DENVER – During his 23-year-long NASCAR career, Ed Watkins realized he had a passion for something other than stock car racing – the boating industry.
Watkins has been operating his self-named boat dealership in Denver for a little more than three years, opening it because of his passion for boating. Ed Watkins Marine has grown to include a staff with a combined 65 years of experience in the industry.
“When an opportunity came to be able to combine my interests of being a business owner and my love of the boating industry, I jumped on it,” Watkins said.
While running his shop, Watkins is also a member of NASCAR Monster Energy Cup driver Denny Hamlin’s pit crew. Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing team, based out of Huntersville, is in a championship run now, after the driver won the 2019 Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway Aug. 17.
Similar to automobiles, consumers are using online resources to buy boats, Watkins said. He said he has relied on platforms like Boat Trader to advertise his inventory online.
“It brings a huge platform of exposure to this community of what inventory we have,” Watkins said. “The internet has helped us grow our name tremendously.”
Watkins said he has also utilized social media to help promote his business. As of now, his dealership’s Facebook page has more than 3,000 likes. Watkins said people have come from places like Michigan, Florida, and Texas and to buy boats from his shop.
Beyond being relatively new to the boat-dealer industry, one major challenge that Watkins has run into is the amount of competition in the area. There are currently four other boat dealers within a 2-mile radius of his shop at 3333 N.C. 16.
“We’re out there with businesses that have been here for multiple generations,” Watkins said. “We’re the new kid on the block.”
Watkins, however, said the response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive, partially due to his presence in the community. His dealership currently sponsors the fishing team at Bandys High School, and has participated in numerous fundraisers for local high schools.
Because of his reputation, Ed Watkins Marine has become the preferred vendor for first-responders in Lincoln, Catawba and Mecklenburg County. Through this partnership, Watkins and his staff are responsible for repairing any electronic or mechanical damages to boats used by law enforcement and EMS personnel.
“It’s an honor, because our first-responders mean a lot to us,” Watkins said.
Watkins said his favorite part about his business is the people. He said he enjoys using his knowledge of boats to help his customers find the most suitable watercraft that fits their budget.
“Whether it’s a pontoon boat, a fishing boat, or a bay boat, we’re able to provide the very best boats from the very best manufacturers, and offer the very best customer service,” Watkins said.
There are plans to open additional locations in the future, as Watkins’ goal is to become a nationally recognized dealer. Until then, he said he and staff will continue to serve the Lake Norman community diligently.
With Watkins and crew by his side, Hamlin is in second place in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Standings with four wins on the year. There are two races left before the playoffs.