Sisters Julie Andres and Susan Mau at the helm since 2002
Mau Marine is a second-generation, family-owned and operated business that has continued to grow and innovate since it began in 1988.
What’s the reason for its continued success?
The answer might seem trite, but for sisters Julie (Mau) Andres and Susan Mau, it’s just the simple truth.
They are in the same boat.
Even though the sisters have different aspects of the business that they excel at — Julie in sales and Susan in accounting — when it comes to their approach to the vision for the business they are in lockstep.
“I think we are successful because we recognize that we’re never done. We’re constantly on the drive for what’s better. What’s the next thing? How can we do it better?” Julie said. “We never stop trying to do what we do better.”
It’s a mindset that they share and is one reason they are such good partners, but it’s their shared passion for boats and boating that makes owning a marina make sense for the sisters.
“We grew up in a small town, Ida Grove, and my dad was a boating enthusiast. So we grew up always traveling to whatever nearby lake we could and eventually we had a little cabin on a lake,” Julie said. “We literally grew up in boats from a young age. It was a different time and our parents gave us an incredible amount of freedom. They would say, ‘There’s a boat, take it and go.’”
They soon learned to operate a number of boats as well as fix many of the problems that came up with those boats.
Julie and Susan’s parents, Dick and Donna Mau, loved to travel and would bring the girls along. Eventually they discovered the Iowa Great Lakes.
“They always had a kind of wanderlust so we spent some time camping and kind of visiting almost all of the 50 states in an RV, and then the RV finally landed in Okoboji,” Julie said. “We would come up here and put our boat on the lake here. I would say they fell in love with it because it led them to buy a home here and within another year they bought the marina.”
The marina had a long history prior to Dick and Donna purchasing it in 1988.
“This location is a very iconic site that was known way back in the beginning as a livery, and was owned probably, most notably, by the Wilson brothers with Wilson Boatworks,” Julie said.
The sisters feel a kinship with those Wilson brothers as they too are in the boat business with a sibling.
But before Julie and Susan took the helm in 2002, they were an integral part of the family business for many years — right from the very beginning.
Susan started out when she was 12.
“I was this young girl and the whole family was going to work every day, so I came here too and just started working on the gas dock. It wasn’t like I was going to just stay at home,” Susan said with a laugh.
Julie also got her start on the gas dock and over the years they have worked various jobs in the business.
“We’ve done everything,” Julie said with a laugh. “From the gas dock, to rentals and sales and events. We’ve done just about everything. You can’t work here without cleaning boats. I mean we’ve cleaned our share of boats and we will again.”
And while Julie knew for a long time that she wanted to take over the business from her parents, Susan decided to try something else for a while first.
“When I graduated from college, I then moved to Chicago rather than coming straight back home and worked for a public accounting firm in Chicago for three and a half years before coming back,” Susan said.
“I think the idea that we would work in the family business in some way wasn’t that much a stretch, but I don’t know if we understand really how or what shape that would necessarily take,” Julie said.
“We started working here when we were young and we learned a lot. When you’re in a family like that, it’s a family business. I mean it’s at the dinner table, it’s all the time. We sort of were groomed I think for it without even really knowing we were.”
There was never any pressure from their parents to take over the business, but when Julie, who was back in the Iowa Great Lakes working for Mau Marine, approached Susan about buying the business from their parents they made a very important decision.
“When I came back, I took a leave of absence from there because of the fact that we had made a commitment to one another to still put our relationship first,” Susan said. “Because growing up as sisters, we’re also best friends — cheesy as that may sound. I never wanted to let that go and we didn’t know if we were going to be able to own a company together and work together without it affecting our relationship.”
Almost twenty years later, the sisters are still best friends and are still on the same page.
Their total agreement on this continuous strive for improvement for the business is bolstered by their different areas of expertise.
“I would say that step of me going away and doing accounting is really one of the keys to our success because it enabled me to come back with a totally different skill set,” Susan said. “I came back with a different perspective and level of expertise to bring to the table that enables us to be really good business partners.”
“We are complimentary pieces of the business, but philosophically we’re always on the same page,” Susan explained.
When they took over in 2002, they were like-minded about Julie’s dream of creating more of an experience when people came to the campus by hosting more events, parties and social gatherings.
“It was just in our nature that we were going to create relationships with our customers that were stronger and different really than if you just bought something from me,” Julie said. “And so, we wanted to do something that was fun, that showed our customers that.”
Working to create an experience for their guests touches every area of the business from the Ship Store by the gas dock they are currently working to renovate, to their showroom to The Okoboji Store Bar and Kitchen restaurant they added to their lineup in 2015.
The decision to expand into owning and operating a restaurant was made with their customers in mind.
“We wanted it to be another way where we felt like we were taking care of our customers,” Julie said.
After an admittedly crazy first year, the Okoboji Store has become a favorite and is another example of the sisters’ shared philosophy.
“We committed that we would always be on the leading edge, and that would sometimes mean there would be things that wouldn’t work. Every year, we roll out a menu with a couple things on there that are probably on the bubble and those things we watch and we study,” Julie said. “If we see something not succeeding we may kill it or we may just put it on the shelf for a while, wait a bit and then bring it back out. We want to stay on top of what’s trending.”
While Julie and Susan are the co-owners and leaders of their business, they are quick to say that they owe a lot to their dedicated employees.
When their parents bought the marina in 1988 they had roughly a dozen staff members. Now in the offseason Mau Marine has about 45 full-time year round staff and that number increases to a couple hundred during the summer months.
Their focus on cultivating their core team is another reason they point to for their success.
“We did recognize the value of the human resource, and that we wanted to have this core, year-round team of employees of quality individuals,” Julie said. “It was a big focus for us to create a more defined team with specific roles with people that were not only enthusiasts for the boating industry, but were business professionals.”
At the end of the day, both sisters just really love what they do. The love of boats and boating that started when they were just kids is still very present.
Susan enjoys boating with her three boys, Jakey, Ryder and Chance, most recently in a Boston Whaler center console vessel as they take turns at the helm. While Julie, husband, Joe, and their son, Joey, relish sunset cruises aboard Joe’s 49 Chris Craft named “Sounds Good.”
“I think another reason for our success has to be our enthusiasm and passion for what we do, because we still do genuinely love the lifestyle. We do genuinely love boats. If we’re going to leave here and go do something you’re probably going to find us on a boat,” Julie said.