Top 100 Ideas: Lake Union Sea Ray


By Christopher Gerber
May 17, 2013
Filed under Features, Top Stories

Lake Union Sea Ray was a dealership with a set of common problems. Management had a lot of questions about the effectiveness of its processes and strategies, as well as new and former customers, but despite ideas of its own and some help from the manufacturers, had no concrete direction for how it would answer these questions.

A perennial Top-100 dealer, Lake Union Sea Ray has already proven that it knows how to run a high quality business. In 2011, Lake Union wanted to take it a step further and determine how it could exactly answer questions about branding and marketing that had left the staff scratching their heads.

To do that, the dealership submitted RFPs to several outside research firms with a clear goal: “Deliver actionable results that will in turn improve our sales and marketing strategies, grow our customer base and increase customer loyalty, help improve our sales hiring and training portfolio, increase brand awareness.”

“When we took on the Bayliner brand, we didn’t necessarily take on all the customers,” said Kevin Roggenbuck, president of Lake Union Sea Ray. “All of those customers didn’t come flooding in our doors overnight, we actively reached out to them in many forms to get them to come to the door, but just wanted to understand them as well.”

Lake Union approached several firms, but Hebert Research (pronounced He-bert, not A-bear, as I was so corrected) was an early front-runner. Kay Woltman, marketing manager for Lake Union Sea Ray, said that Hebert Research’s strategies of in-person focus groups for both customers, and potential customers.

“We did like the idea that they were local, so not only did they know the boating industry, but they knew the boating industry in our region,” Woltman said, “Jim, owner of Hebert Research is also is on the Northwest Trade Association board, and does research with them as well is through the University of Washington.  And so he is definitely well-known in our area. And he’s a boater. He owns a boat and is passionate about boating.”

First carry small stones

The biggest takeaways from the research? Many were not major or profound ideas, but simple improvements around the business and marketing efforts that made for a better consumer experience.

“We knew that the website needed help, but what the research said, it was enough for me to say where I needed to go and what direction I need to take this,” Woltman said. ”And I just started putting it into place.”

And this was in spite of the company already having a high-ranking website, Roggenbuck added. The website wasn’t a failing website, but it didn’t address the new needs of the web.

Improvements included ways of making the customer experience better. The company had always provided customers with a way of finding out current inventory, events, as well as who they are and how to find them. But improvements such as adding a blog and comments, as well as links to other community events related to boating, have helped build the dealership’s profile.

Then move mountains

But not all of the changes were small. Lake Union Sea Ray has had a mobile service department, but hadn’t been doing much to market it.

“One major finding that came from the research involved our misperception of service customer retention after the warranty period,” Roggenbuck said. “We thought it was cost, that our customers felt we were too expensive.  Turns out, it’s convenience in regard to location proximity to the customer’s home or work.”

Since then, the dealership has gone full force into building out the mobile service department, not as an entity of the in-shop service department, but as a full department, set up with a mobile service manager and two certified technicians.

“We just assumed that customers just assumed that since we were a dealer we would be more expensive than the local service outlet, and we found out that that was third or fourth down the list,” Roggenbuck said.

The mobile service department became a “third department,” alongside sales and service, providing customers with delivery services to storage, home, etc., in addition to service for their boats. The offering became something that customers were interested in.

“We are really identifying it as a whole separate department, not just a part of service,” said Woltman. “It’s become part of our branding and our marketing efforts as well since our research last year.”

An ongoing project

As the improvements have been an ongoing investment, so has the relationship with Hebert Research.

“The nice thing about Hebert Research is that they are in constant contact with us,” Woltman said. “They follow up about once a month and continue to provide information. It’s an ongoing project. And we’re not continuing to pay them. This is just a part of who they are and the business they run.”

“It is a significant investment,” Woltman added. “If we didn’t feel that it paid off for us, what a tragedy, it was a lot of time and a lot of money.

“And I think a nice takeaway is that for any other dealer that would be interested in wanting to utilize a research firm that it’s important that you build a partnership and that you have a solid relationship. Because I know personally I would be disappointed if they handed a novel’s worth of information and you never hear from them again. For me that would be not a good investment.”


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