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Lake Orion Marine goes full throttle



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May 29, 2013 - By Meg Peters

Review Staff Writer

About 30 Berkshire and Manitou pontoons may be headed for Pleasure Island or Goose Poop Island.

If this sounds like a promotion for a television reality show, it is not.

It is the spring boating season and sales at Orion Marine Center have been brisk.

"I would say we are probably bumpin' 30 boats. We just got seven new boats this morning, and all but two of those are sold. So we gotta hurry up and put those together and get them out of here. Crazy day today," said Bill Nickolopoulos, owner of the showroom and sales area, and the service end of Orion Marine Center.

The community seems to have always been drawn to Orion Marine, judging from the stories behind it, even if they couldn't or didn't purchase anything.

Nickolopoulos recalled a couple years ago, in 2008 or 2009, "when the economy was really bad and everyone was getting out of town. GM was going bankrupt," and he and his employees were getting the store ready to open early that spring.

"It was a nice day and we had one of the bay doors open. We were taking a break, trying to figure out what we were gonna do next. There was a car of people that came up and stuck their heads out the window and were like 'Yay, the Marine's open!"

He paused. "It's pretty important."

It is one of the few marinas in town that is also a dealership, a service center, a gas dock, pontoon rental agency, water sports gear distributor, and emergency docking center if someone really needs a place to store their boat for a night.

Like many businesses, sales slumped from 2007-2010.

"2008 was probably the absolute worst. That was a pretty tough year. 2009 was better, but still pretty tough. Then 2010 was better, '11 was better, '12 was much better, and hopefully '13 will keep going the same way."

Last year's blast of summer heat around St. Patrick's Day geared the business up for a summer bustling with activity. Nickolopoulos said the hot weather was a huge contributor to their success, and if it's cold and rainy, the center is a ghost town.

"We had that really great early start last year and we were busy, crazy busy, all summer long. Normally we have an August slowdown where it kinda gets a little slower. We didn't have that last summer. We were backed up all year long," he said.

Which was a good thing.

Not only is the weather a large contributor to their great season so far, but Lake Orion Village and Orion Township activities have brought people into the streets.

"You may not think the Flower Fair does much for boats, but it does. They go over there and look, and you get a few people that come over here and look at boats or what not."

Summer parades, Dragon on the Lake, the fireworks weekend, the Dream Cruise— all play a significant role in boat browsing, tube shopping and mechanical servicing.

Nickolopoulos said he doesn't take as many "Hott rides" around Lake Orion as he used to. He purchased the sales end of the business last winter and it is keeping him on his toes.

Before purchasing the sales portion of the business, he was a steady employee since the late 1980s.

The Lake Orion 'Hott' and 'slow' rides were more of a pastime.

"Every year in the past when we were younger the big thing was to be the first one to what we called goose poop island but I can't remember the name of the island."

'Goose Poop' Island used to have a little house on it, for all of you Lake Orion boaters who can recall.

Over the years it has sunk quite a bit, becoming the local hangout for fowl. Every year before the ice was completely off the lake and it wasn't safe, a team of Orion Marine guys grabed an old boat and sliced their way to the island.

"We'd chop all this ice with the boat, try to get out there and put our banner up there, the first boat on the lake out there."

The Orion Marine Center banner hung proud and true.

Nickolopoulos is obviously a boater and enjoys time on his pontoon up north.

"What happens is people that have boats have friends over, and they get on their boat and they see how good of a time they have on their boat and then they want one, and that's really the snowball effect."

He reckons most people on Lake Orion have a boat, or a good friend, and as the economy becomes a bit better, a few more houses go up, boat sales might could follow the trend.

"The economy isn't fully recovered, but our area as far as the car industry and home sales are up. People are coming back to Michigan again instead of leaving. I think all of those things are what's helping it."

Orion Marine sells pleasure pontoons, but with its increasing springtime business, is looking to maybe add things for fishermen and hunters.

"As we grow, our next addition is going to be some sort of sport fishing line, fishing boats, duck boats, that kind of stuff, because this area is pretty heavy with sportsmen," he said.

With the season barely starting, and already 30 boats sold, that growth is becoming more likely.

The Marine Center catered to fishing years ago, but as pleasure boats became the popular mode, so did that business. Now, more of the guys in the service shop are into fishing, along with a group of local friends.

"If you got the support you can do the business," he said.

Orion Marine is in its third year sponsoring Auburn Hills professional fisherman, Devin Banks, and get to slap their 'Orion Marine' sticker on the side of his new boat they wrapped for him.

"Like you see the cars with all the advertisements on it, we do that to his boat."

But, for Nickolopoulos, there's nothing quite like a pontoon.

"Anything that gets you out, gets you out tubing, gets the kids out having fun, eat some good food, have a few cocktails or pops or whatever you wanna call it. Relax and have a good time, soak up the sun when you get a chance."

This is his kind of pleasure ride.

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