Southern Exposure’s Q&A: Deb Radcliff, Senior VP of Marketing for West Marine

SB: What sets West Marine apart from other competitors in the field? How has it accomplished this and how will it continue to do so?
DR: For many years, West Marine has been the world’s largest boating supply retailer, offering over 85,000 products at our 280 retail stores, through our call center at 1-800-BOATING, and online at westmarine.com. We know boating and cruisers, and we can outfit just about anyone who enjoys recreating on the water. An important aspect that sets us apart from many of our competitors is the expertise of our associates, both at the stores and at the call center. We provide our customers with solutions for all their questions and the right products for their boating needs.

SB: How has the company developed and changed over the years?
DR: West Marine’s founder Randy Repass started selling sailing rope for his daysailer out of his garage in Palo Alto—he was frustrated with the disorganization and limited selection at local chandleries. While sailing is still an important core of our business, over the years West Marine has expanded its merchandise to cater to powerboaters, fishing and paddling enthusiasts. Most recently, we’ve introduced a great selection of stand-up paddleboards and kayaks which are some of the fastest growing watersports trends.

SB: What attracted you to work for West Marine? What things ignite passion and excitement in your job?
DR: I’ve spent most of my career in retail, including senior management positions at The Home Depot and Sports Authority. My husband and I are avid sailors—both racing and cruising—so the position at West Marine was an exciting opportunity to combine my career and my passion. I’ve been a West Marine customer for over 15 years and to be part of the expansion to reach water enthusiasts is exciting for me.

SB: What accomplishments are you most proud of?
DR: As West Marine expands its product selection to include more “waterlife” products, our marketing team is evolving our vision to include creative campaigns that share the passion of being on and around the water. It’s not just about products, it’s about the excitement and the joy that goes with boating—whether it’s sailing, power boating, fishing, or paddling.

SB: What do you love most about what you do?
DR: What sailor wouldn’t want to spend their days talking about boating? My favorite thing about working for West Marine is the opportunity to meet and talk with our store associates across the organization. Their passion and love for West Marine is contagious and makes me excited to come to work every day.

SB: How has West Marine made a difference in the marine industry? Give some specific examples of how your company has enriched mariners’ experiences on the water.
DR: West Marine has certainly raised the bar of people’s expectations for selection and service. One example is engine parts—one of the biggest headaches for cruisers. There are so many different models and when something breaks, even seasoned cruisers often aren’t sure where to start to get the right part. West Marine’s new flagship store includes dedicated engine parts counters, for example, with thousands of parts in stock. For customers who aren’t near those stores, westmarine.com has a new “Engine Parts Selector” section that allows you to find parts by engine make, model and year, or by part number. A process that could take days (or weeks) of phone calls to manufacturers is now done in minutes, which gets our customers back on the water faster.

SB: What should we expect to see from West Marine in this upcoming year?
DR: In addition to the latest specialty items for boating, we’re introducing new lines of lifestyle products for the whole family. You’ll see more women’s clothing, expanded assortment of paddle sports like stand up paddleboards and kayaks, and lifestyle electronics such as waterproof Bluetooth speakers. You’ll also see continued enhancements to our website westmarine.com.

SB: What product would you recommend cruisers consider?
DR: Check out the new inflatable stand-up paddleboards, such as the Jimmy Styks Puffer. It’s great for exploring and exercise and packs up to the size of a duffel bag. They’re a great alternative to kayaks. I have two of them that we use when we go camping up in Mammoth Lakes, CA.

SB: Tell me about your boating experience. Do you currently own a boat?
DR: I am ASA certified to sail up to 60-foot monohull and catamaran boats, and we’ve bare-boated in the B.V.I., St. Maarten and throughout California. One of the best perks we have at West Marine is our company’s 40-foot Santa Cruz sailboat that we race on Wednesday nights here in Santa Cruz. I’ve also coordinated several “Women on the Water” boating events where associates can learn how to sail or just enjoy being out on the water. Other weekends, we are out kayaking or paddleboarding around the Central Coast.

By Christine Carpenter, Southern Exposure