Where Were You November 15th?

Where were you on November 15th, 2002?
If you are a dealer and you weren’t in Las Vegas at the Marine Retailers Association of America (MRAA) 2002 Annual Convention “Power The Marine Industry Into Prosperity,” you really missed something.
Were you one of the 200 or so dealers from all around the United States who attended? If not, why weren’t you? There should have been at least 2,000 dealers there, as it was the most informative and entertaining MRAA convention ever. And you should have been one of them.
In addition to two of the more dynamic speakers that I have heard in recent years, there were two panels of “Industry Giants” moderated by Larry Russo (Russo Marine) and Phil Keeter (president of MRAA) that every dealer would have benefited from hearing. The first was an engine panel featuring Roch Lambert (Bombardier), Clint Moore (Volvo Penta), John Ward (Mercury Marine) and Tim Fernandez (Yamaha).
The second was a boat panel that featured Irwin Jacobs (Genmar Holdings), Dusty McCoy (Brunswick Boat Group), Thom Dammrich (NMMA) and Neville Whittley (Whittley USA).
Dealers who attended thought both panels were great. All of the panelists were very candid in answering the direct and penetrating questions asked of them by the moderators. All seemed to agree that there is a definite need to improve the overall quality image of the boats and motors this industry sells, in addition to helping dealers to be more successful and profitable.
On the last day of the convention I was moderator for a very informative and timely panel on e-commerce that included Paul Rabe (boats.com), Real Deslauriers (Bombardier), George Sullivan (Genmar Holdings), Clint Moore (Volvo Penta), Albert Crook (GE Commercial Distribution Finance), Chad Lyon (Transamerica) and John Relyea (KeyBank). It was a great opportunity for dealers to talk with these top industry executives during breaks, lunch and at the receptions in the evening.
Here are some more questions for dealers: Where were you when your state marine trade association last met? Were you there? Do you belong to your state association and attend the meetings regularly?
If not … why not? I’d really like to know because I am struggling to understand why so many of you aren’t more involved and active in state associations and the MRAA.
Some dealers may ask, “Why should I? What’s in it for me?” To answer this hard question and get a better handle on the advantages of belonging to state marine trade associations and the MRAA, I called several of my contacts around the country. Following are some of the answers to this question:
Harold Sharp (Northshore Marine, Houston, Texas) is on the board of directors of the Boats & Trade Association of Metro Houston and also involved with the Boating Trade Association of Texas. Harold said, “Members of the Houston association get a significant discount on space at the January Houston Boat Show for starters. And we are very involved in staying on top of state legislation that is important to dealers.
“For example, we got a Vessel Inventory Tax bill passed in Texas that allows dealers to only pay inventory tax when they sell a boat or motor. They don’t have to pay inventory tax on the store’s total inventory annually like before. This has saved dealers thousands of dollars. Dealers also can keep up to date on the industry when they attend our meetings.”
Luke Brunelle, Jr. (Brunelle’s Marina, South Hadley, Massachusetts), a board member of the Massachusetts Marine Trade Association (MMTA) and an attendee of MRAA conventions, said, “We offer a lot of advantages at MMTA. Dues are only $100 and you get much more than that in benefits.
“For example, member dealers can get educational grants of $250 per employee up to a maximum of $500 per dealership per year to send personnel to training such as technician school. Our association boat show generates enough income to pay for this. Members also get a discount on space at our Boston in-water boat show.
“Then there is our informative monthly newsletter,” Luke continued. “And our association addresses many legislative issues important to dealers. Member dealers also get their MRAA membership dues paid. It is definitely worthwhile for dealers to belong to both the MMTA and the MRAA.”
Luke added, “The MRAA offers many benefits like the opportunity to network with other dealers, a strong business insurance program that saves money, and being able talk to industry leaders at the convention. And they are legislative watchdogs for us in Washington.”
Norm Schultz, president of the Lake Erie Marine Trades Association (LEMTA), had this to say: “Gaining knowledge is one of many reasons to belong. For example, our state association represents the industry in lobbying on legislative and regulatory issues in Ohio. These are issues that can affect our business lives every day.
“Our members not only get this information on a timely basis, they get to give input in the process. This is also a good reason to belong to the MRAA and go to their convention. Also the MRAA now is the only national convention in the industry where manufacturers and dealers meet at one location. I will be pushing our state members to attend this convention next year because it is such a great meeting.
“Beyond that there is a ton of other benefits in belonging
to both associations. LEMTA has advertising co-op programs, space priority for members in our boat shows and dealer-to-dealer networking. As a result of networking, our member dealers are working together like never before. For example, a dealer can contact a fellow member dealer 100 miles away for help in servicing a customer’s boat that happens to be in that area and vice versa. We foster this working together at LEMTA.”
Jim Thorpe of Spring Brook Marina in Seneca, Illinois, is a member of the board of directors of MRAA and had this to say about belonging to the national association: “You learn a lot when you go to the MRAA convention. And the more dealers who belong to the MRAA, the more strength there is in numbers to help get our point of view over to manufacturers.”
I then called my friend Doug Burbridge at Mercer Marine Inc. of Bellevue, Washington, who is on the board of directors of the Northwest Marine Trades Associations (NMTA). Doug said, “There are many reasons to be involved in NMTA. Our association works diligently to stay on top of important legislative and environmental issues that can affect dealers. Members also get a discount on space in the Seattle Boat Show. Our association offers a major medical program to members. This is a big help to dealers. And our association helps dealers’ voices to be heard in the industry.”
I wrapped up my interviews on this subject by calling my friend of many years, Phil Keeter, president of MRAA and a former dealer.
Phil said, “There are a lot of reasons for dealers to belong to and be active in the MRAA. A good example is that members can realize significant savings on business insurance.
“Our credit card processing program can also save dealer members money. Dealers used to pay 2.5 to 3 percent to process credit card sales. Our program brought it down to about 1 percent. The legislative area is another important activity of the MRAA that needs continued support by dealers. We are constantly looking out for legislation that has the potential of being detrimental to dealers and the industry.”
Phil added, “As our membership grows, our collective voices are becoming louder and louder to manufacturers. We are already seeing more and more manufacturers who never used to offer dealer agreements now starting to offer them. And several manufacturers are changing the timing of their dealer meetings and new product introductions to late summer or fall dates that are much more convenient for dealers.
“Members who attend our conventions also get a chance to network with major manufacturers. And just as important, dealers can network with other dealers from all around the country and learn new ideas and ways to do business.”
After adding up all of these advantages of membership, it makes a lot of sense to me for dealers to join both their state associations and the MRAA and to be active in both.
Many points mentioned above could stand alone as justification for joining. Not the least of these is networking. When I was a new car dealer, I always looked forward to any meetings with other dealers because I always learned new ideas from this networking.
I don’t know where you were last November 15. But I know where you should be next fall when MRAA holds its 2003 convention. And I know where you should be when your state association has its next meeting.
Get involved! Join these organizations and add your voice to the growing number of dealers in associations who are starting to be heard by the industry. Remember, there is strength in numbers.

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