Whether Biking Or Boating, These Retailers Built Businesses On Customer Service

Mackinac Island Bicycle Shop and Mac’s Marina are all about being full service. 

By Shandra Martinez

Whether setting people up for a bike ride to explore Mackinac Island or heading out on a pontoon boat on Whitmore Lake, retailers Ira Green and Sam Iaquinto say the success of their longtime seasonal businesses is built on offering a full-service experience. Over the years, both have expanded their businesses by listening to what their customers wanted. 

Green has spent his summers on Mackinac Island for 34 years. He and business partner Melanie Libby own two bike shops, two restaurants and a fudge shop. Until last year, they owned three hotels. 

In all the businesses, the focus is on delivering an experience. 

“Everybody has to be on the same page. If anybody drops the ball, we all drop the ball,” said Green. “When people get a bike really quick, it’s a very automated and very clean process. We know exactly what to say. Each team member has a job to do. If the guy delivering that bike sees someone adjust their own seat, he says, ‘Excuse me, sir, you’re on vacation. Let me take care of that for you.'”

Businesses feed off each other

Green knows that delighted customers come back and ask for recommendations, giving him an opportunity to send them to their other businesses.

They own the Great Turtle Brewery. It had been a steakhouse and lunch house for about 25 years until Green and Libby changed it five years ago. 

“We converted it to a brewery, and it rocks,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun. It has great food and it’s a nice family spot, and they serve a lot of food and a lot of beer.”

The partners also own Verdes, a waterfront taqueria on the Starline dock. His shop, Mackinac Island Bike Shop, is located near the Shepler dock, while Libby’s is on the Starline dock. They also own Sanders Fudge and Candy Shop, nestled in the front of Main Street.

“We work two blocks apart,” said Green. “We have enough clients that we really don’t compete for clients. Her clients get off her boat line, and my clients get off my boat line, and we rent a serious amount of bikes every day.”

For years, they operated three hotels on the Shepler dock – Bicycle Street Inn & Suites, Waterfront Collection South and Waterfront Collection North. Last year, the hotels were bought by Davidson Hospitality Group, a subsidiary of the international investment firm KSL Capital Partners.

“We just couldn’t turn the offer down,” said Green. “We thought they would do a good job, and boy, it worked out well for everybody.”

He credits Libby for being the marketing genius behind the business.

“All of our marketing takes place from the minute visitors leave that boat and hit the street. We are an impulse buy. We sell an experience,” Green said. 

The experience begins with a $1,000 Trek hybrid bike, upgraded with puncture-proof tires, a giant Cloud 9 bike seat, a basket, phone holder and fenders to prevent the lingering horse droppings from splashing up on the rider. In the basket is a bottle of water and QR code that provides a guide of the island. 

“We give them all the other accessories we can think of so they don’t have to ask,”  Green said.

He adds that he and Libby are constantly investing in new equipment.

Green has been a Michigan Retailers Association member for about a decade.

“MRA gives us good information with insights about things happening in Michigan and different markets,” Green said. “Whether you’re selling hats or renting bikes, you can find successful situations to learn from.”

Success on the water

In 1993, Sam Iaquinto was 28 years old when he took his life savings and bought Mac’s Marina on Whitmore Lake, leaving behind a corporate job in hazardous waste management.

“I had a passion for boating and for business,” said Iaquinto. “I basically came in and sold myself to the owners so that they could see that I was a good, viable individual for them to do a land contract with their businesses.”

He took the business in a much different direction and immediately expanded the service operation, replacing the one-bay garage on site with a five-bay facility that included storage. He added a line of motor and pontoon boats and offered pontoon boat restoration. 

“There was such a demand for a good service facility in our area for marine service,” said Iaquinto, who sold the service center five years ago to a longtime employee.

This year will mark his 31st season with the 30-slip marina and its store and ice cream shop. The marina sits on a 667-acre sporting lake in Washtenaw County’s Northfield Township. The marina has a five-year waiting list with 200 people.

Its marina workforce has grown to five, as well as 12 workers at Dee’s Place, an ice cream shop dating back to 1950. The marina does pontoon boat rentals, with five new pontoon boats. Its lakefront store sells marine accessories, bait and tackle, beer and wine, and snacks, while Dee’s Place offers food, soft serve and hard scoop ice cream. 

Iaquinto credits his success to constantly listening to his customers and making changes to respond to their needs.

“It’s vitally important that you’re open-minded daily to learning. Otherwise you are less likely to succeed,” said Iaquinto. “We have a very high retention rate for customers. Customers who come into our stores are always happy. It’s a very fun industry. People are always smiling when they’re around and we’re here to help them continuously enjoy that.”


Sam Iaquinto

He and his wife, Anne, married for 29 years this summer, have two grown sons who have chosen different career paths, so they won’t be taking over the family business. Beyond the marina, they were partners in a local newspaper, The Courant, that grew to 65,000 customers. They also have commercial properties.

They are also active in the community. Iaquinto was Northfield Township planning commissioner for 23 years and was a township trustee. He founded the Northfield Township Downtown Development Authority and served on the DDA for a decade. Anne was elected to the Whitmore Lake Public Schools board, serving nearly 12 years. Both were active in their boys’ sports programs. 

“We’ve helped the community grow because it’s the only way to help the community prosper,” said Iaquinto.

For Iaquinto, MRA goes above and beyond with its credit card processing service.

“They are very good with customer service. When I have a question or issues with disputes, the customer service department is able to help me handle those disputes and give assistance with being able to fend them off,” said Iaquinto.