The Monopolisation of Mackinac Island. Part II

Sheplers: Mackinaw City, MI

After the last year or so of litigation over the merger of Star Line and Arnold Ferry and the supposed attempt to monopolise Mackinac Island, it seems the Council has pushed Sheplers into full gear; if you have seen their boats in the last few weeks (or spoke to any of their staff) Sheplers has been riding capacity shipments of people to the island daily.

It wasn’t too long ago that Arnold Ferry Line had more specials and packages online than Sheplers but now it’s the latter who holds the most variety and social interaction and ticket “add-ons”. Sheplers have increased their online presence through their updated and interactive website, a Twitter account as well as a Facebook page which is updated daily with photos, competitions and videos and a recently added ‘Buy Your Ticket’ button. To show Sheplers increased marketing campaign online and their current success in acquiring and interacting with potential and existing consumers compared to Arnold’s; 877 people ‘like’ Arnolds Facebook page and 4172 people ‘like’ Sheplers. (Many of whom are a veritable cheer squad for the ferry line, minus the napkin sized skirts and defensive tackler fantasy, often declaring Sheplers as the only and best ferry line to get to the island).

Sheplers in the Media. (Source: Sheplersferry)

 Sheplers presence on TV has increased with at least two news appearances on morning TV in Michigan. One featured on Memorial Day on Fox 17 in Grand Rapids featuring Chris Shepler (who I am impartial to since he has spent time in Australia and liked it). Sheplers was more recently featured on Michigan This Morning (9&10 News and Fox 32).

Sheplers is also the most family orientated and commercially branded of the Island’s ferry companies and it’s this  ‘branding’ of Sheplers which is the most effective part of the company.  From the instantly recognisable logo, their ‘branded dock’ with blue and white awnings that extend into the crew member uniforms. Sheplers then tops it off with a catering to everyone technique, with military, AAA discounts, disabled access, allowing baby strollers, bike holders, overnight parking, allowing leashed dogs on their boats, a café on their dock, an out in the community campaign for trash clean ups and charity work, family atmosphere stemming from the 65-year-old family company, Captain for a day programmes, group discounts, lighthouse tours, contributing profits to the lighthouse conservation, ticket give aways online and a commitment to hiring within Michigan colleges for its staff members.

One has to ask whether this commercial push is in line with the renewed enthusiasm for the company after the Arnold/Star Line merger  to secure consumer loyalty or if it’s a smart business manoeuvre commercially positioning yourself above the competition so you are, in effect, unable to be “pushed out” of the market because you have effectively become the market. It seems since the incident happened Sheplers has taken steroids and has upped the ante and is emerging not only as the most commercial force on the ferry companies (granted most of its contributions other than a dominant online presence has been in development for years) but one that is the most aggressive in attaining loyalty through interaction and branding. I mentioned this to a resident recently who then asked me, “So, you think Sheplers is now doing to Arnolds what they did to them through smart business and marketing – just without the Mayors help?”

 What I think really doesn’t matter but my answer was, “I think their strategy is to increase their visibility and commercialism, capitalise on the merger situation and the general unease felt by the people opposing it and sympathising with Sheplers. They are re-establishing themselves with these guests, and have effectively increased their interaction online this year, (gaining 4172 fans who are now, I suspect loyal customers since 4000 of them have posted personal photos of them on Sheplers) they have introduced an array of packages and add ons for the island re enforcing their relationship with many of the island hotels and businesses and are using this to not only increase business overall, but to cement their place on the island – attracting not only families and groups but a younger crowd including young parents with a child or those families taking their dogs and own bikes. If you look at Sheplers operations it literally has its finger on every segment of the market. Sheplers recent success and seamless branding has been a proverbial giant middle finger – and it was the most effective way to do it.” Here is a video of Chris Shepler’s thank you video on YouTube.

So here are some of Sheplers packages and I answer the question I get asked a lot, “Does it actually save you money or should I purchase the tickets when I get there?”

Here are the biggest savings on Sheplers website.

Mackinac Island Carriage Tour Deal

$41 gets you return trip plus a carriage tour with Sheplers

$42.50 if you bought a discounted return trip and the carriage tour yourself

Sheplers saves you $1.50 per person (even after comparing it to a discounted $19 per person ticket, so really it can save you $4.50)

 Sheplers 2 Day Ferry pack

If you are travelling to the island for 2 days, don’t buy two lots of return tickets, buy this pack. It will save you $7.60 per person. ($36.50 instead of $44)


Arnolds has used the merger with Star Line to offer a“One Ticket, Two Choices” marketing strategy. While it looks convenient on paper to have a choice of two ferries for your ticket, it’s really no different to how it was before except you can choose to go to Arnold or Star line with the same ticket. (I for one don’t even know what Catamaran means, I had to google it) All that matters to me is if I want to go home at 3 there better be a ferry waiting, catamaran or not.

What surprised me the most was Arnold’s package savings. They only have 2 packages but they are able to save you the most money per person in comparison to Sheplers.

Package One on the Arnold site gets you a 1 adult round trip to Mackinac Island, a carriage tour, entry to Wings of Mackinac and Entry to Fort Mackinac for $44. If you brought each thing individually yourself it would be over $60. Arnold’s is saving you $16.50 with this package.

 The second package entitles you to an adult round trip to the island, Fort Mackinac entry and a carriage toour for $49. If you brought all of this individually it would cost you $55. It is a saving of $6.50 by doing package two.


So while I do write about Sheplers and the monopolization of the ferry services on the island, don’t forget this is the reason we were all against it – the right to choose and to keep up competition and price competitiveness. If you need package savings, go to Arnolds. If you need overall helpful service and family orientated business go to Sheplers but be thankful no matter which company you choose, that you still have the choice.

Do you travel to the island exclusively with one ferry company or do you go with whoever has the lowest price?



  1. The only downside is Arnold leaves at 11p which makes it easier to stay on the island longer.

    • You are right..Sheplers only runs until 11pm from June 10 to Sept 15 which isn’t really long enough. (Granted, they weren’t approved to run any later but they are open longer this year until Nov 27 instead of the beginning of Nov which is a plus I guess!)

  2. Until tonight, I had not heard of the monopoly that was going on. I’ve only been to the island 3 times (all in the last 5 years), but have only used Sheplers. It’s right down town, and has always felt like the largest and most noticeable of the ferries to me.

    As I have not used the other two, it would not be a fair assessment for me to say it’s the best- but they do make for an enjoyable ride, and I’ve never felt the need to seek out another ferry service when I enjoy Shepler’s as much as I do.

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