Reeling In Customers
Better known to his clients as Mark the Shark, Quartiano runs South Florida's best-known chartered deep-sea sportfishing business and in the process has caught more sharks over three decades than any man alive, he claims. Quartiano became captivated with fishing as a boy growing up on New York's Coney Island, catching eel in a little creek behind his family's house. It wasn't until he was an adult and moved to Florida in the 1960s, however, that he became captivated by what he calls the "most dangerous animals on the planet."
Quartiano channeled that interest into Mark the Shark's Monster Fishing, the business he started in 1969 with some savings—and fortuitous timing—in Miami Beach. Today, Quartiano runs 400-plus fishing trips a year on his custom-designed 50-foot fishing boat the Striker-1. Since launching the company, this married father of two young children has caught more than 20,000 sharks with his customers, who include everyone from hunters and avid fishermen to celebrities, professional athletes, and rock stars.
Quartiano admits his passion for the sea is nothing short of an obsession. "I don't know how else to describe it," he says, searching for the right words. "Every day I just have to be fishing. It's what I have to do." When he started the business, most of the chartered fishing companies he was competing against were offering customers a chance to catch sailfish, dolphin, and marlin—large fish, to be sure, but nothing that seemed particularly exciting or unique to Quartiano. "No one was fishing for sharks because it was too dangerous," he recalls. "I thought it was really exciting. Sharks are dangerous, sure, but they're fascinating, too."
In 1975, the public's fascination with these deadly sea creatures became even more intense when Jaws opened, instantly becoming a summer movie blockbuster. "I was already established in my business by then, but that movie really changed things for me," Quartiano says. "People became so intrigued with sharks, and my phone was ringing off the hook with people looking to catch them." Not one to miss a marketing opportunity, Quartiano says he even began mirroring his image after the movie's crusty veteran shark-hunter character, Captain Quint. And indeed, with his sun-bleached blond hair, tanned face, and straightforward manner, Quartiano seems as tough as the hammerhead, bull, and tiger sharks he hunts.
With some savings socked away from his charter business and a small bank loan, Quartiano was able to upgrade from his smaller boat and buy a 50-foot Hatteras—the same one he uses today—and promptly customize it for maximum impact and safety. "The equipment I have is the absolute best there is," he says, describing the Duel rods and reels he uses as the gold standard of the industry. Getting these sharks caught and on the boat is dangerous, and I can't be worrying about something snapping or breaking."
Quartiano doesn't skimp on the excitement factor for his customers, either. One of the highlights of a Mark the Shark fishing trip—as evidenced by the amount of play it gets on his website, Marktheshark.com—is Lee's Fighting Chair, so named after the company that manufactures it. Unlike typical boats that position the fishing chair in the cockpit at sea level, Mark the Shark's chair is perched high off the back of his boat, allowing customers the adrenaline rush of seeing what they're catching right below their seat. Quartiano says his inspiration for the chair came from an old Humphrey Bogart movie called To Have and Have Not. "Bogart played a fishing boat captain and had this same chair configuration," Quartiano recalls. "I thought it was a great idea, so I used it for my boat and my clients love it."
Most of the folks who sign up for Quartiano's four-hour (half-day) excursion have no experience fishing for sharks, he says. "We go through all the rules and regulations about what to expect, and everybody listens," he adds with a laugh. "They're putting their lives in our hands, so most people take this pretty seriously." Once on the boat, it's a quick five-minute, half-mile trip from the shores of Miami Beach to waters where the sharks—some of which can weigh up to 800 pounds—are found. Quartiano says he goes on about 90% of the trips and has one or two deckhands who accompany him. Though he doesn't guarantee that everyone will catch a shark every time, he does claim success about 80% of the time. Prices range from $750 for up to six people for a half-day trip to $1,200 for up to six people for a full day. About three-quarters of his customers want to capture and kill the sharks they catch; the rest want to tag them and toss them back into the ocean.
As he has built his business over the years, Quartiano has dealt with his share of critics who accuse him of decimating the shark population in the name of a quick buck. "The commercial fishing boats are the ones putting 1,000 hooks into the water at once, but I get 90% of the wrath because I'm a big target and my picture is always in the paper with the latest big catch," he explains. "It's easy for people to throw stones at me, but I'm not the problem."
In fact, Quartiano says he tries to be part of the solution. Each year he works with the National Marine Fisheries Service to tag a few hundred sharks that can be identified and further studied. He also provides various labs and aquatic researchers around the world with samples of the sharks he catches and kills. "You can't get data on these sharks without studying them in a lab, and that means they have to be dead," he says. "Without killing a few, you can't save the masses."
With trips seven days a week, sometimes in choppy waters, Quartiano says his job is not the easy day out on the ocean that most people might imagine. "I would say it's 90% hard work and 10% just plain fun," he says. But Quartiano is quick to add that he wouldn't have it any other way.
Mark the Shark's Business Lessons
- Find your niche. When he started his chartered fishing business, competitors weren't offering shark hunting because it was deemed too dangerous. Quartiano was fascinated with these sea creatures and felt customers would be, too.
- Create a unique experience. Though he can't promise that customers will catch their own great white, Quartiano works hard to create a one-of-a-kind adventure. His custom-designed Lee's Fighting Chair, for example, offers clients the adrenaline rush of being perched high above the back of the boat with a perfect view of whatever sea creature is being reeled in.
- Leverage Your Talent. While Quartiano has built his reputation as the master of shark hunting, he's also gained immeasurable knowledge about these sea creatures and the way live. He's leveraged that know-how by working closely with aquatic researchers to find ways to replenish the animal's numbers. -Susan Caminiti.
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