Boat dealership opening in community

Neil Hersh, left, and Ron Kukla are all smiles about their new boat dealership.

Two Tellico Village residents are preparing to open the community’s first boat dealership.

Ron Kukla and Neil Hersh will open the doors of PontoonNation.com on Feb. 20 near Sloan’s Hardware.

The pair believes a boat dealer in the area with easy access to the water will offer a unique buying experience.

“We also believe that it also fits very well with Rarity Bay as well as WindRiver,” Kukla said. “Those are three communities that are pretty close here, but if you look at the amount of boats in the four harbors here just in Tellico Village between the Yacht Club, Tanasi, the Tanasi lagoon and Kahite, there’s five marinas here, there’s quite a few boats here. We believe that there’s a whole educational process; that a lot of the education is why would you buy a boat — nobody buys a car without test driving it. Nine out of 10 people are buying boats without a test drive.”

“I think the other thing that is the driving force between this is we both are fortunate enough to be young and retired but are not necessarily satisfied with just sitting around the house,” Hersh added. “Some of this has to do with the fact that we were looking for something that would have synergy with the lifestyle of the Village but also allow us to keep ourselves occupied, productive and contributing to society.”

Boating is a hobby for both.

“The fact that I get to basically work on the water with a T-shirt, shorts and flip flops and help everybody out with boats is nothing better for me,” Hersh said. “My first job with boats was driving all the watercraft at Disney World in college. That’s how long I’ve been around boats. I don’t even want to tell you how many boats I’ve had over the years. This is a passion for me and it has been for a long time.”

So far they have been pleased with the community’s response to offering pontoons, tritoons and waverunners, Hersh said.

Kukla said they will focus on selling Tahoe boats, which he believes is a “marquee name.”

“The inventory that we have, we actually have the luxury with partnering with another dealership that’s been around for I think it’s coming up on nine or 10 years, and so we are able to leverage their purchasing power as well as their ability to stock an inventory,” Hersh said. “We anticipate that when we open up the doors we’ll have at least an inventory of about 30 boats.”

Education will be a focus in the new business venture.

“One, the boat buying experience really hasn’t changed too much over the years,” Kukla said. “It’s a typical boat yard that people go, they look, they buy a boat without water testing, etc. We decided to flip the coin, especially with the advent of COVID, and to make the boat buying experience a much more educational experience and really help the customer become educated on what they’re buying in particular for this waterway. We have a lot of folks here who we’ve talked to over the years that have bought the wrong boat. Either they’re under horsepower or have a pontoon when they should have bought a tritoon, etc. Our whole concept is to be educational and to have boats in the water and allow the customers to obviously water test them and find the right boat that fits their particular needs that they’re looking for.”

Customers will shop by appointment only in hopes of providing a “more intimate experience” and a faster opportunity to get on the water, Kukla said.

“We’re going to really try to offer a very simple turnkey solution, so if customers require financing, that will be included,” he said, adding they will offer “leasing of boats, which hasn’t been done anywhere in Tennessee to our knowledge.”

Hersh said this should give customers the chance to do what’s right for them.

“We do believe that having that option will give people the choice of making a long-term decision or doing something for a temporary basis so they understand whether or not they have, A, the right boat or, B, they actually like boating,” Hersh said. “Quite a few of the people we’ve talked to never have had a boat before when they came to the Village.”

If all goes well, the two may look to expand.

Hersh said they have their eyes on another property that could be a “full-fledged dealership” with boats on the lot.

“I would say this is for sure a one-year stepping stone, maybe two, but we think probably a one-year sales office on appointment only and we build a brand,” Kukla said. “Again, it’s because we’re also limiting the inventory this year. ... Right now the boats we’re going to have in the water, they’ll be on various docks ready to go for water testing.”

“We have access to five docks, so we’ll have five boats on the water and then we have the ability to store four boats on land,” Hersh added.

For more information, visit www.pontoon nation.com.