Florida company acquires Shepler's Mackinac Island Ferry

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

The family behind Michigan icon Shepler's Mackinac Island Ferry said Friday it has sold its operations to a Florida company.

It said the business, which has operated ferries between Mackinaw City and Mackinac Island for nearly 78 years, has been acquired by the Naples, Florida-based Hoffmann Family of Companies. 

"Now, at this point in time, this move was right for both the Shepler family and our company," Chris Shepler, Shepler's president, said in a statement Friday. "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."

Chris Shepler among dry docked ferries during the winter off-season in Mackinaw City, Michigan, on March 12, 2021.

He also said he and his brother, Billy, who serves as fleet captain, will continue to be involved in the day-to-day operation of the company. Furthermore, they will remain partial owners.

"Under the new partnership, the current company name and branding will remain the same," Shepler said. "Additionally, all cast members will retain their positions."

Hoffmann Family of Companies founder David Hoffmann said he and his family "want to be part of Shepler's continuing to do what it does best."

"We pride ourselves on partnering with thriving companies where we can add value, not reinvent the wheel," he said. "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."

His company already owns and operates nine family-oriented cruises and vessels throughout the U.S., including the Naples Princess in Naples, the Miss Augusta in Missouri Wine Country and the Volunteer Princess in Knoxville, Tenn. In addition, it owns businesses in the hospitality, entertainment, agriculture, professional services, golf, commercial real estate, manufacturing and distribution sectors.

Shepler said he thinks the partnership will ensure his family's legacy will continue when he and his brother decide to retire someday.

"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," he said.

He also said the Hoffmans are "a like-minded family willing to continue to make capital investments" in the operation.

"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," he said. "This is the best route to guarantee financial security and strength for the company for many years to come."