50 Years of Island Water World

On March 2nd, 2017 Island Water World celebrates its 50th year in business serving the marine community of the Caribbean.

Initially established by Harry Draper, the business was first located in Philipsburg, St. Maarten, quite close to the Courthouse. The business’s primary focus was on the fisherman and the rental of Sunfish sailing dinghies. Lots of little Seagull outboards were sold, along with a smattering of Evinrude and Johnson outboards, some fishing tackle and a small assortment of resins, paints and antifouling. But the business was not beyond a little diversification and one could also find Dutch clogs and a few “Delft” Dutch windmills bedside lamps.

In 1972 Island Water World relocated to Cole Bay, on the same property where it is still headquartered today, and expanded its vendor base to about ten suppliers.

Most of the ordering was done by post and the lead time between an order going out and any acknowledgement could be as long as three weeks — often to find that what might be needed was not available — and so the supply of marine products on St. Maarten continued in a somewhat “feast or famine” fashion.

Things improved with the establishment of a telex machine at the telephone office in Phillipsburg, which of course necessitated a once-a-week journey over the hill to place an order.

The property and the new building in Cole Bay proved too large for the needs of Island Water World. So, through sublets, other marine businesses were established in the location, notably FKG Rigging and St. Maarten Sails. Thus the location became a hub for marine-related products and services. One might say that Island Water World was part of the genesis of the modern marine sector that we enjoy today in the Caribbean.

As increasing numbers of cruising sailors visited St. Maarten’s shores and the sailing community grew, so did the business. But not without growing pains and limitations forced on it by its exotic Caribbean location. By trial and error the company learned what the boating community needed, what worked — and what failed.

In 1995 the company realized it needed to expand and offer a more modern shopping environment. The store was nearly tripled in size and redesigned into a modern marine-retail outlet that could stand proudly with any chandlery in the world. From an old Kardex stock keeping system the business has advanced to state-of-the-art point of sale and inventory management systems. With the proliferation of the internet, Island Water World also established a fully functional online store, www.islandwaterworld.com — indeed, it was the first online store for any type of business in the Caribbean offering real time fulfillment and online payments.

From having ten suppliers and carrying a hundred-odd items 50 years ago, Island Water World now has more than 300 suppliers and 30,000 stock keeping units shipped directly from all over the world. Annually Island Water World produces a 600-page catalogue.

With these successes came an impetus to expand off island and follow the cruising community — and so Island Water World established itself in Grenada, and then St. Lucia and also in Curaçao.

The business continued to modernize and also recognized the need to fully establish itself as a “first choice” marine supplier in the Caribbean. Consequently, Island Water World embarked on a massive re-imaging campaign in 2010 — mindful always to ensure that the company stayed true to its core values of offering a fair price, great product range, in stock, easily accessible and backed by solid knowledgeable service. Today there are seven retail outlets serviced from its distribution center in St. Maarten.

Of course, none of this development could have been possible without the ongoing and growing support of Island Water World’s customers, many of whom have been buying from the company since its inception — from children who swam across the lagoon to buy fishing lures and grew up to buy boats from Island Water World, to their children and in some cases their children’s children.

Nor could this growth have been possible without a loyal and dedicated staff.

Many have been with the business for more than 25 years (and the oldest employee, 45 years) and have an in-depth knowledge of our products and customers. The company has also had the benefit in the past decade of younger enthusiastic leadership who have identified and capitalized on the challenges and dynamics of a changing modern Caribbean.

Today Island Water World, which is still owned by the same Draper-Dickerson family — who maintain their enthusiasm and passion for the business — can proudly say it is one of the pre-eminent marine suppliers in the Caribbean region.

Mindful of the difficulties of trading within the Caribbean, the business has weathered 50 years when others haven’t.

Island Water World will evolve with the demands of its customers and the Caribbean, remaining true to its core values that have ensured its continued success for so long.

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