Turn to your backyard

By Cheryl Fischer, co-owner, Fischer Marine Boat Sales and Brokerage, Fort Myers, Fla.

In 2007, Fischer Marine was experiencing its worst 4th quarter in 18 years of doing business. The bills continued to pile up while sales trickled in due to a poor economy and a major downturn in the real estate market in Lee Country, Fla. As a small family business, we were in survival mode. We needed to stimulate business and cut expenses fast … but how?

Layoffs employees? No. Even though most dealers in our area were cutting back on staff, we felt we had an exceptional crew of loyal, talented and dedicated employees and eliminating even one position was not an option for us. As we all know in the boat business, good employees are hard to find.

Next, we took a hard look at our expenses and cut back anything unnecessary. With our marketing, we struggled to come up with new, inexpensive and creative ways to direct more traffic to our dealership and Web site. My husband, Tom, was concerned with our Web site, FischerMarine.com, as the spelling was often confused when consumers tried to access it. They were always leaving out the “c” in Fischer and going to the wrong site. After noticing a television ad for a Toyota superstore in our area promoting its new Web site, “WeGotTrucks.com,” a light bulb went off. He thought wouldn’t it be great to have “WeGotBoats.com” and link that to our existing Fischer Marine Web site. He immediately went online, and it was available!

Things were starting to happen. Our employees were excited. With our biggest boat show only 4 weeks away, we knew we needed to market this new website in a big way and do it as fast and as economical as possible. We had a company meeting and asked everyone for their input. We had bright yellow bags and balloons printed with WeGotBoats.com in large black print along with a couple of banners for the show. One of the employees had the idea to bring in the cheerleaders from my daughter’s high school, so we recruited the girls to hand out balloons to the kids and bags to the adults and allowed them to do some fundraising for the team at the same time. It was a huge success! Everywhere you looked at the show, you could see yellow. Other dealers even asked for our balloons to put on their boats. One customer even tied one to his dog. Sales at the show were slow, but our Web site hits were picking up. It would take a while, but it was working.

December sales were still slow, so we decided now would be the perfect time to do some “spring” cleaning for the upcoming snowbird season that runs from January till April in our area. Our service department had accumulated a lot of stuff from our used boats (i.e. fenders, line, anchors, old props, life jackets, etc.) that were just sitting there taking up space. I suggested holding a Nautical Flea Market the first weekend after New Years to get us off to a positive start for 2008! Our Parts Manager came up with the great idea to solicit marine related vendors to set up tables at the event and also asked local restaurants and businesses for giveaways. We had an overwhelming response. In attendance were the Local Marine Patrol, Homeland Security, the Power Squadron offering free boat inspections, State Farm Insurance, Hot Graphix, Tropica Electronics, the Southwest Florida Marine Industries Association information trailer, Scotties Canvas and more…all for free! We even had a vendor call after hearing our commercials to ask if we had enough room for him to bring a table! We had free food, drinks, music (provided by one of our service techs who we never knew was a DJ on the side) and two live radio remotes…and the whole event cost us under $2500 including radio and newspaper advertising along with a direct mailing to our local customers.

What a huge success!!! We cleaned up our dealership and made over $1,500 on the items at the flea market which we decided to give back to the employees for their extra efforts. There was a steady stream of customers all day…some old and some new. Our vendors and local marine groups appreciated the free publicity and we all had a great time. Fischer Marine has already sold 9 boats since the event ...which was almost double what we sold the entire month of December. Business is better than ever and we’re all striving for the best month we have ever had in the history of our dealership!

The down turn in the economy was truly a wake up call to everyone in the boating industry. It has not only taught us to appreciate the good times, but to take a long hard look at our current business practices and resources. Fischer Marine has learned you don’t have to look any further than your own backyard. Your employees can be your best resource if you empower them and make them part of a successful team that all work together to accomplish the same goal! Have more happy customers, sell more boats, have more fun and make more money!

This contribution is one in a series of solutions to the industry’s challenges as offered by female boating business professionals for the March 2008 issue of Boating Industry magazine. To view the article, Leading the way, including links to the entire list of solutions, click here.

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