Yacht broker brings diversity to boat dealer's Charleston area business

Sean Kelly is a boat broker with Hall Marine, a new position for the Daniel Island boat dealership. He's based at Charleston Harbor Marina. Leroy Burnell/Staff 6/27/2014

Until last May, Sean Kelly lived on a four-acre farm with pond in rural Lebanon, Conn., raising goats and llamas. He drove an hour to work at a coastal boat dealer.

Still, Kelly acknowledged that he didn't see much of a future in the marine trade in his native state. Citing the regulated Connecticut economy, "It's tough to do business there," he said.

So the marine veteran, who got into the business in 1982, started to look around. He had a friend in Pawleys Island who invited him to check out South Carolina. One thing lead to another, and Kelly last year found himself moored in metro Charleston.

He's the managing broker for Hall Marine Yacht Brokerage, a new unit of the regional boat dealership's Daniel Island operations.

"This works for me," Kelly said in an interview from his second-floor office at Charleston Harbor Marina in Mount Pleasant.

He's moved with wife Kelly O'Brien Kelly into a "temporary" home in Summerville, with plans to shop for a permanent place soon. His daughter Bridget is a junior at Southern Vermont College in Bennington.

"There's something to do (workwise) all the time," he said. "The people are great."

Kelly didn't make the move on a whim. "I started communicating with Rick Hall (executive with Hall Marine) before I came down." Kelly said he visited Charleston and South Carolina five or six times. "I did my research."

He toured the Daniel Island store and talked to general manager Jim McClellan. The officers "had an appreciation for my background," Kelly said.

Hall Marine, which has seven locations in South Carolina and neighboring states, sells new Sea Ray, Scout, Boston Whaler and other marine lines. Its local retail outlet overlooks Interstate 526. Before Kelly, the company didn't have a full-time broker devoted to handling the arduous task of buying and selling pre-owned yachts and other large pricey boats. That's where Kelly stepped in.

"(Yacht) brokerage is real estate for boats," Kelly said. "The minimum is a $150,000 listing." Just like real estate with varied homes and neighborhoods, "You've got to build a market," he said.

Customers come from the Charleston area, Southeast and beyond. "I get calls, 'Will we ship a boat to Germany,'" he said. "I just had a listing for a $900,000 boat."

While Kelly specializes in used boats, he gets to look at new vessels from his office window. Hall Marine anchors five new boats including Sea Rays and 34-foot and 54-foot Meridians at Charleston Harbor Marina.

Kelly works with the 18-20 salespeople at Hall Marine such as the Lake Norman store near Charlotte, referring new vessel buyers and taking information on used models.

"People come down from Charlotte, the Upstate, Lake Wylie, Columbia, Greenville, Savannah," Kelly said.

The business has become "considerably more active" now than it was to start with earlier this year. He promotes the models for sale online, taking photographs and videos with an interactive GoPro camera to highlight the six-figure vessels. "We try to do something on a different level," he said.

"I'd like to think in a year's time, the brokers' division is thriving," Kelly said.

For more information, visit www.HallMarineYachtBrokerage.com or call Kelly at 843-860-9661.

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or jparker@postandcourier.com.