Is there anything more enticing during our brilliant Minnesota summers than spending a long day on a boat looking out onto spectacular Lake Minnetonka? How about spending a lifetime with that view? It's been a lot of hard work by Jerry and Joyce Rockvam, owners of Rockvam Boat Yards, Inc in Spring Park. When you see their marina of today, it is an idyllic lakefront spot, but at their start, it was anything but idyllic.
After leaving the U.S. Navy, they purchased a repair shop in 1961. It had a dirt floor, no electricity, no water, and no sewer. Their home sat behind the repair shop and used an oil burner for heat. But even with all the hardships, as the business expanded parcel by parcel, looking back, it was a risk worth taking. The popularity of the lake and the needs of the surrounding community grew as time went on, and Rockvam Boat Yards expanded services accordingly to meet the needs of the community.
The Rockvam family has been an integral part of the Spring Park business and school community for decades. Jerry was a graduate of Orono High School, and the Rockvam family continues to support the Orono Foundation for Education. In fact, they just donated a boat club membership to the foundation to show their support. On top of that, starting in 1965, Jerry has served as mayor of Spring Park off and on for 44 years. He and his family have been deeply invested in their community and their community loves them back. Just this year, Rockvam Boat Yards was named National Marina of the Year, and it sounds like it was quite an honor for everyone involved. “It was a long journey and so exciting to have my parents receive the recognition for their countless hours of hard work starting from scratch to creating a National Award Winning Marina. Wow, it still gives me goose bumps,” says Roxanne, the daughter of Jerry and Joyce.
The business has always been a family affair. Roxanne and her sister were on the payroll when they were mere kids, and worked at the marina through college. Roxanne is now the General Manager of Rockvam and runs the day to day operations. “Roxanne is more than an employee, she is our daughter,” Joyce says endearingly. While the next generation does not always choose the career path of their parents, Roxanne explains how she chose to carry on the Rockvam legacy. “After I graduated from the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, I did work in Admissions for the U of M. But once we built our fourth warehouse in 1997, our entire business changed. It was a turning point that allowed me to work full time and focus on sales and customer relations and it allowed me to learn the industry. It’s an interesting industry and heavily male-dominated. I really think more women should pursue a career path in the boating field. I actually started a website called “PontoonGirl.com” to focus on women boaters and their unique lifestyle.”
Roxanne has not only worked in a male-dominated industry, but has done it exceptionally well. Last year she was named the Darlene Briggs Marine Woman of the Year. What was it like to be awarded this prestigious title? “I just was thrilled to bring the award home to Minnesota and Lake Minnetonka. Darlene Briggs was a founder of Wayzata Marine so it’s quite the honor to be recognized with the award in her name.” Helping others all summer drink up the relaxation of the lake leaves me wondering what Roxanne does when she has some time off.
“For me, I love visiting marinas. It’s is the dorkiest thing ever, but I’ve visited marinas on five of the top ten party lakes in the United States. To me, visiting a marina or renting a pontoon while I’m on vacation is actually super interesting.”
As the boating industry has changed over the years, so have the needs of customers. And Rockvam has responded accordingly. “Every business needs to adapt. The only way to thrive is to listen to your customers and provide the products and services they want,” says Roxanne. Boaters may come for relaxation and stunning sunsets, but when it comes to their leisure activities, they also want convenience and efficiency. “The biggest push we have made is via automation. We started with a ‘pay pump’ on our gas dock. This allows us to speed up our customer time on the dock and allow our employees to stay focused on safety,” she shares. “In addition, we automated our launching system for our dry stack service. The addition of iPads and a program has streamlined from phone calls to using an app. It’s crazy to think that a marina would benefit from an app… but we also have a website link, storeonshore.com’, to allow you to order and pay for store items from our dock. Every efficiency helps. We are even expanding our rewards program, RockvamRewards.com, so be sure to check that out!"
Over the years, docks were added and new warehouses were built. A store became part of the property and new services were added. From the humble beginnings to a full scale marina, Rockvam offers a large variety of services today. They have boats for sale. They have wet slip docking and dry stack storage. They also offer boat rentals. People can rent a boat for the day or join a boat club for the entire season. It’s no small operation keeping all of these pieces running smoothly, but the Rockvam family proves time and time again that they are up to the challenge and continue to exceed their customers’ expectations.
It's apparent that Rockvam Boat Yards has it all. Customers just need to bring the cooler and they'll be set for summer. But one question remains: is there anything big planned for the future? “As a child, after visiting Valley Fair, I thought it would be really cool to put a waterslide that ran off the top of our warehouse into the lake," Roxanne smiles. "But it would involve crossing the county road. So rather than telling me ‘no’, my dad said, ‘the county won't issue a permit’. But seriously, I still think that would be pretty neat,” she adds.
It really, really would be. Progress is all about innovation. Now, who can we talk to about securing that permit?