Getting by in the BVI – with a Little Help From Our Loyal Customers

It’s a tough job as they say but someone has to do it. And since I couldn’t think of anyone better to do it, I figured I just had to do it myself. Poor me!

Cooper Island

Jeanneau Owners gather on the beach at the Cooper Island Beach Club for a group shot

I just returned from the beautiful British Virgin Islands where I spent a week sailing around with my family on a beautiful Jeanneau 409 chartered from Sunsail Yacht Charters. This was not one of our usual family sailing vacations but rather a company event that we hosted for the owners of our boats. Because space is tight in the British Virgin Islands, we limited the trip to 25 boats and about 125 people. We would have loved to have more boats but when you call up some of these small island resorts and ask them if they can make a dinner reservation for 200 people, they about pass out just thinking about it. And so we limited the trip to 25 boats and that turned out to be the perfect size for this great Caribbean adventure.

Flag Signing

The signing of the Jeanneau flag that’s been    tacked on the ceiling at Foxy’s since 2012

We started out on the island of Tortola and made stops at Cooper Island, The Bitter End Yacht Club on Virgin Gorda and the very posh Peter Island. The trip lasted a full week which gave folks time on their own to discover other great cruising destinations such as Anagada, Norman Island and the famous Foxy’s on Jost Van Dyke. The trip was a complete blast and provided the added benefit of getting to know the owner’s of our boats in a way that we could have never done by talking with them over the phone or running into them at a boat show. No, here in the BVI, under the warm Caribbean sun, cold cocktail in hand, is where you can really get to know your customers. And I did, and my staff did, and my family did and our customers got to know us; what a great time we all had!

Pirate Party

A fantastic Pirate Party held at the Bitter End Yacht Club brought out the best pirates from near and far!

In addition to dropping anchor in some fantastic spots, we also had some awesome events including racing around in our inflatable dinghys on a treasure hunt, a pirate party in full pirate regalia, a number of amazing dinners, a hike up Virgin Gorda and a great talk by author and ocean sailor, John Kretschmer who afterwards, signed copies of his latest book, Sailing a Serious Ocean. All of this together, added up to one great event and the opportunity to strengthen our relationship with our customers.

I’ve long been enamored with companies who have manged to make their customers fall in love with them. Companies like Southwest Airlines, Harley Davidson, TOMS, and Apple who’s brand loyalty is through the roof;  It’s a beautiful thing and well deserved for sure. And while I know Jeanneau builds a great boat, I would like Jeanneau to be known for being a great company as well; full of hard working men and women who love what they do and love to see their customers enjoying the boats that they build. And because of this, social events like the 2014 BVI Owner’s Rendezvous will just have to continue. And, It’s a tough job, there’s no denying it. But, since somebody has to do it, that somebody may as well be me; C’est la vie.


Paul Fenn, President of Jeanneau America with Carolyn Schmalenberger, President of Norton Yacht Sales at the 2014 BVI Rendezvous. A tough job but someone has to do it :)

On we go…



A Winter Fire


Fire, fire burning nice, warm my toes that feel like ice. Creep up my legs and to my thighs and make them both feel warm inside.

Quickly now up my spine that crackling heat feels mighty fine. Around to the stomach now and to my chest, that’s the spot that feels the best.

Drift up my neck and around my chin, let the heat soak deep within. Just a bit further now you’ve reached the top….. oh I can’t believe it, now I’m HOT!

A good fire on a cold winter’s day will soak deep to your bones and warm your sole.

On We Go…

Uncle Walter and the Christmas Turkey

Maine FarmSome time ago when I was just a boy, it was decided that we would spend the summer in Maine with our Uncle Walter. Uncle Walter was actually a great uncle or maybe even a great, great uncle but everyone, even the town-folk, referred to him as simply Uncle Walter. Uncle Walter was getting on in years so it was decided that we would spend the summer on the family farm with him and stay through Christmas and the start of the New Year.

Uncle Walter was somewhat of a local hero in town and a real jack-of-all-trades. In the summer, like most folks in Friendship, he would lobster. In the fall, he would split and haul wood and in the spring, he would do a little gardening. He was also a pretty fair woodworker and would usually build a few skiffs throughout the year along with the occasional cat boat. And, he always had a pretty steady stream of orders coming from the local funeral parlor for coffins. In fact one time, he had a rush job for a coffin that was needed by the next day. It was short notice for sure but Walter worked through the night and with a little help from a bottle of rum, got it finished just in time before the new resident was scheduled to move in. Only problem was that somewhere along the line, he must have forgotten whether he was building a cat boat or a coffin because the next morning when he walked into the barn, there stood that coffin with a rudder post and a centerboard trunk on it.

Baby_turkey_in_FLSoon after our arrival, Uncle Walter gave me a baby turkey to take care of. He told me it was my job to raise him and fatten him up for Christmas dinner. I loved him immediately and gave him the name of Henry. To this day I’m not sure why I picked the name Henry other than I liked the name and he sort of looked like a Henry. At the time I didn’t make the connection between what Henry had to do with Christmas dinner but be that as it may, Henry grew into a fine healthy gobbler and we became good friends. Then about a week before Christmas, Uncle Walter told me it was time to kill the bird. It was only then that it became clear that Henry was going to be the main course at the family dinner on Christmas day.


Uncle Walter was not a man to be reckoned with, so after dinner I did as I was told and went out to take care of Henry. I got out the axe, sharpened it up and gave Henry a good long look. Henry looked back at me. I looked some more at Henry and he looked some more at me. After awhile, I went back to the house and told Uncle Walter that I thought I would wait just a bit longer.

Well it was two days before Christmas and Uncle Walter said that it was time for me to kill the bird or he would. So after dinner I got out the axe and looked at Henry. Henry looked back at me and I looked back at Henry. I looked at the axe then at Henry.  After several minutes I put the axe down and went back to the house and told Uncle Walter that I would take care of things after he went to bed. Somewhere around midnight, I went back to the barn, picked up the axe and again looked at Henry. Henry looked back at me. I just didn’t have the heart to kill him. Instead, I fed him whisky to the point where he couldn’t see straight and proceeded to pluck him clean. Next, I carried him up to the house and stuck him in the refrigerator. The next morning Uncle Walter came into my room first thing asking me if I’d taken care of the turkey. I said I had and that he was in the refrigerator. Uncle Walter turned on his heels and down the stairs he went to make sure I was telling the truth. Mother said that Uncle Walter nearly fell over dead when he opened the refrigerator door and out came Henry strutting all over the kitchen floor just as proud and naked as the day he was born. And you know we never did kill Henry, instead we spent the entire Christmas Day knitting him a sweater.

Featherless TurkeyMerry Christmas and Happy New Year!

P.S. The theme of this story and many of the words are not mine but those of Maine humorists, Marshall Dodge and Robert Bryant, the creators of Bert and I. Enjoy!

Is Your Social Media Program Riding with the Peloton or Out There Pedaling All by Itself?

Cycling Peloton

Anyone familiar with cycling understands the benefits of riding in a peloton or group of riders. Not unlike a flock of birds flying in formation, riders in a peloton save energy by riding just a few inches behind the rider in front of them, taking full advantage of the phenomenon known as drafting or slipstreaming. The reduction in drag is dramatic; a rider in the middle of a well-developed group can gain as much as a 40% advantage compared to being out there riding on their own. In other words, the riders in front are literally pulling along the riders behind. As a cyclist myself, I have enjoyed many times the benefits of catching a free ride by hugging the rear wheel of the guy in front me.

Recently, I had a similar experience where I caught a free ride, not on a bike however but part of another company’s national advertising and social media program. And as much as I’d like to claim credit for this accomplishment, the truth of the matter is it was purely dumb luck. Now be this as it may, the result for both companies, Pacific Life and Jeanneau has been beneficial for sure.

This terrific video of a retired couple sailing to a beautiful tropical island on a new Jeanneau 409 is the latest commercial from Pacific Life promoting their retirement services. It has been running regularly during 60 minutes and many nationally televised sporting events.

The idea of cross-branding is nothing new, Eddie Bauer has successfully done this with both Ford and one of my favorite companies Airstream Trailers for years. However, cross-branding on a formal scale is a big deal and usually reserved for big companies. What I am finding however is that cross-branding using social media can be easy, informal and fun.

I have always believed that many hands make light work and this idea of using social media to help give my brand a lift, has a good ring to it. So in the future, I’ll be looking to join a strong peloton going in the direction I want to go. And in the words of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, I’ll get by with a little help from my friends.

On we go…


The Great Thanksgiving Day Massacre


Now It all started a few Thanksgiving’s ago, that’s a few years ago on Thanksgiving (as Arlo Guthrie would say), when my cousin Tom invited my wife and I and our three kids to join his family for Thanksgiving dinner. Tom lived a few hours south of us near Norfolk, VA. He and I spent part of our summers together at our grandparent’s place on Canandaigua Lake since the time we could crawl, so we knew each other well.

We jumped in the car early Thanksgiving Day morning and blasted down Route 301 towards Norfolk. In addition to our three kids, we had with us our long-time, 4-legged companion, Alee. Alee  looked like a young Black Lab but was actually a mix of Lab and Beagle with perhaps a little Cocker Spaniel thrown in for good measure. Alee was a great dog and like all good dog lovers, we took her everywhere. She was a spirited dog who loved the woods and took great pleasure in chasing squirrels, cats and the occasional stray deer although to the best of our knowledge she never caught much of anything with the exception of an old tennis ball once and awhile.

Alee1Now one thing I have learned is that there are people in this world who are true dog lovers and there are others who are not;  and the ones who are not, are really not. And I get it, dogs smell and sometimes slobber on you and jump on your clean pants and bark at strangers and poop in the yard and even pee on your floor now and then. In short, they can be a nuisance. But dogs are also truly man’s best friend. They are always happy to see you, always want to be with you, are incredibly loyal and once they are part of your life, they are hard not to love. Unfortunately, My cousin Tom and his wife were not dog lovers. They weren’t dog haters but they definitely were not dog lovers, so when we showed up with Alee in tow, I think it’s safe to say they were less than thrilled. But, be this as it may, they were happy to see us and welcomed us into their home, dog and all.

Tom took us on a tour of his property which backed up to a small creek that was not overly large but big enough to launch a row boat and go fishing if you were so inclined. It was a nice place surrounded by lots of trees and wildlife. And while Tom and his family may not have been dog-lovers, their daughter Teresa was enjoying raising guinea pigs. In fact she had a large pen out behind the house where they currently had upwards of a dozen guinea pigs, many of them babies.

Black Dog with Guinea Pigs

Now, as you can probably imagine, Alee was mighty interested in the guinea pigs. So much in fact that we quickly threw a leash on her and were going to put her in the car when Tom says “Oh don’t worry about her, nothing can get in this cage, we have all sorts of animals around here; foxes, muskrats, raccoons, all kinds of things. This baby is more secure than Fort Knox.” “OK I said, if you’re sure?” “Yep, I’m sure” Tom said, “nothing to worry about.” With that said, we let her go and off we went in search of some afternoon libations.

About an hour later, I came around the corner of the house, only to find Alee smack dab in the middle of that cage having an absolute field day with those poor guinea pigs. She was jumping up and down on them and picking them up with her mouth and swinging them around; It was a total massacre in the first degree. You can just imagine how my heart jumped right up into my throat upon seeing this scene.”  “Alee” I screamed, “get out of there!. Oh man, this is bad, very bad.”  I muttered to myself. I managed to get ahold of Alee by the collar and quickly tossed her in the car and went off at a jog to find Tom.

Now I don’t mind saying, I was more than a little rattled when I pulled Tom aside and stammered out “Tom, we have a BIG problem!” I proceeded to tell him how Alee had gotten into the guinea pig cage and wiped out the entire family. “Seriously”  he said. “all of them?” “All of them I replied, every last one of them.” The situation was more than a little  awkward to say the least.  He was a good sport about it however and suggested that we tell Teresa that something got into the cage but we’re not sure what. Teresa took the news surprisingly well considering her entire brood of guinea pigs had just been slaughtered by an “unknown” wild animal.

200384049-001We managed to make it through Thanksgiving dinner and the rest of the day without any additional major incidences, thank heavens for small miracles. The next day we paid a visit to the local pet store where Teresa picked out two new guinea pigs, one male and one female. Later, as we were saying our goodbye’s, I said to Tom that some day we will look back on all this and laugh. After all it’s not everyday that you invite your cousins to Thanksgiving Day dinner and their dog proceeds to eat your kids family of guinea pigs. I mean what are the chances? Well on second thought, I guess like most things in life, time will tell.

Happy Thanksgiving!

On we go….

MasterCard, Because When it Rains it Pours

I’m not sure if it’s a planned conspiracy or just dumb luck but have you ever noticed that just when you’re about to break free of the financial riptide that threatens to drag you down, everything you own suddenly up and dies leaving you with an assortment of outrageously expensive repair bills? Well I have and I am having one of those moments right now.


It all started on Monday when I managed to lose my last remaining key to my 2004 Toyota minivan. You wouldn’t think this would be a catastrophic event but because the key has a computer chip in it, I was told that I needed to have an entirely new key made with key fob and a reprogramming of the car’s computer. Oh and I had to have the car towed to the dealership in order to have all this done. Total damage, $989.00! 

On Tuesday, I got the call from the service department at the marina to inform me that while winterizing my boat they came across a few items that “needed attention.” This is always code for “get ready, the bill is going to be a big one.” I won’t bore you with the details but by the time all was said and done my $250 winterization job had mushroomed into a $1,350 repair bill.

Furnace-Repair-MinneapolisOn Tuesday night my furnace decided to quit which made for a chilly evening in the old abode. By Wednesday morning I was on the phone with Larry the repair guy who was running me through my options. The conversation went something like this: “The problem you have here Mr. Fenn, is that system is simply one tired old horse and it’s ready to be put out to pasture.” “Well can it be fixed” I asked?” “I wouldn’t even want to try Mr. Fenn, it’s darn near 27 years old and it’s time to bite the bullet and buy a new system” said Larry. By Wednesday night I was signing a contract for a completely new HVAC system which they began installing first thing Thursday morning. Total charge all in, $5,900.

While we were mucking around in the crawl space dealing with the furnace, we discovered a leaky drain pipe. Now I probably could have fixed this myself but there would have been a lot of bad words involved along with numerous trips to Home Depot so I elected to take the easy way out and called Bruce the plumber. Total charge $450.


I came to the conclusion that somewhere along the line I had gone to bed and woken up in a commercial for MasterCard. But instead of there being some grand heart-wrenching ending like two long-lost twins being reunited after being separated at birth, it simply went like this:

 Lost keys to the minivan, $989; repairs to the boat, $1,350; a new furnace and air conditioning system, $5,900; leaky water pipe, $450; out of cash and ready to pull your hair out?

Don’t despair, this is how life goes sometimes. And besides, as the saying goes, for everything else there’s MasterCard. When it Rains It Pours!

On we go…

Why I Changed My Mind About Social Media

Social Media

One of the many things that come with growing older is the inability to accept new ideas and new ways of doing things. I never really saw myself as falling into this trap but nevertheless, a few years back I viewed the entire concept of “social media” as nothing more than one big gimmick, just a passing fad that would be gone faster than you could say bell-bottom trousers. So what if Facebook has 1.1 billion users, give it a couple of years and it will be out of here like a wet watermelon pit squeezed between two fingers.

Of course social media hasn’t gone away, in fact it’s only gotten stronger. And so I eventually caved in and took the “if you can’t beat them join them” approach. And interestingly enough, I’m glad I did; not only have I found the world of social media rather enjoyable but also a useful and powerful marketing tool. What I really like about it is, it allows people to see our company’s true personality; an ongoing view into our company’s culture and the people who make it up.

I also like it because for the most part, it’s hard to fake what you put on YouTube; what you see is what you get. I think it’s a lot like running a personal ad. If you’re not straightforward and honest with what you’re putting out there, don’t be surprised when the wrong people come knocking on your door.

One of my favorite videos of a sail across the Gulf Stream for a photo shoot in the Bahamas. A fun, casual look at what goes on behind the scenes with the Jeanneau team.

In this global world of ours with increased competition and similar product offerings, I really see social media as being the vehicle to set ourselves apart from everyone else. Our only challenge is to be bold enough to hang ourselves out there and let our charming personality shine through.

On we go….