The Boat That Jack Built
Mar 31, 2020 10:33AM
By Linda Roller
It’s always been about boats. We sit in a small office, filled with the clutter of a busy business and with walls filled with mementos of the many gifts and kindnesses that this family and this marine shop have given the community for decades. Jack Peters hands me a small photo carefully. The date on the border is August 1956, and a young Jack is sitting in a boat with his dad. “It’s the first boat I built,” he says. He then built several more, though that was only a hobby.
It was only five years later that Jack, a new high school graduate, opened his first store in Flemington in his grandfather’s service station. There were some boats, but back then he also sold motorcycles. The family grew, as he met and married Connie in 1964. Connie taught kindergarten at Keystone Central and would go on to teach for thirty-seven years, and then substitute for another eleven.
The business took root and began to prosper. By 1968, Jack was talking to a new company from Japan that sold motorcycles and had recently expanded into outboard motors for boats in the U.S.—Yamaha. “They were the second company that came over, right after Honda,” Jack says. Peters Marine became a Yamaha dealer, and today is one of the oldest Yamaha distributors in the country.
As he expanded into a dealership, it wasn’t long before Jack had run out of room to sell at the service station.
“There wasn’t enough room for boats,” he says. There was, though, property at 3250 Eagle Valley Road in Mill Hall—perfect for a building for sales and service and lots of room for the boats. As he became settled there, he sold more boats and boat equipment than motorcycles, and he also had room for the ATVs and other sports vehicles that Yamaha was developing. Today, the motorcycles are gone. But there’s plenty in the showroom for those who want to get around on rough terrain and for other backwoods traveling.
But it’s still the boats.
“Boats and boating equipment are two-thirds of the business,” he says. Ninety percent are fishing boats and pontoons, all accommodating a range of fishing styles. Technological innovation has created lighter boats with more horsepower, which means that the space once needed for the inboard motor is now available for supplies, equipment, or people. The motors on these boats can range up to around 400 horsepower, but Jack notes that the larger motors are usually best on larger boats used on the intercoastal waterways and on the ocean.
“Most motors sold around here are 115 horsepower or less,” he says.
What sets Peters Marine apart from other marine dealers is the number of boats right here in land-locked Mill Hall, awaiting a customer’s inspection. That has become increasingly unusual. Jack tells the story about a guy from Dubois (about ninety miles from Peters Marine) who had gone to another dealer about two hours away from Dubois and saw just six boats. Jack assured him that if he came, he would see boats. Finally, he was convinced to make the trip, and ultimately saw dozens. Usually, the lot has forty to fifty boats available for customer perusal. That many boats can turn your head.
One of the little things that Peters Marine encounters is impatience. Well, maybe it’s really just eagerness and excitement.
“People see the boat and they want it loaded right away,” Jack says. It’s understandable, but not the way this shop does things. It may take a day or more to prepare a boat for a customer. The craft may need to be loaded or unloaded. Then it must be put on a trailer carefully and strapped correctly. The motor must be started, and then adjusted to the right idle speed and checked for any problems. The boat is also cleaned before it leaves the lot. But, sometimes, they can accommodate an anxious fisherman.
“There was a guy from Coudersport who wanted a boat in the showroom, but only if he could take it back with him,” Jack recalls. “It happened to be a boat already on a trailer, so it was an easier prep. We got the boat ready in an afternoon, and he took it away, headed north.”
The foundation of all the sales is the service. Jack calls it the most important part. “Most of the major brands I carry, I’ve carried for decades,” he says. “We have a deep knowledge of how to service and repair what we sell.” In the service area, Jack has a secret weapon: Brian Karstetter. Brian has been with Peters Marine for over forty years. He can, Jack says, “solve problems that stump other service centers.” They also service vehicles bought from other dealers if they are not busy with their own customers’ needs.
Colleen Burfield and Connie Peters also work hard with the customers, the scheduling, the parts department, and even helping prepare boats to leave with their new owners. As Jack says, “We all do each other’s jobs.”
A scan of the walls tells that tale of people who have taken the luck they have had and spread it around—to local sports teams and to the kids who are growing up throughout the region. When you add it all up, it’s a success story in business, in life, and in the community in which they all thrive. It’s not only about the boats.
Find Peters Marine on Facebook, at petersmarine.us, or call (570) 726-4066.