IN THE BEGINNING
Harold and Betty Reed started Reed’s Marine over fifty years ago. In the early 1950’s Harold gave up selling tires as he decided he wanted to be in the boat rental business. Harold hung a phone on an old post in the Delavan Inlet and began to rent small fishing boats. Betty gathered night crawlers from Lake Lawn’s golf course so they would have some bait to sell…very humble beginnings. Not many success stories begin with, “We got up real early and collected worms.” Harold went from renting boats to selling boats and motors. He had one of the earliest Johnson Motor franchises in the state. Soon, the boats got bigger along with the buildings and the crew. By the late 1960’s Harold and Betty had built up one of the largest boat dealerships in the area. They also sold Johnson and Ski-Doo snowmobiles at this time, when snowmobiling was just getting started. In 1970 the business had actually become too large for them to handle. Sales, service and storage at this level, with all the inherent problems, were just too much for this small town couple.
As fate would have it, an off-handed comment about their frustration led to a small ad in the Chicago Tribune placed by an over-eager real estate agent. The ad was read by Tom Shallcross who was working at a big corporation in Chicago and suffering from a little “mid-life crisis.” He called his boyhood friend Harry Johnson, and convinced Harry that this might be the change they were both looking for. At the time, Harry’s tool and die shop in Melrose Park wasn’t doing very well. They were both familiar with Delavan Lake since their fathers were friends and had brought them up here all the time. Tom’s family had owned a cottage on Delavan Lake since 1936. Tom and Harry thought it was destiny when they read Reed’s Marine was for sale. They imagined working together in this great location, and it would be everything that their current jobs were not (fun, relaxing, independent and prosperous). At this point it would have been good if they had heeded the old proverb, “Be careful what you ask for…you might get it!” The business that had grown too big for the small town couple was also much too big and unwieldy for a couple of big city boys. Running a factory with 50–100 employees was much easier than a boat dealership with two mechanics!
THE SONS STEP UP
Harry became the manager, and Tom would work at Reed’s when they could afford him (Tom never actually worked full-time at Reed’s Marine). The business had so many facets that Harry felt he was trying to learn how to swim in a pool that was deeper than he thought…and full of alligators!
In 1976 after five years of oil embargoes, recessions, confusion and ignorance, most of all the boat sales and all the money were gone. The only thing keeping things going were Harry’s fear of going out of business and the bank’s fear of coming in. The bank didn’t want to own it, and Harry had nowhere else to go!
But a light appeared at the end of the tunnel – and it really was a way out of the darkness. The crew at Reed’s had always stressed service, so there was a firm base of customers on which to build a future. All the suppliers had always been paid (except the bank), so merchandise was available. A couple of finance tricks developed some working capital, and, most importantly, the economy got better and stayed better for a long time.
Ten years after the initial purchase and five years after being in the deepest part of the pit, Reed’s Marine crawled out. By the early 1980’s they were back to “even”. Throughout the 1980’s Reed’s became healthy again. Service and storage expanded, new buildings were purchased, and the crew went from 7 to 16 people as sales increased every year.
In 1990 Harry handed Hal and Betty their last monthly payment. Harry had made it to his finish line! Over the next couple of years, ownership was transferred to Tom and Harry’s sons. Harry retired and turned his efforts to local charity work. He was recognized for his work with an “Advocate of the Year Award” in Wisconsin and, after his death in 2001, the naming of the Harold Johnson Food Pantry of Delavan.
It was nice to be recognized, but he always knew his greatest achievement was keeping Reed’s Marine together. Day after day for months that drifted into years he had to struggle despite little hope of success. He wasn’t succeeding, and yet he couldn’t fail. There were too many people depending on him to make it. To paraphrase Joe Garagiola, “Owning a small business gives you every chance to succeed. Then it puts every pressure on you to prove that you haven’t got what it takes. It never eases up on the pressure.” Harry just would not give in to the pressure until Reed’s Marine had succeeded. Any person who does that, in any endeavor, is truly a hero.
In 1999, Keith’s wife, Nancy, started working at Reed’s part-time. With all three children in school, the youngest part time, she was able to help out by cleaning boats and working in the sales department. As the kids grew older and needed her less, she added handling warranty claims and doing general office work to her work schedule. Over the years, Nancy has taken on increasing responsibilities.
From a young age Jason, the oldest of the Shallcross children, followed his father around the shop and accompanied him on service calls. As a teenager, Jason started mowing the lawn, and washing and driving boats. Over time, he became the delivery captain while running the whole outside crew, but at 20 he left the family business to pursue something different: He went to work in the home improvement industry where he managed a crew and learned valuable lessons in business. In 2004 his parents offered him an opportunity to return to Reed’s Marine and eventually own the business. Jason accepted and came back with renewed passion and ambition. He pushed for change and followed through with new ideas. Over the past 10-plus years Jason has been studying and pursuing the sales and general management sides of the business. After 20 some years of working on the service side and fine-tuning his customer skills, Jason moved to the sales department, where learning never stops and the pursuit of excellence is a daily challenge.
Marc, the youngest Shallcross child, grew up playing 100 yards from Reed’s marine service department. Like his brother Jason, he started mowing the lawn as a young kid and making mothball bags for storage boats. As a preteen and teen, Marc worked off and on in the service department and upon graduation from high school, he furthered his studies at the Marine Mechanic Institute, in Orlando, Florida. Diploma in hand, Marc joined a new company with potential for growth in the customer service industry, and he worked his way up to a management position with accounts as large as Walt Disney World and Rosen Hotels. Learning the high customer service standards of Disney and Rosen proved crucial when he eventually headed back to his hometown and the family business, in 2010, to start working for Reed’s as a marine technician. He is certified by Mercury, Mercruiser and BRP and is working on his Evinrude certification.
In spring 2016, after 46 years of a great partnership, the Shallcrosses purchased the Johnsons’ half of Reed’s Marine. During the negotiations, timelines were discussed, determined and written down. At the dealership, Jason is now the General Manager/Sales Manager/Owner and Marc is pursuing the Service Department Manager/Owner position as he learns and takes on more responsibility from his father. Both men have attended Spader Business Management Total Management 1 class and take part in Spader 20 Group meetings. Together they are striving towards the common goal of making Reed’s Marine better, stronger and more efficient.