Friday, March 6–Making A Living Off The Beach, Literally

OCEAN CITY – The proud owner of 50 percent of the resort’s beach stands is also the holder of one of the town’s few oligopolies, but he says that doesn’t make his job any easier.

There are many local businesses that are made and broken by how many people come to the resort, but for Patrick McLaughlin, he literally makes all his money off people being on the beach itself, making him one of Ocean City’s most unique businessmen.

McLaughlin owns and operates Telescope Pictures and in hopes to make his “scoper” business more efficient, he started buying up beach stands several years ago, to be used as access points for his photographers to drop off and pick up film throughout the day. After City Council passed an ordinance allowing a single proprietor to own and operate up to 50 percent of the town’s beach stands, McLaughlin acquired the maximum number of stands allowed by the law, investing upwards of almost $300,000.

“The reason I got in the beach stand business was that they were access points for our guys to harvest film and I wanted to create a better system,” said McLaughlin. “You can never foresee how something is going to work out once you try something new to increase efficiency, and after a few years, I just got really interested in the beach stand business.”

When talking to McLaughlin, you’d expect him to be wearing a tie and “making moves” with a corporate issued blackberry with his “big picture” thinking, heavy grasp of business jargon and swanky sales terminology, but the reality of it is that McLaughlin makes his living off the beach and he couldn’t be happier.

“I love Ocean City, and I thoroughly enjoy delivering a product that makes people happy, he said. “We consider ourselves ambassadors to Ocean City, and I know some locals have a stigma against us, but I’d like to dissolve that, because we are as passionate about Ocean City as we are passionate about what we do.”

McLaughlin says there are many misconceptions about his business, but he says the larger his company gets, the harder the job becomes.

“Everyone thinks that just because pictures are digital now, that our job is easier, but it’s actually the opposite”, said McLaughlin. “I wish it would have stayed grassroots to a certain extent, but the digital age forced us to do things that were more capital intensive. We need a whole IT department now.”

Anyone who has sat on an Ocean City beach for more than five minutes knows that the scoping business and the beach stand business could not be more different, but McLaughlin says that he is trying to instill some of the “scoper” philosophies into the beach stand business, which in his opinion was getting a bit “rundown.”

“This is a niche business, and the bigger you go, your business changes dynamically,” said McLaughlin. “It’s very hard to run one or even five stands, but the higher you go, it’s actually easier, because you can develop systems to run them efficiently and that’s what we are all about.”

McLaughlin contests however, that acquiring half of the operating beach stands, which operate under the name 85 and Sunny, was not a scheme to make a fast buck; it was merely the next step in what he sees as the big picture.

“What people don’t understand that the inventory is the toughest thing to manage”, he said. “If I don’t acquire a certain amount of stands, then all I have is a bunch of equipment with no place to put them. This is not a get rich quick scheme, the last 10 years has just been positioning ourselves for meeting our goals.”

There is a parallel between the growth of McLaughlin’s former grassroots organization and the former fishing village that Ocean City used to be. When asked if both can still sell nostalgia and tradition by way of literal snapshot or summertime escape, even in a modernized or more urban setting, McLaughlin said “absolutely.”

“It all lies in how creative you can get, and you have to be careful not to try to paint too broad a picture,” he said, “but, in the end, you have your reputation, and without that you have nothing.”

McLaughlin contests that despite his 50-percent ownership of the beach stands and being the only “scoper” company on the Ocean City beaches, nothing is set in stone as far as success goes.

“As much as people think that it’s lucrative, it’s not, but we never stop working”, he said. “What we do here at Telescope Pictures and 85 and Sunny is unique, and I say that humbly, because not everyone is doing what we are doing here, and not everyone can. You almost have to work here to fully understand what I mean.”