Fifty years ago, Bart’s Water Sports looked very different than it does today. Technology has changed some of the ways this North Webster business icon interacts with customers. Customer service, quality products and a connection to the community are still as important today as always.
The company was founded in 1972 by Bart Culver, a tournament water skier and North Webster native. He was inducted into the Indiana Water Ski Association Hall of Fame.
Because fellow skiers around North Webster tend to prefer pro-level equipment, Culver recognized the demand and started selling skis and other equipment out of a small farmhouse in North Webster. He then developed his original mail-order water-sports company, supplying water sports and boating accessories to customers worldwide.
From that farmhouse location his customer base grew, and in 1977 he moved to a second location on the southern edge of North Webster. After more growth and 18 years later, the new building and current location was built north of the town.
Through the years, his company has grown exponentially and has hired local people for full-time, part-time and seasonal opportunities year after year.
Manager Mike Wilson was one of those seasonal workers. He started with Bart’s in 1979. As a teacher, he was looking for a summer job. He went full time in 1988.
This year the Bart’s team celebrates five decades of supplying water-sports enthusiasts and lake lovers with equipment, supplies and even toys that help make summer memories on lakes and rivers all over the world. Bart’s is now one of the world’s largest suppliers of water-sports products, with the bulk of sales coming from their website.
For the 50th anniversary celebration, commemorative apparel, cups and other merchandise are available now, with a customer appreciation event planned for the summer season, possibly around July 4th.
Customers can visit the store or check out the online selection. Whatever method they choose, the Bart’s team is ready to provide excellent service and quality products, according to Wilson and Lisa Strombeck, customer service supervisor.
People represent one of the elements still setting Bart’s Water Sports above other competitors, whether locally or globally, Wilson says.
“We still answer the phone,” he says. “People here know their products, can speak about the products and advise the customer about the products that work best for their needs.”
“A lot of people we see are looking for information,” Strombeck adds.
Bart’s still stocks a selection of skis and accessories, as well as wakeboards, paddleboards, kayaks and more. A popular trend today is wake surfing, which requires a high level of skill and involves surfing wake from a boat.
Other products focus on fun on the water, such as tubes, trampolines and toys. Water mats, which are flotation platforms that can be rolled up and used off a boat or a deck, are also very much in demand with today’s lake crowds.
“We try to get an idea of what the customers are looking for and what their interests are,” Strombeck says. “We ask questions and guide them.”
The staff members also try to assess each customer’s skill level and experience with equipment. Another consideration is how often the product will be used and what their budget is, Wilson adds.
The store also stocks boat accessories and apparel, and life preservers for people and pets.
Over time, customers become like family.
“We have many loyal customers who have been with us for many years,” Strombeck says.
Customers include local people who live and play on the lakes in northern Indiana, online customers both nationally and internationally, and even a few celebrities and royal families from time to time.
“When customers come in or call, we are usually on a first-name basis with them,” Strombeck says. “We always make an effort to greet everyone who comes in the door.”
Bart’s is located at 7581 East 800 North in North Webster. Most products displayed on the website are available in the retail store. For more information, call the store at 574-834-7666 or visit the website at barts.com. Find out more on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.