Originally created 02/29/04

Business venture makes waves



EDITOR'S NOTE: Under the Radar is an occasional Sunday series spotlighting successful entrepreneurs whose business ventures often go unnoticed.

A collection of plaques marking his bass-fishing achievements lines David Whyte's office walls.

But if you ask him about them, he plays down his success and modestly claims to simply have won his "fair share" of tournaments.

The 40-year-old fisherman has also experienced his fair share of success in the business world. But his latest business venture has the longtime entrepreneur sailing uncharted waters.

The man who 15 years ago didn't own a boat or even fish now owns a dealership - the Augusta Marine Supercenter on Gordon Highway.

Mr. Whyte's entrepreneurial career started in the mid-1980s when he bought into the Augusta Express Car Wash on Washington Road. After a few years, Mr. Whyte moved to Greenville, S.C., and bought into another car wash. He came back to Augusta about nine years ago to be closer to his wife's family and bought Crystal Clean Car Wash on Gordon Highway.

But the years of working outdoors hand-washing cars, trucks and the occasional boat were starting to wear on him, especially during the winter. So after 20 years in the car-wash business, Mr. Whyte began looking for a change of pace. And when a man came along last summer and offered him a "deal he couldn't refuse," Mr. Whyte sold the car wash, without any plans for an alternative career.

"I didn't think I could work for anyone again. It's been since I was 18 years old that I've worked for somebody," he said.

As luck would have it, Barry Frazier was selling Augusta Marine Supercenter . Mr. Whyte, who is also a licensed car dealer, bought the boat dealership in December. Boats seemed like a natural substitute for cars, and having bought five boats there over the years he was familiar with the business from a customer's perspective.

"I just needed another opportunity, and Barry looked like he had a very successful business," Mr. Whyte said. "I thought my knack for fishing and the boats and all the people I've met over my fishing career would help me in this business."

It also helped that Mr. Whyte's fishing partner, Buster Davis, was the head salesman at the dealership.

"For me, it wasn't too bad when David took over," Mr. Davis said. "The rest of the employees weren't sure, but they like him now."

Mr. Davis and the other employees are proving valuable to Mr. Whyte as he learns the ropes of running a boat dealership.

"At the car wash, I never had anyone help me or give me any input with the business. Here, I've got a lot of input, a lot of good employees," Mr. Whyte said.

He has 40 boats and trailers on order and plans to advertise the dealership by pulling a boat behind his truck during the upcoming St. Patrick's Day parade.

Right now, business is a little slow because boat sales tend to be seasonal - few people hit the lakes during the cold, rainy winter. But Mr. Whyte expects sales to pick up during the summer.

Still, he isn't quite ready to cut out his automobile roots. Mr. Whyte still has the sign from his Crystal Clean Auto Sales, which was next to his car wash, and has a couple of cars parked under it. If you asked, he'd probably even sell you his truck.

"In time, I'll buy a few Hondas and park them out there and make a few dollars on them," he said.

VITALS

Name: David Whyte

Age: Turns 41 on Monday

Family: Married to Paige, has four children

Title: Owner, Augusta Marine Supercenter

History: Mr. Whyte moved to Augusta from Lansing, Mich., to play golf at Augusta College. After owning car washes, he bought the Augusta Marine Supercenter in December.

Civic: Member of the Irish-American Heritage Association