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Sparks resident, business owner finds solace in water sports
by Garrett Valenzuela
Apr 03, 2013 | 2302 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune photo by Garrett Valenzuela — Jim Canepa owns Marine Specialties in Sparks.
Tribune photo by Garrett Valenzuela — Jim Canepa owns Marine Specialties in Sparks.
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SPARKS — Jim Canepa can’t help but smile about the upside of being in the boat sales and service business, the trade that has engulfed his entire life. Being on the showroom floor surrounded by new boats and water sport products is only the tip of the iceberg for this Sparks resident.

“There is obviously a lot of fun that goes along with this job,” Canepa said inside his business Tuesday. “We are selling something that is fun, so it is not a typewriter or copy machine — it is a lot of fun to play with. We get a lot of time out on the water that is considered office work. We are demonstrating the boats. We are showing people how to use them and that is the great side of it.”

Canepa is the owner of Marine Specialties based in Sparks, a business his family has owned and operated since 1974. Canepa is a fourth generation Nevadan, a Reno High School and University of Nevada, Reno graduate and he has been a Sparks resident since 1996.

Canepa said he has been around to see his building in the Sparks industrial area flood with two feet of water on a couple of occasions. He said seeing the business he has spent his life around grow from a 3,200 square-foot area to taking over his current 20,000 square-foot building has been quite a ride.

“The growth of it physically helped (the transition to a bigger building), but the retail grew as well,” Canepa said. “It started mostly as a maintenance shop where we would do repairs on boats, paint jobs on boats — you name it as far as that goes. Then the sales side has kind of come around, but we are still doing a tremendous amount of service. We are able to offer the retail service with a better showroom, accessories, pro shop and all the things that go along with boating.”

Canepa said building a reputation in the marine sector can be challenging in an area not immediately located near a body of water. However, he said understanding the surrounding lakes frequented by northern Nevadans and visiting boaters gives him an advantage in managing boat maintenance and care.

“We are definitely in what we call ‘trailer-boat country’ where you are going to hook onto it and drive 45 minutes to an hour to get it in the water,” Canepa said. “We go out and use boats and play ourselves so we understand what you are going to when you are going to Lake Tahoe or to Pyramid Lake. We understand the special needs of what each lake requires and we can set the boat up that way for those particular settings.

“We are at high elevation which is different than the ocean. You have to set up the boat completely different here than you do anywhere else, and if you don't understand that or you buy a boat from somewhere else we see it up here all the time. People wonder why the boat won’t get on plane and its because the elevation is very different.”

Canepa is an active water skier outside of the office and he said it is exciting seeing the spring weather break through and bring more people into his shop in preparation for the upcoming summer boating season. Canepa’s spring will be kicked off with the 46th annual Reno Boat and Recreation Show, which he said offers a great representation of the up and downs he has experienced at Marine Specialties.

“It used to be a boat and RV show where there would be 150 boats, which is a big presence, and the same amount of RVs,” he said. “Then when the dynamics changed from a lot of dealers going out of business and dealers like us scaling back our inventory in many ways, we didn’t have the inventory to make that kind of presence.”

Canepa said his business has fluctuated “a couple years behind the housing market” in terms of steadiness of business. Though Marine Specialties felt the devastation of the most recent economic recession, he said the boat business is beginning to see some bounce-back activity.

“On the boat side of things a couple years ago there was 12 boats,” he said of this weekend's boat show. “This year there will probably be 25 boats. It is building back up, but obviously not leaps and bounds. We used to put in 20 boats ourselves in that show and this year we are going to take four.”

Still, Canepa holds tightly to what he considers the best part of his job — the family, both immediate and extended. Canepa said the joy he sees on the faces of his customers becomes mutual because he understands the euphoric feeling of being on the water.

“The family side of it and the fact that I have grown up in this business and the fact that I got to spend a lot of time with my family in this business,” Canepa said. “One of the guys here with us just had his 10-year anniversary with us, so we are a pretty close-knit group and we all are really passionate about it. Everyone goes out boating, owns boats and enjoys going out boating. We share that common bond.

“The other side of it is the rewarding side of putting people on boats and being able to hang out on the water and listen to someone tell you how cool of an experience they are having on a boat. In some small way we help facilitate that by servicing their boat or selling them their boat. It’s super rewarding.”
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