How I did it: Making waves

To get customers onboard his ferry, Charles A. Donadio Jr. had to find the right sales pitch for his target clientele.

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As told to Josh Hyatt, Money Magazine contributing writer

donadio.03.jpg
Charles A. Donadio Jr. CEO Martha's Vineyard Fast Ferry
  • NAME: Charles A. Donadio Jr., CEO
  • AGE: 39
  • BUSINESS: Martha's Vineyard Fast Ferry, a 400-passenger catamaran between Quonset Point, R.I. and Martha's Vineyard
  • STARTED: 2004
  • FINANCING: $6 Million (SBA loan, investors, savings)
  • ANNUAL REVENUE: $3 Million

HOW I GOT THE IDEA: "I owned a tour boat, and along the way I saw how ferries operated: They didn't have enough capacity and went really slowly.

"I researched high-speed ferries and knew there'd be a market for this."

MY GREATEST CHALLENGE "Getting ourselves known.

"The other Vineyard ferry was state-subsidized, and that kept its prices low. Ours had first-class amenities like cushioned seats and a full bar.

"The target clientele was high income, so we figured luxury would be the best message to get their attention. The first year, we spent $175,000 to advertise in nearby states. But turns out, few of our passengers ever saw or heard those ads."

HOW I OVERCAME IT: "We emphasized a different message: how much time our service saved visitors to the Vineyard. Without us, travelers from New Jersey, New York and Connecticut had to make the unpredictable drive to Cape Cod and take the slow ferry from there.

We're 30 minutes from the Connecticut border. They could go with us, avoid traffic and get there two to four hours faster. We focused the campaign on Vineyard residents.

It worked: By 2006, I was able to pay back investors and give them a 25% return."

ADVICE TO OTHERS: "Any mistakes you make at the start are part of the learning curve, even the big expensive ones." To top of page

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