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14 Leaders offer their 2014 keys to success

By By Jonathan Sweet

For part of our Industry Forecast coverage in the January issue, we asked 14 industry leaders two questions about 2014:

  • What are you and your company focusing on to ensure success in 2014?
  • What do you see as the keys to the industry having a successful year in 2014?

We didn't have room to run their full answers in the magazine, so here is more of what they had to say:

Fred Pace, Managing Partner, Legendary Marine

2012 & 2013 Dealer of the Year                                                                                          

What are you and your company focusing on this year to ensure success in 2014?

Legendary Marine will continue to focus heavily on business improvements through all areas of business and operations for 2014. A few examples:

On the sales front, we will enhance our customer touch points within 30 days of product sale, including everything from personal follow-up calls to handwritten thank-you cards, photography and video at boat delivery, customized gifts and ongoing contact including personal invitation to special events. Engaging our customers after the sale continues to be a priority as we promote boat usage to get them on the water enjoying their boat.

From an employee perspective, we will improve our counseling procedures, plus will survey our employees quarterly regarding a variety of issues including management performance.

In addition to manufacturer-sponsored training initiatives, our service department will ensure that techs participate in in-house training events. Enhanced client communication protocols are also planned. There will be a standardized follow-up procedure for existing and new sold boat customers. The entire department will become more actively engaged in providing solutions to service opportunities.

Marketing plans to implement aggressive new internet and social media initiatives, as well as hosting a few customer and prospect focus groups. Military marketing activities will also be part of the 2014 focus.

What do you see as the keys to the industry having a successful year in 2014?

Barring any hurricanes or dramatic changes in Washington, we think 2014 will be a great year if we work hard to keep our existing customers engaged and using their boats, along with additional efforts to attract new boaters to experience our products.

We believe customers will embrace new technology despite the high cost of entry. Many manufacturers are fulfilling this need and we think those manufacturers that continue to introduce new products with new technology will be successful.

The industry needs to continue to promote boating and the boating experience as a great return on investment in terms of family fun and enhanced relationships. Strong, targeted PR and a big push on the Discover Boating campaign front should help drive positive messaging.  Growing the market through diversity initiatives such as those underway by RBFF will help attract and reach new audiences.

Roch Lambert, President, Rec Boat Holdings

2013 Mover & Shaker of the Year

What are you and your company focusing on this year to ensure success in 2014?

After investing significantly to redesign the majority of our models, our focus for the three base brands (Four Winns, Glastron and Wellcraft) is shifting toward better supporting our network in order to get our share of the retail volume that is in the sterndrive segment.  Besides offering a fresh line up, we are rolling out an extensive dealer training program that will arm our dealers with the proper tools to compete at boat shows. The second focus of the upcoming year will be the successful roll out of our jet strategy. We started production of the boats in September and will introduce four to five new models on the production lines and in the dealer showrooms in the upcoming weeks.

What do you see as the keys to the industry having a successful year in 2014?

We are all hoping for increased consumer confidence of course, but we must focus on acting on the things we can control – providing consumers with meaningful innovations that give them a reason to buy our brand. Offering differentiation is key in any industry where discretionary income is the driver. There is a solid base of boat owners out there and manufacturers need to keep ahead of the curve by constantly providing new and fresh products.

Ryan Hebert, Administrator, Texas Marine

Chairman, MRAA Young Leaders Advisory Council

What are you and your company focusing on this year to ensure success in 2014?

2013 was a great year for us. We were able to take advantage of boating friendly weather in our region, a strengthening regional economy and a strong product mix. However, we will not be moving forward with the philosphy of "if it isn't broke, don't fix it." On the contrary, we will be developing a new sales department structure for 2014 which will maximize the amount of focus and attention given to prospect follow ups, and online lead management. This new sales structure will take advantage of new telephone and lead management techonology as well as a centralized call center.

What do you see as the keys to the industry having a successful year in 2014?

The industry must continue to adapt to an ever-changing economic climate for 2014 as well as be able to spread the message to the customer base that things are improving. The public gets one message from the general media about dangerous international developments, fluctuating global economy, and political fighting. We as an industry need to educate the boating public on the positive economic improvements heading into 2014 including a strengthening housing market, greater consumer confidence and easier lending.

Jim Lane, President, Chaparral & Robalo

What are you and your company focusing on to ensure success in 2014?

It comes down to new product in most cases. We put a lot of investment into new product. In the SSX line, we’ve added three new boats to that line in the last 12 months. We’ve also increased our product offering in the H2O line. Of course, our big project for ’14 is going to be the jet boat project.

All of these things are designed to help us have a wider and larger selection of market share, but really it’s also to help our dealers have the products they need to ultimately be just a little more profitable. If they’re more successful, we know ultimately we will be also.

What do you see as the keys to the industry having a successful year in 2014?

Perhaps some resolution to all of the situations that are occurring in Washington. I think there’s just a lot of uncertainty and what we need to do is improve consumers’ attitudes. I think the Grow Boating campaign this year is going to do a very, very good job with that.

If the retail boat shows kick off and have a good season, I think that will pave the way for us for the rest of the year. A stronger economy certainly doesn’t hurt either. People are motivated by their attitudes.

Tom Whowell Jr., Director, Gordy’s Lakefront Marine

What are you and your company focusing on to ensure success in 2014?

For us, it’s about the fundamentals year in and year out. We look at our strategy pyramid and the top there is the same consistent three things: focusing on our customers, focusing on our team and driving the financials of the business. There’s lots that goes into all those … but at the top the fundamentals do not change and do not waiver. It’s about remaining true to who we are and true to our core, and true to our mission, which is really to be just the best marina and boat dealer in the country.

What do you see as the keys to the industry having a successful year in 2014?

Why are we in this business? Do we inspire people? How do we make people feel? How do we connect with people and share that fun? At the end of the day, are we making people’s lives better?

Just taking care of people, making it fun for them and attracting them to the business is good for everybody. That really gets to the core … the boating industry is a fun industry and it’s important to remember that.

Bruce Van Wagoner, president, marine group, GE Capital Commercial Distribution Finance

What are you and your company focusing on this year to ensure success in 2014?

We are building our plans for 2014 to be better than 2013, based on what we know today. We base that projection on key economic data relative to the market, retail registration data, and important demographic trends, as well as GE's own data. Therefore, we will continue to invest in business intelligence; strengthening our manufacturer and dealer relationships; expanding our support of pre-owned inventory at the dealer level; and working with our industry partners to Grow Boating.

What do you see as the keys to the industry having a successful year in 2014?

My first reaction to this question is stay the course. If dealers continue to apply the best practices of the past couple of years and manufacturers continue to invest in new product and their distribution network, we’ll have charted a course for a successful 2014. Our analysis of financial information from both dealers and manufacturers indicates growth and profitability. This increasing financial strength translates into increased confidence in the form of business expansion. It also provides support for increased credit capacity from GE.

Ben Speciale, president, Yamaha Marine Group

What are you and your company focusing on this year to ensure success in 2014?

We always focus on providing the highest level of reliability and customer satisfaction for our customers, but new products give consumers a reason to look and buy.

In recent years Yamaha has introduced a variety of next generation outboards. Last year, we launched the F200 and VMAX SHO 150, which have been very well received. We also launched Helm Master, our fully integrated boat control system. This year, again, we are launching two new outboards, the second generation F115 and the new F175, each of which will bring new benefits to their respective segments.

What do you see as the keys to the industry having a successful year in 2014?

The industry must work together better. In particular, we need to address legislative issues that impact all of us.

This year, Congress will address the Magnuson-Stevens Act Reauthorization. Magnuson-Stevens is the primary law regulating fishing in coastal waters. The law, as currently written and enforced, is very difficult for recreational anglers and all the businesses that depend on the sport of fishing. We must be sure that recreational fishing is considered and accommodated when the law is updated next year, and that means we must all become activists.

This includes taking up the issue of ethanol and E15. We cannot let E15 become the predominant fuel available in this country. It clearly damages marine engines and will cause economic harm to our industry and consumers.

Butch Parks, president, Parks Marina

What are you and your company focusing on this year to ensure success in 2014?

At Parks Marina our strength has always been in inventory management, which is challenging when we also brag of the “largest in-stock selection of new and used boats.” With interest rates so low we can offer more in-stock inventory than ever. We will be adding new techs and riggers. Customers will see more selection and a more fun shopping experience by offering a relaxing atmosphere, The Barefoot Bar which includes food, drink and a place to entertain the kids.

Staffing for seasonal business is never easy. We have lobbied hard for school Labor Day to Memorial Day start and end dates to meet the needs of the tourism industry but have made virtually no head way. It is impossible to maintain our level of customer service when we lose half of our staff in early August. To combat this issue, we will be enlisting 22 foreign exchange students from China, Poland, Macedonia and Jamaica.

Our invite-only events will be bigger and more exclusive than ever. Creativity is a must to draw your most important repeat customers back for a red carpet experience. You cannot spend too much on your best customers.

We are stepping on board the Wake Surf craze with our all new “Surf Okoboji” Showroom which is located at our sister location Okoboji Boat Works. We have added Ski Nautique to our already impressive boat line-up and customers will delight in expert lessons and the best selection of wake surf, ski and wake board accessories.

What works for us, is always offering that something “new” when they come back in the spring. Whether it is a new event, boat line, showrooms, lessons, products or lakeside entertainment attraction. For example, we have another new cruise boat under construction and will add another new “watering hole” at the Barefoot Bar.

What do you see as the keys to the industry having a successful year in 2014?

Involvement in 20 Groups is key. The more information you can have the better. I wouldn’t be where I am at without them. You will gain perspective on industry trends and gain many new ideas and inspiration.

I think we just need to be ready for it because all signs point UP for this coming year. We need to be professional, use values and operate within our own territories as to allow everyone in our great industry to prosper.

Be Prepared. You can’t sell what you don’t have. Customers are becoming more and more accustomed to having things right when they want them and will go somewhere else if they can’t get it from you now.

Ian Atkins, senior vice president and general manager, Dominion Marine Media

What are you and your company focusing on this year to ensure success in 2014?

As the market improves, we’re continuing to invest. On the consumer side, we are focused on the fact that a day will come in 2014 when more people reach our portals through mobile devices than desktop, so continuing to improve user experience through those devices - whether smartphone or tablet - is priority No. 1. Improving consumer ability to connect with and send leads to our customers utilizing new technology is our job.

Behind the scenes, we’re investing in our own infrastructure, too. To respond to the needs of customers more quickly, we’re progressively re-engineering the way we handle data—no simple task given that thousands of dealers, brokers and OEMs rely on our systems to help run their businesses today.

What do you see as the keys to the industry having a successful year in 2014?

The world is changing, and our industry will succeed to the extent that we embrace new technology, whether in manufacturing, business operations or in marketing. This requires a learning attitude and prudent investment, so we can innovate and reach a shifting market that is notable for its rapid transition to mobile-device usage.

The Baby Boomers’ love for boating remains a reliable source of revenues, but to succeed we have to learn to speak in ways that we’ll be heard by Generation C—the “connected generation”—which includes all ages but is largely made up of younger adults also known as Millennials. As the market improves, well-managed businesses will succeed, but the standouts will be those truly embracing change.

Lou Sandoval, co-founder, Karma Yacht Sales

What are you and your company focusing on this year to ensure success in 2014?

This is what we are working on:

  • Transition to Boating lifestyle:  Full service package for new boaters to transition them into boat ownership.
  • Strategic marketing partnerships with larger business organizations for ethnic and gender outreach, with an emphasis on more women,  Millenial engagement and affluent groups in the Hispanic and African-American communities
  • A portfolio expansion with new brands: and expanding into power

What do you see as the keys to the industry having a successful year in 2014?

Going where the customers are. Continuing to expand marketing footprint and selling the lifestyle so that it answers the question: Why should I own a boat?  How do I go about it?

Matt Gruhn, president, Marine Retailers Association of the Americas

What is the association focusing on this year to ensure success in 2014?

At the MRAA, we are focused on managing our growth effectively. As we look to another year in which we will add staff, we are ensuring that our focus remains on our mission of contributing to the success of our members and the entire industry. We will focus more intently on providing a higher level of customer service, increasing the value of our benefits, and offering stronger educational options to help our members grow and find greater success.

What do you see as the keys to the industry having a successful year in 2014?

I believe that the key to success for our members and the industry as a whole, as we continue on this recovery and growth path, is quite similar to that. As we discussed at the Marine Dealer Conference & Expo, change and growth are great, so long as they are managed properly. I'll never forget what one dealer told me as we began to come out of the recession: He said, "I wish I would have known during the good days, when the industry was growing, what I know today about running an efficient, effective business. We all would have made a lot more money."

Carl Blackwell, president, Grow Boating

What is Grow Boating focusing on this year to ensure its success in 2014?

Well we are much more concerned about our industry’s success than our own but if we are successful, we believe we can be a catalyst for our stakeholder’s successes.  Our focus next year will be on the marketing of our content.  Serving as an industry representative we feel we have the credibility and are well positioned to leverage our content to articulate a much richer message than traditional advertising.  We’ll still do some traditional interactive advertising but we’ll be less constrained by thirty second video ads or small web banner ads.  You’ll see long form video and maybe even more short form video in our marketing efforts. Our authentic boating content will allow us to better tell the boating story and attack some of the barriers we face.  We have a pretty significant content development project underway now.   An example of content marketing that we’ve used in the past was the development and distribution of the Good Run video.

Our advertising and public relations efforts are becoming more integrated because the way our target audience consumes media is evolving.  With the past successes of our social media efforts, we now have developed our own media distribution channels through Facebook and Twitter.  One Facebook post on our site reaches thousands of potential and existing boaters…and we can distribute our messages every day.  We had one post last year that was seen by nearly one million people.  We have cultivated a highly targeted and qualified audience.

We’ll continue to focus on building awareness of Discover Boating which helps us facilitate the more tangible results we achieve – prospect generation and website referrals.  Last year we moved nearly 1 million consumers from the Discover Boating websites to manufacturer websites.  In many cases we were the top website traffic source for boat manufacturers behind search engines.   We are working with Info-Link to engage technology that will allow us to measure the percentage of these referrals that end up buying boats.  Awareness is essential for our success.

What do you see as the keys to the industry being successful in 2014?

The more the collective industry helps to deliver the lifestyle message the better. Our industry does a fantastic job marketing boats but where we as an industry still need to improve is in how we collectively market the “why” of boats. As a boat owner, I didn’t purchase my boat as a financial investment. I purchased it for the lifestyle changes and benefits it would provide me, which provide immense personal value. The more our industry speaks with one voice the louder we become.

Creating more organized opportunity for people to access hands on boating training is essential in bringing more people to boating and keeping them in boating. Access and skill are two key barriers we can break when we show people firsthand what it’s like to boat. We’ve witnessed the transformation time and again at our Discover Boating Hands on Skills Training sessions at boat shows.  I would love to see any in-water boat show provide this type of experience.

What helps us tell the boating lifestyle story is when there are innovations that make more accessible to our target audience. From more affordable boats to more versatile boats for families—innovation and new products drive our industry so we’re excited to see what’s in store from manufacturers this year.

Dusty McCoy, chairman and CEO, Brunswick Corporation

We believe that market conditions are generally and slowly improving.  The overall marine market right now is back to 60% of 2007 levels, with certain categories such as aluminum fishing boats and pontoons having recovered even more.  We believe that new boat sales will continue to grow slowly over the next three years.

At its core, the industry is fundamentally healthy as boaters continue to go on the water at record rates and are highly satisfied with boating lifestyle. However, we believe they continue to be more and more challenged by the cost, the time and the effort of boating particularly relative to other leisure activities.  The market and today’s boater continue to change and we expect that to continue.  And we've also observed over the last five years a very active and still robust used boat market that we think offers us significant potential for us to convert used boat owners into new boat buyers in the years ahead.

The issue is boating’s value versus the benefit. So from our perspective, understanding that there's no lack of desire to boat and no lack of understanding that boating is a great activity, the challenge for the industry is creating greater value and improving cost.

Ron Huibers, president, Volvo Penta of the Americas

What are you and your company focusing on this year to ensure success in 2014?

You can expect we will continue our focus on easy boating through our commitment to innovation, integration and customer support.  Innovation is in our DNA at Volvo Penta. Our new IPS 950, D11 diesel engine and V8-350 and V8-430 gas engines, based on the award winning V8-380 unveiled this year, are just the beginning. In addition, our new generation of engines and drives are more efficient, resulting in considerable savings in fuel costs, increased performance and overall fun.

Volvo Penta is passionate about the boating lifestyle and we see no reason why operating a boat shouldn’t be just as easy and familiar as driving a modern car.  That’s the fundamental logic behind many of our recent integrated product introductions - such as the glass cockpit, joystick controls, pod propulsion systems and the like, which all contribute to our “helm to prop” philosophy.  You can expect we will continue this focus and deliver new ideas ahead into the future.

In addition to our new models of engines and drives, our new extended coverage plans represent our continued commitment to providing fuel efficiency, cost savings and unparalleled technical support for our OEM boat builders and dealers to ensure a happy trouble-free boating experience for boating customers.

What do you see as the keys to the industry having a successful year in 2014?

To a certain extent the boating industry will be influenced by factors beyond our control, such as the economy and politics. Leaving these aside, we see opportunities to continue growing the market.

There are plenty of other leisure activities competing for the attention and investment of our potential boating customers. To overcome this challenge, the industry must continue to attract a wider range of boaters into the market. Reaching out to new and younger buyers is a start. We also need to eliminate barriers to entry for new boating consumers. That means reducing costs of ownership and making it easier to own and operate a boat.

Overall we’re optimistic. That’s because we believe the boating lifestyle offers so much more than any other activity competing for consumers’ leisure time and budgets.  There’s really nothing like spending a day out on the water with family and friends.

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