WAILUKU - Mark Tracy has been selling boats on Maui since 1977. Last year, when he thought he saw an opportunity to expand to the Big Island, the only way he could do it was to go into the roofing business.
"I didn't know anything about roofs except I knew I needed one," he said, one year into a strange-bedfellows business that is working out for him.
Valley Isle Marine Center's Big Island branch is Hawaii Marine Center, outside Hilo on the way to the Pokaiki Launch Ramp.
Mark Tracy has been selling boats on Maui since 1977
Tracy and Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi are seen at the opening of the Hilo branch of Tracy’s Valley Isle Marine last year.
Both sell boats, Honda and Mercury outboards and provide parts and service. Service is provided by Stacy Weeks and his crew from Maui who fly to Hilo regularly.
Tracy said he planned to expand as early as 2008 and acquired a large warehouse in the Shipman's Business Park. The economic downturn delayed that plan.
The warehouse included a small metal roofing company, which Tracy decided to buy, renaming it Aloha Metal Roofing and keeping the same three workers.
It is the smallest of the state's three metal roofing manufacturers but competes by being able to turn around orders quickly, Tracy said.
Tracy finally opened Hawaii Marine Center on Feb. 1, 2011, with Glen Marsteller, who has worked for Tracy for 10 years, as manager.
Valley Isle Marine traces its origin to 1970, but it was purchased by Tracy, founder Nickolas Czar and James Milikin in 1977.
Lokahi Pacific and the Small Business Administration were important in finding capital in the early days, Tracy said.
In 1995, the business relocated from Kahului to Wailuku, carrying its building - an old plantation house - to the site on Waiale Road and winning a historic preservation award for doing so.
That spot in Wailuku is now the service department, and the sales lot is at the intersection of Wells and Market streets.
"Valley Isle Marine Center was already doing lots of business on Hawaii," so opening a permanent store seemed logical, Tracy said.
"Owning commercial property on Maui was a long-term goal, but it was more affordable to acquire that facility on Hawaii.
"Now, the company has a modern warehouse facility in a convenient location with a large upgraded yard, all of which supports our distribution model," he said. "Having real property felt like a worthwhile anchor on the balance sheet and shields us somewhat from the challenges of the Maui commercial leasing market."
East Hawaii boaters have been underserved, Tracy said, "and indeed we are seeing a lot of pent-up demand."
Valley Isle Marine now has about 16 full- and part-time employees.