Robertson's Marine first opened its doors to the boating industry in 1956. Don Robertson along with his brother John became partners in a business with their father, Jack, known as Springville Feed and Garden Center, in Springville, Utah. Springville Feed, as it was most commonly known, sold grain, prepared farm animal feed and garden supplies. Don wasn't exactly interested in the feed business, so he stuck his neck out and bought four Johnson outboard motors from a local implement dealer that was going out of business. At this same time, Don also bought two Mobilcraft boats and convinced his father that they could re-sale these items and make a little money and thus, Robertson's Marine and Garden Center was born. Don contacted McCune Outboard Marine in Denver Colorado, the Johnson outboard motor distributor and Robertson's Marine and Garden Center became the official Johnson outboard franchise dealer for the Utah County area. Don and John then bought three Chris Craft boat kits "all wood" built the boats, installed Johnson outboard motors and assembled three Teeny boat trailers purchased from McCune Outboard Marine and the boat business was up and running in the back of the feed and garden shop. The skepticism raised by their father Jack was soon put to rest. Boats were sold, more were purchased and they just kept on selling.
Recreation was just being introduced in the late 50's. Up until then, most of the money earned was used to simply live. When the economy improved individuals and families started to play and enjoy life a little more. Fishing and water skiing were catching on as sport and the reality of owning a boat in order to enjoy these activities was becoming more commonplace. The boating lifestyle caught on and Robertson Marine and Garden Center flourished. In 1959 amid the boom in recreation, Robertson's needed more room to expand their services and have capacity for bigger and better boats. Don approached the local bank for a loan. The bankers looked at him like he had lost his mind "you want to borrow money for what?" Most banks were only loaning money to farmers, cattle ranchers and dairies; the necessities in life. Recreation sales were completely unknown and a speculation most were reluctant to act upon. Don, however, was a good businessman from the very start and eventually convinced the bank to loan him the money with his fathers signature of course.
The store was enlarged, two new boat lines were introduced: Glastron and Bell Boy, and boat accessories were added. Don and John traveled to the Johnson motors factory training school and learned to service Johnson motors and a qualified "service" department was incorporated into the growing business. Although the feed and garden supply business had been Jack Robertson's livelihood his entire life, the boat business was doing so much better, that in 1963 the trio dropped the feed and garden supply and became Robertson's Marine. Jack worked with his two sons until his retirement in 1978. In 1963 the Bureau of Reclamation began to fill Lake Powell, the Glen Canyon Dam was finished and the premier boating/fishing site was soon to be launched. Inboard/outboard motors had appeared on the scene and companies were manufacturing faster motors and bigger boats. In 1967 Robertson's took on the Tollycraft line of boats which put them in the "big boat" sales category, the first in the state, most of which made their way to the newly formed Lake Powell.
Don and John were having way too much fun in their ever prospering business. Don decided to invest some money into boat racing, a fete he bestowed on himself. This allowed him to embrace his passion, spend a little money and advertise his business. He raced the Green and Colorado River Marathon for six years and the World Outboard Championship race at Lake Havasu City Arizona for four years. Although he never did get into the "big money," too much factory competition, the excitement was now in his blood. At this time, outboard motors were not very fast, 40 to 50 miles per hour, tops. While racing the Colorado Marathon the Robertson team decided to build a faster motor. Johnson refused to do this for them - so they took two 75HP power heads, stacked one on top of the other and gave birth to the first V8 outboard motor. The motor worked well for short distances, about 30 minutes, before the lower unit burned up. The team was able to extend the time on the lower unit with a needle bearing thrust washer, but only about three hours. So, the engine never worked out for marathon racing, but it sure was fast!
Robertson's went on in the early 70's to sponsor a marathon race at the Provo Harbor on Utah Lake...
The Provo 250, as it was affectionately named, consisted of boats making 100, 2.5 mile laps. Outboard Marine Corporation (OMC) had just bought the rights from Curtiss-Wright to build a new rotary engine for outboards. They ended up building six engines and wow, could they run, turning up to 40,000 RPM they were so fast that they didn't have a class to run in any outboard race.. OMC brought them to the Provo 250 and just ran exhibition. These engines would lap every outboard in the race. They ran smooth and quiet, but consumed a lot of fuel. OMC could never get the fuel consumption down, so they never marketed the rotary outboard, but it sure put the Provo 250 on the map. The race attracted many "big names" in the racing business and was the spectator sport to watch for many years. In 1970 the business demand had outgrown the Springville location so Robertson's expanded by opening another location in Salt Lake City. Don managed the store in Salt Lake and John continued to mange the Springville site. Around this same time, Flaming Gorge Dam was completed in Eastern Utah and Wyoming. This gave another boost to the boat business, but, also brought plenty of competition. New dealers were popping up all over the valley. However, with competition comes awareness and the exposure resulted in customers from all of the western states. In 1976 Robertson's expanded again, moving to a much larger location which remains their home today. In 1978 the Springville location was sold and John joined Don in Salt Lake.
The Starcraft aluminum fishing boat line was added and after closing the Springville store Robertson's was awarded the Carver Yacht franchise. Carver turned out to be an excellent acquisition for Robertson's. They made 21-33 foot cruisers; while Tollycraft's smallest boat was 26 foot and up to 63 foot. The bigger cruisers were beginning to sell due to the popularity of Flaming Gorge and Lake Powell. From 1979 -1981 the country experienced a short recession and interest rates got as high as 22 percent. This, obviously, hurt the recreation business. Bell Boy ceased production in 1979 which had a significant impact on Robertson's since a large volume of their sales was the Bell Boy line. After the recession played out and sales picked up, Robertson's was again going strong with the boat lines of Starcraft, Glastron, Gregor, Carver and Tollycraft. They also added a large number of shelves for parts and accessories and an extra large service department which included a water tank for running and testing motors - outboards and stern drives. Now they were considered a first class marina and the best in town.
In the early 80's Robertson's was on the cutting edge of large cruiser sales. It wasn't at all uncommon to see a 33 foot Carver or 34-48 foot Tollycraft being trucked to Lake Powell. They even sold a 57 foot Tollycraft which at the time was quite a fete... A yacht being delivered to a desert state! Each yacht had to be delivered to Lake Powell and actually assembled on site. It was 300 miles away from the store. Although it was time consuming, it was also a lot of fun. There are many stories to be told about the adventures of the late 80's and early 90's but then, that's another book! Robertson's also acquired the Yamaha outboard motor franchise in 1984 which gave them some diversity with two different outboard lines. While the 80's allowed Robertson's to showcase their ability to compete in the yacht business, the early 90's were a disaster. The government put a 10% luxury tax on large cruisers and thus completely killed the large cruiser sales. Carver went bankrupt, leaving Robertson's with some of their cruisers still in inventory. Tollycraft sold out in 1989 and the owners went bankrupt in 1994, so no more Tolly's. Carver finally came out of bankruptcy and allowed Robertson's to keep the Carver line. Robertson's continued to sell the smaller boats which kept the doors open, but the crash of the luxury boats was somewhat crippling. The luxury tax was retracted in 1995.
Robertson's Marine is located within a few miles of one of the largest bodies of water in the U.S. However, the Great Salt Lake is not conducive to motor boat recreation. The lake contains 10 times more salt than the ocean. The only living organism in the Great Salt Lake is the brine shrimp. The brine shrimp business started to bloom in 1998. Shrimpers used large barges powered by four 250 HP Yamaha outboards. Outboards held up the best in the salty water. So, outboard motor sales exploded. While it is still a very lucrative business, it doesn't compare to what was experienced in the late 90's. Robertson's Marine continues to defy the odds in the recreation industry. They've added new lines and dropped others, lived through the bankruptcy of OMC and recently were awarded the Formula line of boats, another high quality boat that meets the high standards of Robertson's Marine to insure their customers have a great time on the water. They have re-invented their accessory department and continue to excel in service...
The boats have changed over the years, Robertson's Marine has grown and improved to keep up with those changes... Today Robertson's Marine has a new generation serving the recreation needs to the intermountain west. Don's kids who have all worked at the dealership since they were teenagers; Calvin the oldest, Susan, Carl, Amy, Casey and Calvin's son Sam are all working hard to keep up with the new trends while maintaining dads old philosophy that "Customers are the Most Important People in our Business" a motto that has generated some lifelong friendships with customers, and personal relationships that exemplify what the Robertson's like about boating...