CEO & Managing Partner
Rob Hannah is a visionary, and he immediately saw the true potential to make Chicago Yacht Yard into Chicago Yacht Works. The CEO & Managing Partner transformed the space from a storage-only, dirty forgotten boatyard into a clean, modern full-service dealership, service center, school, rental and charter operator, and world-class storage facility. The transformation wasn’t easy, and it took time, but he got it done by working every angle, building relationships, and making hard decisions. Always seeing “the big picture” has enabled Rob to accomplish the big goals while wrestling with the immediate management needs and responsibilities.
The company has transformed into an industry leader with significant gains in both service and storage and adding both brokerage and new boat sales to their business lines. “When I bought the company in 2012, it was a storage only facility and the seller advised me to “find something else to do with the place in the summers.” To me, that did not make sense…if you are in the boat business, summer is your high season, and you should be busy,” elucidates Rob. “Also, I come from a commercial real estate background and I watched storage facilities fold under pricing pressure because space by itself is a commodity.” The steadfast leader knew space coupled with services is valuable. Therefore, he set out to build a team and a department, and they became a full-service storage facility that also served customers and others in the harbors all summer long. Once the service department was established, it was easy to focus on building the dealership/sales department, followed by their school.
A One-stop shop
Chicago Yacht Academy is one of only four accredited U.S. Powerboating schools in the U.S. and the only powerboating school in Chicago. The academy also laid the ground for rental and charter programs and private lessons, deliveries, and other services that complement our suite of offerings that make Chicago Yacht Works the one-stop shop for area boaters. Chicago Yacht Works is now home to the Formula Midwest Factory Showroom and represents Zar and Zar Mini in the Midwest.
For Rob Hannah, the addition of technology to an old boatyard was always both necessary and challenging at the same time. Chicago Yacht Works implemented numerous unique solutions that assisted them in accelerating their growth. “I remember one very cold Chicago winter when I was staring at my gas bill in astonishment, wondering how we could afford the winter at these rates when I went on my regular walk through the buildings. I found a customer in building 4 detailing his boat in shorts and a t-shirt,” shares Rob. “It was -20 below outside! This guy broke the thermostat cover off and turned it all the way up, just as he had with his boom box! Now I am blowing 2 million BTU of natural gas so he can pretend its beach weather! At that moment I went back to my office and began researching solutions.” The following summer, when the boats were gone, Rob installed a computer-controlled heating system to control the heat in each building which saved him a fortune! With an eye for sustainability and energy savings, Rob took advantage of a joint Com-Ed/State of Illinois grant to upgrade all of the lightings in their 289,000 sq. ft. of indoor space by converting to a combination of High Bay T-5 and LED lights they saved money and increased overall lighting by 105%. “I added cameras throughout the facility in order to increase security but also efficiencies, management and communications with employees and customers alike.” Rob also implemented a global calendar system on large screens to see precisely how booked their service team was at any given point. They implemented a texting system using “Textey” that enables customer texting to be retained in their Salesforce.com database.
An Industry Leader
Rob believes that competition of any sort is good. It creates a better marketplace and enhances the consumer’s understanding of the goods and services available. Chicago Yacht Works is trying to appeal to a specific consumer for a particular product or service. They play a role in their local community and the boating community overall, which helps create trust and bond that matters to customers. Chicago Yacht Works supports local yacht clubs and community organizations, and they, in turn, keep them. They also continually invest in their growth and improvement, which pays off in many ways.
Sharing an instance of his excellent skills, Rob says in 2015 that he was the chairman of the sponsorship committee at the Chicago Yacht Club and worked with their largest sponsor Moet Hennessy on their plans for the upcoming season. They had just appointed a new regional manager who was transferred from France. “When we began discussing the various was that the club could promote their brand, he mentioned that he had a program in the south of France where they used a boat to deliver champagne to the yachts at anchor in the area,” explains Rob. “At the time, we were a dealer for a line of Italian speedboats from Como, IT that are very similar to the famous Riva boats. The club, a conservative non-profit was not going to provide a boat nor engage in the business of delivering or service champagne so with their permission I entered into a marketing partnership with Moet Hennessy in which we provided the boat, wrapped in bright yellow Veuve Clicquot branding, the captain and ran champagne river tours for four years until the pandemic.” This creative solution won several internal awards for the local Moet Hennessy team including “highest ROI” for a marketing program. For Rob and his team, it helped promote the boat brand, Comitti, and later Formula, as well as provide a new income stream and a platform to launch other branded corporate charter programs.
In another instance, recently, Rob solved a unique set of problems for a VIP customer. Due to Covid, he did not launch his 1964 wooden Chris Craft motor yacht. This spring (after 21 months in storage), Chicago Yacht Works discovered that not only were many of the planks quite dry, but several had broken on the cradle as they dried out and the ship moved over time. “We gently moved her into another larger building and began the simultaneous process of soaking the hull (inside and out) with hoses and replacing the broken and deteriorated planks,” he says. “Once this was completed, we significantly modified her cradle, adding additional sections and an I beam to support the entire keel from bow to stern and adding additional side supports.” Once this was done, Chicago Yacht Works launched her and held her in the slings for three days while she swelled tight and brought up the moisture levels in the entire hull before putting her back (on her new cradle) into storage for the winter. Next summer, she will be ready to go!
Towards Future Endeavors
One of the most significant achievements for Chicago Yacht Works was to be recognized in the Inc Magazine 5000 Fastest Growing Companies issue and receive that award. They have also received various awards from their OEM partners and brands that they represent, but it was extraordinary to be recognized in a broader group of outstanding companies. Most importantly, their approach has attracted and retained the best people in the industry.
Chicago Yacht Works is currently finishing their seasonal haul out for the winter storage process, which entailed hauling the boats ranging from 10’ to 70’ out of the river, washing them off, and putting them away for the storage season. “This year we have implemented a number of process and technological improvements that will make us more efficient and improve the customer’s experience significantly. We are about to launch a web-based interface with our accounting system so customers can look up their account online to pay bills, review invoices and more,” adds Rob.