Vision: Dean's Marine business swimming in customers

Dean Hankins of Dean’s Marine is busy with his expanding business since moving to a commercial site one year ago.  - Kathy Santini
Dean Hankins of Dean’s Marine is busy with his expanding business since moving to a commercial site one year ago.
— image credit: Kathy Santini

Call it an occupational hazard.

You’ve heard the one about the doctor who goes to a party and one of the guests asks him about a persistent cough.

At the same party 10 feet away, another guest asks a lawyer about making provisions in her will.

While Dean Hankins — the owner of Dean’s Marine, which repairs boat engines and stores boats — isn’t a doctor or a lawyer, his wife Karen Hankins says the same thing happens to him.

“People would come up to Dean all the time (on weekends and holidays) and say, ‘Hey, would you listen to this?’,” the good-natured Karen said, laughing. “I found it all very comical.”

But those connections certainly haven’t hurt their business, which has expanded from a home-based operation to a commercial site with five full-time employees and two part-time.

Dean, 53, who has been working on boats since he was 19, ran the couple’s business with Karen and another employee from their home for the past 13 years.

While Karen said their neighbours were great, the property’s physical limitations were challenging, to say the least. Too much of their work day was spent moving a repaired boat out of the yard, when its owner came to pick it up. Problem was, there was routinely five or six boats closer to the gate than it was, which had to be moved before its owner could retrieve it.

This scenario happened a number of times a day.

A year ago this summer, a one-acre property came up in Duncan’s industrial park and the couple jumped at the opportunity, to, as Karen says, “take our business to the next level.”

The decision has paid off. She said their dealers have noticed their business has tripled during the past 12 months.

Part of the reason for their success is their decision to build and connect the boating community in the Cowichan Valley, so Cowichanians don’t have to go to Nanaimo or Victoria.

Partnering with Van Isle Power Boating, they held a boat show in March; another one is planned for September.  In May, they hosted a boating swap meet, which drew another 500 to 600 people.

People from all over Vancouver Island are bringing their boats to the Polkey Road facility.

According to Karen, the company has clients from Parksville and Port Alberni — where Dean used to work — who bring their boats to the Cowichan Valley, some booking a year in advance.

“Dean isn’t a believer in specializing,” his wife said. “He has an amazing ability to work on anything; he’s teaching our mechanics to do the same thing.”

One of Dean’s most recent success stories is a 1953 motor he brought back to life.

“People in the Cowichan Valley don’t have a lot of money, we keep them (their engines) going,” Karen said.

It’s another reason that they decided to start the swap meet, so that boaters can buy used what they can’t afford new.

As anyone who’s run their own business knows, entrepreneurship has its good points and bad.

Karen, who worked for a large Canadian retailer in her past life, said she hated being treated as a number.

“And there was always pressure, pressure, pressure,” the small business owner said. “Here, we get to know and support our wonderful customers, there’s no one harping on you here.”

A detriment, although the entrepreneurs would say it’s a good problem to have, is the number of hours small business owners work.

Karen and Dean work six days a week at the Polkey Road site and spend the seventh day driving around getting parts.

“We don’t get a lot of time off,” Karen said.

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