Life on the Water
Culver’s Portside Marina Owner Talks Nearly 20 Years of Exceptional Service
When Glenn Bailey was five years old, his parents were friends with Pat Fishburn, who owned Fishburn Marina on Bass Lake. Fishburn, who babysat for Bailey in the summertime, often let him tag along as he prepared boats for the water at the start of the season. Today, he owns Culver’s Portside Marina.
“We would drain boat covers when it rained, and I learned how to siphon water out of the covers with a hose, which I thought was cool,” Bailey says. “Pat would then pay me by getting me a pop out of the soda machine.”
From that point forward Bailey was hooked on marina life, so when Fishburn told him to come back once he got his driver’s license and that he’d have a job waiting for him, he remembered that promise. Bailey worked at Fishburn Marina in high school and at Boats-a-Float Marina through college.
After graduating from college, Bailey worked in sales for a short while, selling VCRs and other electronics. In 1989 Rich Albright, a mechanic friend who had bought Boats-a-Float Marina, offered Bailey a job, and he was persuaded to go back to work on the water. After getting married, Bailey took a factory job but was laid off after six months, so he fell back into the career he seemed destined for.
In 1994 Bailey became a mechanic at Culver Marina. When he was invited back to the factory to work the afternoon shift, he was stretched thin in terms of time and energy. Burning the candle at both ends took a toll, and finally Bailey told his boss at the marina that he was going to have to quit so he could work solely at the factory.
“Why can’t you stay at the marina instead?” his boss asked, and then made Bailey an offer he couldn’t refuse.
Over the course of the next eight years at Culver Marina, Bailey, a master technician, earned multiple certifications and began picking up side jobs on his own such as taking care of docks, piers and boats. Finally, in March of 2002 he chose to branch out on his own. A colleague named Tom Heineman offered to partner with Bailey in his new endeavor. They found a 2,000-square-foot vacant building that wasn’t on the water, and in May of 2002, the pair started Culver’s Portside Marina. In 2003 they bought a 5,500-square-foot wallpaper factory that was situated on six acres and grew the business from there.
“When they started the business, they were just doing service,” says Danyell Lang, marketing and public relations manager at Culver’s Portside Marina. “Over time they have expanded to doing sales, winterization and storage, providing anything that is marine-related.”
Today Culver’s Portside Marina is a Godfrey dealer, offering Sweetwater, AquaPatio and Monaco pontoons, in addition to Hurricane Deck Boats. Additionally, they are a ShoreStation, Yamaha, Kawasaki and Star EV golf cart dealer.
The establishment also sells accessories such as tubes, life jackets, ropes and parts. In addition, they have a full selection of new and used boats and personal watercraft items in stock. Plus, the shop has a service area with trained technicians. During the busy season, the business employs 27 workers.
“You need a big team when you have 350 boats to get out of storage in a few weeks’ time,” says Bailey, who knows that his clients are all eager to have their hoists, boats and docks in the water by Memorial Day weekend.
Bailey and his team get to work as soon as the ice melts, usually in February, putting in docks and lifts. They begin to deliver boats in March, depending on the weather. In the fall they reverse the process, picking up boats then taking out the docks and hoists during the months of September, October and November.
The staff at Culver’s Portside Marina goes above and beyond for service. For instance, when the staff members remove canopies, they wash them before storing them. In the spring, they deep clean the boats before delivering them.
“A lot of other places don’t detail the boats and deliver them in the condition that we do,” Bailey says. “That’s important to us. We love seeing happy customers.”
Bailey and his crew get a breather in December, but in the new year the boat shows begin. There is a show in South Bend at the Century Center at the end of January, and another in Crown Point in February at the Lake County Fairgrounds. Culver’s Portside Marina then hosts an open house on the third weekend in March.
In a typical year, the season doesn’t crank up until June when students are out of school. This year things were different, however, due to the coronavirus outbreak.
“Everyone wanted their stuff early because kids weren’t in school, parents were working from home and everyone had extra time on their hands,” Bailey says. “Sales went crazy, too, especially after everyone got their stimulus checks.”
Though Bailey appreciated the increase in business, the spike in sales made it more difficult to take care of regular customers.
“When a guy is buying a boat today, he expects it to be delivered tomorrow,” Bailey says. “The thing is, you can’t drive a boat off the showroom floor like you can a car. It takes time to get it ready.”
Bailey announced exciting news in June when he bought out all the shares and interests belonging to his previous partner, Heineman, making him the sole owner of Culver’s Portside Marina. His wife Dawn is the office manager, his daughter Danyell is the marketing and public relations manager, and his son-in-law Trevor is also employed at the marina.
In the wintertime Bailey, who has four daughters, Danyell, Melissa, Sara and Blake, also runs a snowplow business. His hobbies include taking care of his yard, cutting wood and, of course, boating.
“The kids always want to go out on the boat or float the river, but I spend a lot of time on the water with my job,” Bailey says. “My favorite way to relax is by sitting on the deck with a beer in hand, listening to music as I watch the river go by.”
Culver’s Portside Marina is located at 514 West Mill Street in Culver. For more information, call 574-842-5000 and visit culversportsidemarina.com.