Dave Sell is hearing it again.
“Dave Sell is a very good salesman,” says his client, one Brian Hill, in the “salon” (that’s boat-speak for “lounge”) of Hill’s Sea Ray 590L Fly. Hill leans into the word “salesman.”
Sell rolls his eyes. Hill grins.
Yeah, Dave’s never heard that one before.
Actually, Hill gives Mr. Sell grief on a pretty regular basis. Not that Sell minds terribly much — after all, Sell has become Brian Hill’s go-to expert when it comes to adding smart systems to Hill’s boats. The boat we’re sitting in currently as customer needles integrator is a yacht named “All from Tights,” since Hill is the CEO of a company called Discount Dance Supply, which sells — you guessed it — a lot of hosiery. These tights have afforded Hill the opportunity to collect houses and classic foreign cars along with his watercraft.
More on this beauty of a boat in a bit. First, meet “the salesman.” Integrated Marine Systems
“I'm a boater,” says Sell.
“I've been a boater my whole life, had knowledge of marine industry, marine electronics, all the technology that goes into boats. We had bought a boat, my wife and daughter and I, with the intention of fixing it up.”
This was to be Sell’s grand reboot, a new chapter in leisure after a long career in the CEDIA channel, most recently as a bigwig with Crestron.
“We bought a nice 34-footer that was pretty well beat up. We wanted to do some nice things to it. What I discovered in trying to make all that happen was there was no one company that did the various things we were looking for.
“I must have said to my wife five times, ‘There's an opportunity here.’”
Sell quickly realized that he had a business model on his hands, a firm that was unlike any other along the main drag of California’s Newport Beach called the “Mariner’s Mile.”
Sell had already laid plans to be his own boss, to open an integration firm called Lifestyle Technology Group. He’d handled residential and commercial projects (“We recently became an authorized integrator for Microsoft doing Installations for them in the southwest region,” Sell notes) but soon concluded that more bait was literally in the water. “We're looking for the luxury lifestyle customer. This is another way to capture them. If we are able to sell them on upgrades for their boat or their yacht, if anybody can afford that and afford a yacht, they're going to have money, and there's our tie-in to their home.”
And the entry point for some yacht owners? The draw to bring eyeballs into Sell’s showroom?
The Ground Floor
One of the many ways Sell brings people into his shop is, believe it or not, flooring. If a boat owner isn’t using teak to cover the floors, Sell offers a broad variety of synthetic, looks-just-like-multi-grained-wood vinyl flooring that resists the reddest of wines.
Of course, Sell followed the first rule of real estate when he picked the street address: location, location, location.
“It’s a constant source of motivation for me and to us is when people walk in here, whether it's a new buyer or a yacht broker, one of these people that's been in the industry forever, and they've got their lists of favorites and buddies,” he trails off. It’s a referral business, and that brings in vastly bigger opportunities than just someone looking for new tread.
Sell’s got this multi-pronged approach down: “I try very hard to communicate to the potential customer that we can give them the same or near same experience on their yacht as they have at home. I found that's the best way to hit their button and bridge the two opportunities. It reduces their fear of 'another new system or remote to learn'. We can fix whatever might be wrong in either location and being them together into one interface.”
Beyond the vinyl, the showroom offers a bevy of lighting and sound arrays, surveillance and alert systems (“water in the basement” is a much bigger deal in the middle of the Pacific than it is on the beach), and a cell-based Wi-Fi system that’s mostly used by first responders and delivery drivers. (Sell shows me a comparison chart: Satellite service on the water can run about $1,000 monthly for 2GB.)
The sound arrays are varied: Head ends designed for control by the bridge look like old-school car-audio faceplates — but their fronts flip down to reveal a tray that’ll hold an iPhone. Plug the phone in, close the unit, and control is right next to the wheel of the ship.
A lot of the speakers on display are for show, not go: Sell has been working with James Loudspeaker to come up with custom solutions for boat owners who are not into the look of “wall acne” — a pretty common problem with the industry, as it turns out. All From Tights
When Brian Hill took delivery of his multi-million-dollar Sea Ray, he wasn’t thrilled with the “stock” sound and video solutions.
It’s a common problem: Boat makers who are focused on everything from flawless lines to three-engine, GPS-keyed systems that keep a yacht perfectly still in its slip (even while a solo operator actually steps off the ship for unmooring) treat some systems as less than top priority.
In fact, Hill was a bit annoyed by the obtrusive domed speakers protruding from the ceilings in some of the boat’s outdoor spaces. The look didn’t match the craft, and the audio quality wasn’t what Hill had grown accustomed to with his home systems. Additionally, Wi-Fi was less than stellar, even in dock — marinas rarely have decent service if any at all.
Hill found Sell via a referral on the Mile, and Dave went to work with his army of wiry installers. (Apparently, the maritime installation biz attracts, short, skinny folks — the spaces are ridiculously tight.) Cable had to run through walls, not ceilings — the Sea Ray’s packed with HVAC ductwork between decks — and the tech had to disappear behind the lines of the ship.
Sell pulled the old speakers, and James provided exterior drivers that matched the look of the boat’s lights. James-designed subwoofers were stashed behind stairs and under seating with pipes that terminated in gleaming chrome grates die-cut with the Sea Ray logo. Some speakers were exposed by necessity — but the booming soundbar and small boxes of the 5.1 4K home theater system blend sweetly into the décor. All in the Family
Sell’s clearly done his job. He listens to Hill tick off the goodies.
“My son or whoever can go up on the fly ... and you can actually watch television up on the fly. We're big sports fans, so on college football day, Saturday or if it's hockey ... it's on a hinge out there. You pull the TV out, you swivel it around ... it's a high definition outdoor TV. We have a lot of fun, so all the guys bring their cigars, and they all bring their wines, and they all sit up on the deck up there in the summer and watch our stuff and have fun; wave at all the paddle boarders and kayakers going by.
“We're in Catalina, and this our living room.”
The sun is setting on Dana Point. Beers are cracked. Dire Straits drifts out of the speakers.
And Dave Sell is pitching Hill — very, very gently — on another project.
“That home theater in the beach house — you could do better.”
“This guy,” chuckles Hill.
Dave Sell just smiles.