The Shepler family, which has operated Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry from Mackinaw City for 77 years, today announced it is has sold the company to the Florida-based Hoffmann Family of Cos.
The move, the Sheplers say, is designed to ensure that the company continues its family-based legacy. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Chris Shepler, president of the company, and his brother, Billy, who serves as fleet captain, will continue to be involved in the day-to-day operation of the business. They also will continue to be partial owners. The current company name and branding will remain the same and all employees will retain their positions.
“Now, at this point in time, this move was right for both the Shepler family and our company,” says Chris Shepler. “We’ve been approached many times by potential partners, but never before have we connected both personally and professionally with a family that so closely identifies with Shepler’s commitment to first-class service for every guest, every day.”
The Naples, Fla.-based Hoffmann Family of Cos. owns and operates nine family-oriented cruises and vessels throughout the United States such as the Naples Princess in Naples, the Miss Augusta in Missouri wine country, and the Volunteer Princess in Knoxville, Tenn.
In addition to their boats, the family also owns companies in the hospitality and entertainment segment, agriculture, professional services, golf, commercial real estate, and manufacturing and distribution.
“We pride ourselves on partnering with thriving companies where we can add value, not reinvent the wheel,” says David Hoffmann, founder of the Hoffmann Family of Cos. “Mackinac Island is a special place to us where we’ve visited often, and Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry is a unique part of the magical journey to Michigan’s crown jewel. We want to be part of Shepler’s continuing to do what it does best.”
Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry celebrated its 77th season in 2021. Captain William H. Shepler first opened a snack shop catering to Mackinaw City tourists in 1945, and soon saw the potential in transporting them to Mackinac Island via a speed boat. Today, Shepler’s transports more people than any other line daily during the summer season. Shepler’s 78th season is scheduled to begin on April 21.
“My brother and I will eventually retire someday, and we have aligned with a partner who is vested in ensuring the Shepler legacy lives on while remaining true to our enduring commitment to service for the next generations of Mackinac Island visitors,” Shepler says. “Under the new partnership we now have a like-minded family who is willing to continue to make capital investments. That means when upgrades or improvements are needed or equipment needs to be repaired or purchased as the region’s tourism grows, capital will be easier to access. This is the best route to guarantee financial security and strength for the company for many years to come.”
Shepler’s has invested more than $13 million in upgrades since 2015, including:
- $4 million William Richard (newest ferry launched in 2020)
- $3.8 million Miss Margy (new ferry launched in 2018)
- $3.4 million Mackinac Island dock expansion (2019)
- $2 million Mackinaw City parking
Although the pandemic initially put a damper on Mackinac Island tourism, visits to the island have steadily increased. Historically more than 1 million people visit the island annually with visitor estimates for 2021 breaking the previous 2019 record.