Two Long Islanders have launched an app to help boaters more easily locate and book docking spaces at crowded marinas. But they aren't the only ones setting their sights on this aspect of the boating industry.
Their app, SlipFinder, which allows recreational boaters to make docking reservations via smartphone, must overcome the competition that has surfaced in this niche market over the past few years, and persuade marinas to modernize the older systems they are often more comfortable using.
Keith Cooper, a sales executive, and Todd Brice, owner of Yacht Service LTD, an Amityville marina, launched SlipFinder in April, citing the need for a more efficient slip reservation system for the millions of boaters who take to the waters during boating season.
Currently, most marinas keep track of available dock space on handwritten whiteboards and take reservation requests over the phone or by fax. Cooper said this can lead to frustration for both boaters and marinas as boaters make multiple phone calls trying to find a place to dock. It means a day out on the boat can require lots of advanced planning, he said.
But SlipFinder -- with three full-time employees and three sales representatives on commission -- thinks it has found a way to improve this system by allowing marinas to list their empty slips in real time so boaters can instantly book them with a mobile app.
Users receive a text message confirming their reservation and notifying them their credit card has been charged. Cooper said a 10 percent booking fee is built into that cost, which is how the app earns revenue. Marinas charge $2 per foot per night, on average, he said.
Cooper said he and Brice have invested $150,000 in SlipFinder so far, and the app has begun generating revenue.
While some marinas have been reluctant to consider new ways of operating, SlipFinder has signed up more than 115 across 14 states -- including in Florida, California, and on lakes around Michigan and Minnesota -- and three in the Bahamas.
"I love the whole concept," said Ken Stein, manager of Watch Hill, Sailors Haven and Davis Park marinas, all on Fire Island, who signed up this winter. "I think it's going to work wonderfully for me."
But SlipFinder is not the only app trying to modernize the industry. The Newport, Rhode Island-based app DockWa -- which offers real-time as well as advance marina booking -- has 90 percent of the marinas in Boston Harbor, Newport and Nantucket, Massachusetts, according to founder and CEO Mike Melillo, who said more than 140 new marinas planned to go live over the summer.
Another SlipFinder competitor, DockHop, merged with DockWa in June. Melillo would not say how many marinas the combined company will represent. MarinaLife and Marina.com also offer digital solutions for marina reservations, but have not developed reservation apps.
Cooper said he does not consider DockWa a competitor to SlipFinder, partly because the two apps have developed different business models for addressing the needs of the industry. DockWa developed back-end software that automatically lists available slips on its app without marina managers having to update a manual system. Cooper said he doesn't believe this is a necessary feature, and might actually prove too complicated for marinas. Instead, SlipFinder was designed to accommodate a marina's pre-existing reservation methods, but relies on marinas to list their excess slips on the app.
Puneet Manchanda, chair of marketing at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business, said SlipFinder's approach could prove problematic, especially since DockWa offers additional features. For example, if marinas are slow to update SlipFinder, Manchanda said, then the app could become unreliable.
One strategy would be "to continue to be a niche player and to keep focusing on last-minute rentals," he said, "and develop an ecosystem that works for them that is better than DockWa's."
Cooper and Brice plan to do just that. "Most successful apps do one task and do it well," Cooper said. "SlipFinder is focusing on booking slips and moorings in a one-touch fashion."
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article contained an incorrect profession for Keith Cooper, an incorrect title for Todd Brice, and incorrect locations for Watch Hill marina and Sailors Haven marina.
AT A GLANCE
NAME: SlipFinder LLC, Amityville
FOUNDERS: Keith Cooper and Todd Brice