was 26 years old, the company overlooking the mouth of Narragansett Bay in Jamestown now offers not only yacht repair but a marina, boatyard, ship’s store and ferry service. With the exception of the latter, the different segments of the business are inescapably interdependent, said Munger, whose father was a boat builder.
“The yacht repair, boatyard, waterfront, chandlery – it’s all intertwined,” he said. “Not one of them can stand on its own two feet. They all need one another to survive.”
In order to be in the yacht-repair business, Munger needed to host boats – thus, the marina at 1 East Ferry Wharf, where the ferry departs from. But the marina and yacht service needed storage, something the boatyard at 260 Conanicus Ave. provides. The main office, the ship’s store, motor sales and boat sales are at 20 Narragansett Ave., he said.
While the family-run company evolved in various locations through the 1970s and 1980s, the ferry business did not debut until 1995. But the recession first felt as early as 2007 slowed the firm’s overall growth dramatically, and has continued to have a residual effect, Munger said.
“We had to react to it,” he said. “We had to shrink in 2007-08, [and] over several years lost as many as 10 employees. For several years, we went to a four-day week, then, as we could bring different departments back up, we brought each department back one at a time. Payroll shrank by 20 percent.”
The boating industry as a whole suffered during the downturn, he added.
“We had a lot of one-way trips where boats were going home and not coming back,” Munger recalled. “If they’re not here, there are no repairs going on, so technical skills suffer – everything, top to bottom, stores not chasing any parts, and the simple maintenance was not happening. When the boat is not here, the whole world stops.”
But recovery has been steady, he said, so expansion is on the horizon.
A climate-controlled storage shed is coming next spring. Munger also is exploring expansion of the marina to better protect some of the slips and considering adding a third boat to his ferry fleet, where demand is growing, he said.