Springfield, MO

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Business Spotlight: Emergency on the Sea

Sea Tow franchisees celebrate 20 years of the business providing on-water assistance

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Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, aka the 100 days of summer, Jim Pulley can be found on Table Rock Lake every single day.

“I’m always out there doing something,” he says.

But Missouri weather is weird, he adds, so even if it’s snowing one day, it might be 80 degrees the next, and people are going to be on their boats.

“A boat doesn’t care if it’s winter or summer; when it breaks down, it breaks down,” he says.

And that’s where Captain Pulley comes in. As owner of the Sea Tow franchise on Table Rock Lake, Pulley runs an on-water assistance service that covers over 800 miles of shoreline.

“It’s like AAA for boats,” he says.

Sea Tow Services International, a New York-based boat towing company, has over 100 franchisees throughout the United States and Europe. Pulley’s is the only operation in Missouri. Along with his wife, Janicee, he acquired the franchise in 2006 from Dwight McNeil, who began it in 2003. In 2017, the Pulleys were awarded Franchise of the Year by Sea Tow Services International.

They got started in the business because they love water and boats. As Pulley puts it, “Make a living to do something you love and help people in the process of doing it.”

Pulley also noticed that boaters in the area tend to rely on a good Samaritan buddy system.

“But with the liability and price of boats going up, the necessity for a professional knowing what they are doing is important,” he says.

Starting out, Pulley says it took a lot of educating the community and boat owners, because everyone just helped each other.

“But sometimes you can’t call your brother-in-law, wondering how sober they are to pull you in,” he says.

Before Sea Tow arrived at Table Rock Lake, Pulley says the Missouri State Water Patrol was what many people would call to help with boat towing.

“That takes them away from the more important emergency calls, so we work hand-in-hand with them,” he says.

Sea Tow offers an annual membership rate of $119, and Pulley jokes this is a price that saves a lot of marriages and friendships. Considering his hourly rate to tow a boat is $275, Pulley says once he has to tow someone, they become a member for life. Pulley estimates Sea Tow on Table Rock Lake maintains between 1,500 and 2,200 memberships  and performs 375-400 tows per year. “It’s a no-brainer,” he says.

For new boat owners, Pulley works to build relationships with local dealers.

“A lot of dealers include a membership with the sale of the boat,” Pulley says.

He also provides services to every slip holder at Big Cedar Lodge’s Long Creek Marina.

David Storch, assistant director of operations at Big Cedar, says he and Pulley began the partnership in 2016, after noticing many at the marina already were using Sea Tow’s services.

“We designed a program that would essentially include a membership with each annual slip rental,” Storch says.

Aside from being an added value for boat owners, Storch says it helps provide an extra layer of service when dealing with boat issues.

“We are very proud to say that Long Creek Marina is the only marina on Table Rock Lake that provides Sea Tow protection on your vessel,” Storch adds.

Pulley has owned eight businesses, including Gingiss Formalwear and a commercial lawn service.

He adds that there’s also the bonus of getting to be on a boat all day long.

Onboarding as a franchise member includes obtaining a captain’s license, which is highly regulated through the Coast Guard and Sea Tow Services International, so compliance standards are high, Pulley says. “We’re in an industry to take care of life and property, so anyone that is doing this without having regulations can be endangering lives.”

Sea Tow franchisees must attend an extensive training program that covers topics beyond on-water services, such as membership development, financial reporting and marketing. In addition, Sea Tow offers ongoing continuing education and additional training throughout the year for its franchisees.

Pulley employs seven captains, and his wife works as the office manager.

“We have four boats and a barge,” Pulley says. “We do a lot of salvage work, as well, such as towing and fuel drops. If a boat sinks, we have capacity of sending divers down and putting air bags on it.”

He recalls a coordinated effort in 2014 toraise the Zebulon Pike, a 60-foot steel dinner cruiser.

“The Old Zeb weighed about 100,000 pounds,” Pulley says, adding that after that experience, “We can raise just about any vessel on Table Rock Lake.”


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