Marine.com, LLC began in 1997 as Cyber-Marine, Inc. www.cyber-marine.com. In 2000, subsequent to an investment by MindDrivers, LLC, a venture development firm, the company became marine.com and with additional resources, funding and support, rolled out a vastly expanded product offering as well as expanded features and customer support. In late 2014, Marine.com was sold to the current owners well versed in all aspects of e-commerce and the boating industry. Marine.com is owned and operated by a growing team of experienced sail and motor boating professionals with expertise in retail e-commerce. Jim Houston took the bait and joined me for an interview.
Mike: How did you acquire Marine.com? Were you the first to register it or did you buy it on the aftermarket? If the latter, can you share what you paid?
Jim Houston: I belong to a domain group in Linkedin, an individual on there was acting as a broker for the owners. He tossed out a post about a keyword domain in the marine industry going up for sale and was looking for interested parties. Limited details were given, he was vetting us as much as we were vetting him. Once he felt comfortable with us, he revealed the actual domain and the price range that the owners were looking for.
Mike: I imagine a name like this really reduces your need for advertising costs. Is that correct?
Jim Houston: Yes and no. One of the first things we noticed once we got access to Google Analytics (GA) (pre-purchase) was the high bounce rate on the GA. The owners were not much help on the reason, as they were busy with their other businesses and really didn’t have time to go back and forth on all the questions. So we did a deeper dive in GA and came up with some interesting data points, it seemed that a large percentage of the traffic for marine.com was actually coming in for Marine Corp and not for boat supplies. But the traffic that was coming in for the boat supplies converted very well. So, to answer your question is Yes and No. The marine industry traffic (organic) converts great!
Mike: What is the volume of traffic the site sees? Do you know how many people find the site just by typing in Marine.com?
Jim Houston: The site operates only on organic/referral/direct traffic, we do not advertise it at all. So, traffic is low, about 15k per month and 25% of that is type-in. The site was purchased as a pet project outside of our current domains that we own and operate. We spent about 6 months building out a backend to manage all the different vendors for drop shipping. Current, we have 5 vendors with roughly 48,000 products online. The site pays for itself and only takes about 15 minutes per day to update. Everything is automated on the site, we even have ranking system in place to give the vendor with a lower price and more margin for us first position to sell.
We have a new concept for marine.com to take it over the top, but haven’t had the resources to assign to the project. The boating industry lacks this portal and we know it will be a homerun, we hope by mid-2019 we can apply some resources to build this out or at least get an investor or two to help get additional resources in here to build it.
Mike: Have you had offers from people and businesses that want to buy the name? If so, what dollar amount have the offers been? What would it take for you to part with the name?
Jim Houston: Yes, we get weekly inquires to sell the domain/business. As normal, 99% of them are tire kickers, but once and awhile we will get someone with more interest then normal. We have been offered in range of 100k, 200k, 250k. It’s hard to say what we would sell it for, being a pet product that pays for itself with limited resources applied to it.. But, we will always entertain serious offers.
Mike: Do you have a brick and mortar business to go along with the website?
Jim Houston: No, marine.com is a virtual drop ship business.
Mike: Despite having a great domain name, what challenges have you found in running an online business?
Jim Houston: Google, Amazon, Google, Amazon, Google.. Need I say more? Google has too much power over small business with no oversight, with one algorithm change. Google can wipe the small business of search results. Killing all hopes of the business surviving. Working the SEO myself, I’ve seen how our position changes daily, weekly, monthly.. One day the phones will ring off the hook with business and the next day, a few phone calls. We know immediately Google has ranked us differently. How can a small business compete with larger businesses that have fully staffed department of marketing/SEO gurus. We are lucky that we do not need this business to survive.
Same goes for Amazon, I love Amazon, I order from it damn near daily. But, being a small business, they are killing the small businesses. And if you are a small business and you start FBA with Amazon, they monitor everything. So, if you have a hot item, expect Amazon to find a quick knockoff and start competing against you.
Mike: There is a famous fisherman by the same name as you… Other than me, has anyone else mistaken you for him?
Jim Houston: Yes, I get it a lot on Linkedin and I use to bass fish a lot and compete in local tournament around Lake Okeechobee, Florida. It was fun to see my name on the leader board and people looking all around for Jimmy. Then I walk on stage and silence from the crowd. Tournament directors always got a kick out of it.