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The Story of Finish Line Shell Repair

The CEO of Burberry attends conferences all throughout the year and being the CEO of a company with more than 150 years of “experience” I feel like I should listen. So I did and I found that people love stories. I always knew that…growing up I loved listening to Papa Del tell stories about his friends, family and all the wild experiences he had. I remember asking him how he started The Marketplace and why he did the things he did.

It led me to think about the story of Finish Line Shell Repair…and my wishful thinking has got me to believe one person would want to hear it.

Looking back to the spring of 2011 I was coaching O’Connell and had a novice coxswain run into a buoy during a 1500m race. Not even flinching, she had her crew turn hard starboard. The end result: more than 4 feet of the bow snapped clean off and nearly 50 gallons of water throughout the shell. We called several boat repair shops and we sent it up to Klinger Engineering. Roughly 3 weeks later the boat came back looking better than ever. The work they did on that boat is second to none. New bow, laser alignment, fresh paint job and a structurally sound boat. We had a chance to meet Bob Klinger when he dropped off the boat and I saw the excitement in his eyes when we had 8 rowers unload it off the trailer and walk it to the rack.

A week later I spoke to the board president Mike and said “if someone has $100,000 and a building big enough to fit more than 20 shells, you can have a million dollar business. ”  A few people laughed at me but Mike saw the idea and believed in me. I kept it a secret for about a year – reaching out to boat builders, boat repair guys and some car detailers. It wasn’t until September 2012 that I made a decision. Once I heard that Klinger was closing down his doors I knew that the time was right. One morning I reached out to my best friend and partner Dan Reardon and told him about my idea. We were right in the middle of a real estate deal and had a considerable amount of money to play with. Somehow I convinced him that investing in a business was far better than investing in real estate – luckily for us he made the right decision. That fall I announced to the O’Connell booster club that my intentions were to start a business and one evening I had dinner with the Pyle’s. They were as enthusiastic about the idea as I was and offered me an initial investment into the company….I couldn’t turn it down!

Throughout the fall I was also reaching out to clubs that I have been connected to for years – O’Connell, GW, Loyola, St. Johns – and asked for their support. I couldn’t believe how many teams said to me “sure Alex, you can fix our boats.” On October 15th, I had a list of 14 shells to repair by March 1st 2013. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a building, I didn’t have materials or the knowledge to properly repair the boats!

For 2 months I was making 50 calls a day to dozens of people. Checking business restrictions, learning about repairs, zone requirements, real estate opportunities and financial restrictions. I was training with Potomac Boat Club and working for Transport Topics – my day started at 4:30am and ended 11:30pm every day for 3 months.

I remember finding the building at 101 Gorman and saying to myself “this is it! I will do whatever it takes to get this building.” My gut – even though my business partner, father, investor AND friends were telling me it was the worst possible location – said that it was the right place. Christmas morning at 9:45am I was on the phone with the real estate agent submitting my 3rd (AND FINAL) offer. We were trying to close the deal by December 31st. Keep in mind…I had NO building, NO materials and NO truck/trailer and had 14 boats to repair in less than 2 months.

On January 7th we finally came to a close and I signed the paperwork. Only problem was that the city of Baltimore was going to issue me a fine because the previous owner did not get permits to rebuild a wall and put up a garage door. The entire deal hinged on a small piece of paper that wasn’t properly filed! For several days I worked with the city of Baltimore and spent hours driving back and forth from DC to Baltimore to allow this deal to go through.

On January 24th, 2013 at 930am I arrived at Thompsons Boat Center with a borrowed truck, a borrowed trailer and 9 helpful high school students to load a trailer with 14 boats. I drove that trailer to Baltimore with a sinking feeling in my stomach – “how on earth am I going to repair 14 boats by March 1st???”

Papa Del to the rescue.

He arrived that afternoon and we began working with spot lights, no heat, limited electricity and limited materials. We saw we had too much too handle. That following Monday I researched boat repair men and found Tim Conroy – I couldn’t believe my eyes….my best friend in college and out of college was Tim Conroy (a Ohio man) and he passed away a few years ago. Was he shining down on me? Was he telling me something? I called the boatman up and it was an instant connection. That weekend he arrived at the shop and began working. 9 months later – he is our top boatman and handles all major repairs. We have built a great relationship and I have incredible respect for what he does.

Now we needed a painter!! Who do I call? What do I do? Well – I searched high and low and realized that car painters are what we need. Their attention to detail and ability to use multiple paints is perfect for boats. I found my guy – DWAYNE – and he began working nights almost immediately. Dan would spend hours after work with our painter insuring that the job got done.

On March 3rd I drove a trailer full of 14 beautifully repaired shells. The owners were happy and a business was started.

More than 9 months later we have repaired close to 150 shells for teams all over the Mid-Atlantic Region. We have brought on 5 workers and operate 6 days a week.

It’s been the most rewarding and exciting moment in my professional career.