By Susan Elise Campbell
George Pensel is finalizing negotiations on the purchase of Lake George Forum, a 50,000-square-foot event arena and ice rink where he plans to move administrative headquarters and expand the showroom for his boat dealership, Boats By George.
Pensel said he will keep the 8,000-square-foot flagship facility at 18 Route 149 in Lake George, possibly for previously owned boat sales. He has expanded many times since he opened for business in 1982.
The Forum is at 2200 Route 9 in Lake George.
Nearly four decades later, and with his two sons active partners in the company, Pensel has needed a larger showroom for some time, as new boat sales have increased year to year along with the company’s market share, he said.
Many factors boosted demand for the kinds of boats available at Boats By George. One factor is the pandemic.
“Boating has allowed people to get out in the fresh air, social distance, and enjoy the outdoors,” said Pensel. “Manufacturers have had trouble keeping up with the demand for boats. The marine industry has had a big expansion this year.”
“Our inventories at the beginning of January were depleted, compared to the same time in 2020,” he said. “Typically we would have 30 boats to start the 2021 model year, but this January there were a lot fewer.”
Having a large showroom will allow Pensel to add new product lines.
“In 2020, we began selling pontoon boats with the Barletta brand, which represented $1 million in revenue,” he said. “This is a high-growth segment nationally and there is hidden potential in both pontoon boats and tow boats.”
Boats By George stocks Cobalt and Chris-Craft, brands that are fiberglass and stern-driven and Malibu Axis tow boats with inboard motors for water sports. But he is also looking for a smaller outboard to round out the product offerings.
“A 16-to-22-foot boat made of fiberglass is a sweet spot,” said Pensel. “It trailers easily and is a good choice for smaller lakes such as those in the Adirondacks.”
The company’s market reach is wide, making Boats by George a regional dealer and market leader, Pensel said. They are drawing from points in Vermont, Lake Champlain and Lake Placid and are continuing to grow into other markets.
He said he did some shopping before making an offer on The Forum, although that building had long been a major point of interest, he said.
“I grew up in Lake George and had my eyes on The Forum for three or four years,” he said. “It had not been used to its potential and I believe buying it for the dealership is one of the highest and best uses.”
Pensel anticipates a February closing date and said negotiations for The Forum are going well as he works on his plans of creating an efficiently running building.
“There is a lot of square footage and to invest in an efficient operation there will be upgrades of the heating and cooling system, all the lighting will be changed to LEDs, and we will have an extensive interior upgrade as well as exterior work,” he said. “But we are taking our time.”
“One thing about this business is that it takes a lot of real estate to operate it,” he said. “This is not a business that could have started out normally this way, but had to grow over time into a destination for our products and services.”
His son Adam Pensel is involved in both the management of the company and sales and Andrew Pensel is in full-time sales.
“They really enjoy the business,” Pensel said. “They are the reason I am doing what I am doing at age 65.”
By Susan Elise Campbell