photo of the Team at Tommy's
It’s possible nobody has more fun at his job at Tommy’s in Comstock Park than surf gate master Cole Jensen. What’s not to like about a job where you get to go to area lakes and give free wake surfing lessons, he says “It’s definitely the best job to be out on the water every day coaching families and kids, giving back to the community,” said Jensen, who after his summer job in Michigan, spends winters in Colorado going to college and giving snow skiing lessons. “When I can teach a kid five, six, seven years old, it feels good.”
Comstock Park might not seem like a likely place for a business that sells, services, and stores boats, and has a pro shop filled with surfboards, stand-up paddle boards, swimsuits, cool beach apparel, sunglasses and more. But Mark Wells, operations manager of Tommy’s Malibu and Axis Boat Dealership, Service Center, and Pro Shop at 4022 West River Drive, said the location is just right for the business.
“We wanted to be centrally located to most of the lakes in West Michigan,” said Wells adding having an expressway just down the road is a big plus for people trailering their boats to and from the store that opened in June 2015.
A trip to the pro shop, feels like a sort of mini-vacation in the winter, when you step from snow into the store where you’re surrounded by surf boards, swimsuits and the like. In the summer, there’s a sign on the front door that says “surfers wanted.”
The story of Tommy’s begins in 1981 when it was founded in Denver, Colorado by boat and water sports enthusiast Tommy Phillips. The business grew, and by 2012 Phillips was looking to retire. Matt Borisch, originally from Grand Rapids, had a passion for water sports and Tommy’s, an icon in the water sports industry. He was already exploring the idea of opening a store similar to Tommy’s in northern Michigan.
In 2012 the two reached a business agreement, and Borisch bought a boat dealership in Florida rebranding it as Tommy’s Florida. Tommy’s Michigan opened in the Village of Walloon Lake between Boyne City and Petoskey in 2013. In 2015 Tommy’s Michigan expanded to Comstock Park. Between the stores in Comstock Park and Walloon Lake, Tommy’s Michigan services “basically all of western and northern Michigan,” said Wells.
There are twenty employees at Tommy’s in Comstock Park – 17 full-time and 3 part-time – working in the pro shop, boat sales and service, social media management, accounting and the like. Summer isn’t the only time employees hang out in the water. Some of them have been known to welcome the New Year by water skiing on the Grand River on New Year’s Day. Tommy’s in Comstock Park occupies a total of 10,000 square feet – 2500 is the pro shop, 2500 is the service area, 1500 is offices, and 2500 is storage.
To advertise, the people at Tommy’s go to their customers. Besides Cole’s water skiing and wake surfing instruction at area lakes, employees go out on the water and just hang out with boaters and talk boats, said Wells. They also use social media. Their Facebook page is a running commentary on events at the store like “Frosty Friday’s” during cold weather when, “It’s always summer inside even when it’s snowing outside.” In warmer months there’s cookouts with a bounce house and sno-cones.
Wells said the Grand Rapids Boat Show in February (2016) was a particularly outstanding occasion for the store. “Basically we took the whole pro shop (to the show),” said Wells. “It was an opportunity to introduce ourselves to people in the community who didn’t know we were here.”