More of the same?

Many marine dealers are planning for 2011 as if economic conditions will stay the same.

Yesterday, I happened on a thoughtful column on retail trends written by West Marine Executive Vice President Bruce Edwards for Sail America’s newsletter, Waypoints. While he shared a range of economic indicators and other statistics that paint a mixed outlook for the retail community and the boating industry, Edwards ultimately predicted that we will  “see more of what we have witnessed in 2010 continue into 2011.”

That seems to be the sentiment among most of you as well. Many marine dealers are planning for 2011 as if economic conditions will stay the same. So, while I’m sure we’d all rather hear that the retail sector will be booming next year, it’s good news that the industry is on the same page as far as its expectations for the economy are concerned.

But what I appreciated most about the article was its closing, where Edwards wrote of the opportunity we have “to continue to grow our businesses and our industry, by listening carefully to what our customers are asking for and delivering it to them.”

That “opportunity” is sometimes hard to see when so much of the focus in the mainstream media is on the sluggish recovery and whether it will stall. But your team’s ability to see it and ultimately grab it will determine whether your business can outperform the industry.

That was illustrated for me when I made the calls to our 2010 Top 100 Dealers this year. So many of them spoke excitedly of all the new developments they couldn’t wait to share with us in their 2011 applications. And a few used words like “record-breaking” and “best year yet” to describe 2010 – a year for boat sales that, when all is said and done, probably won’t be much better than 2009.

The difference? Attitude. If your team has been trained to look for opportunity, they will find it. And if you train them to expect more of the same, that’s what they’ll deliver.

We’d like to hear from you. What is your outlook for 2011? What opportunities do you see on the horizon? And how are you setting up your business to take advantage of them?

6 comments

  1. Hello Liz,
    What Mr. Edwards is recommending is not revolutionary it’s just good old fashioned business advice. Sound instruction from a competent teacher.

    I’m sure we are not alone in what we are witnessing in the Marketplace today. Folks are keeping their boats longer and as they ages they tend to require more frequent service and repairs.

    What we have done to grow our bottom line goes hand in hand with Mr. Edwards advice. During these times we have put more emphasis on our service offerings. By taking full advantage various forms of technical education we have continued to improve our standing with both our customers and the manufacturers we represent.

    Provide exceptional service and the sales will follow.

    The increase in education has continued to make us more efficient and by achieving a higher service status with Brunswick it has opened up avenues of increased backend money.

    Last year was better than the year before. This year is already better than last. 2011 we will continue to grow our bottom line.

    Keep the glass half full!

    Rob Brown
    Clark Marine

  2. Rob, you make a great point! Those dealers investing in education during these challenging times are certainly reaping the rewards. And the service department is a particularly important area of focus (whether boat sales are weak or strong). Kudos to you and your team for recognizing that, and congratulations on the growth in profitability!

    One of our Top 100 Dealers who comes to mind as another example of this is George's Marine & Sports in Ottawa, Ont. The dealership invested more than $1,500 per employee on training in 2009, including a training program that helped the company transform 37-percent more of its phone calls into sales appointments and decrease the number of “no show” appointments.

  3. Hello Liz,

    $1500 per employee is exceptional as long as you are getting good return for your investment. By the results posted by George's Marine, their money sounds as though it is being very well spent.

    I don't have a dollar value pinned to it though our schedule calls for just over 700 hours of training combined this off season. Split between, on-the-road, on-line, and in house.

    Increased education has always paid dividends here.

    Rob

  4. Liz, thank you for the reminders - with the events of 2008 and since, Fays has come to appreciate no one has a special crystal ball on what 2011 will bring, so much is driven by superfluous bad-news-is-popular-cycle and good-or-bad weather, and, more often, when the consumer has had enough of-sacrifice, they then return to purchasing boats and letting thier family have fun, and that is what we provide. So we cannot control the news, nor the weather, but what we can control is inventory and our attitudes and presentation. Your comments remind us to be "on our game" at all times, and controlling inventory like a professional poker player working his hand of cards. So outside comments regarding 2011 potentially being soft, or part of a slow, drawn-out recovery, can serve to remind dealers to keep a vigilant watch on their poker hand of inventory closely, not forgetting that, after 2008, we all resolved to abandon two turns a year and seek three to four turns for survival and profitability with the cash available. We don't want mfgs and dealers to forget the lessons of 2008, when prior to that, boat-builders forced 60% of the annual inventory in the dealer's hands before the boat shows started - this today would choke the life out of most dealers. So we must watch our deck of cards - our product mix, aging, and reordering/mfg delivery schedule closely, like a card player watches his deck of cards.
    And you make the greatest point, there is NO substitute for a positive attitude in retail, looking for opportunity in every corner. We can turn the bad news off at our dealership's door when we arrive at the dealership, and figuratively leave all non-boating concerns outside, as we start our day, or it will drive our day. No value in commiserating Boat shows don't work like they used to, because they still generate buyers throughout the season, so, instead, set contact-goals at shows and measure how many people we are getting in front of and following up with. Buyers are looking for dealers that can show them product, product that is clean and well displayed, dealers who are helpful and attentive. Money tight? The web is a low cost means to get in front of consumers, and there is no substitute for capturing inbound calls from our web activity and following calls up productively, because a email or a phone call can sometimes show buyers who they do not want to buy from, our goal is to capture customer information, and "conversions". On email leads - our industry still has less than 30% response rate on email requests - what gives with this? Why leave opportunities on the table? And what of boat mfg website dealer locators with "Contact-a-Dealer" that forces a customer over and over again to send his lead to the same dealer who did not respond the first three times? Why do this to leads - give them power of choice. Some mfgs sites have recognized this error (try out the Trackerboats or Tahoesportboats websites as a shopper in example) and modified their websites to give most call-to-actions such as "Contact a Dealer" a new intermediary landing page so the shopper can select among the three nearest dealers - why? So the customer has a one-out-of-three chance a dealer will respond, or, the customer can use his power of choice to pick his own dealer to care for his needs, because dealer locators do not always give the nearest dealer "as the crow flies" over lakes and mountains and miss true highway traffic patterns - kudos to Tracker Marine for figuring this out - where are the rest of the mfgs websites? So, there are many opportunities within our reach that are still "low-hanging fruit", it is within our power to seize niches and opportunities right before us, and not waste opportunity complaining, or shrinking to a sell fulfilling prophecy of doom and gloom. Regarding inventory, many dealers, like Fays Marina Boat Shop, have opened ourselves up to new niches, choosing not to cry over old patterns that for now are "soft". We have seen the 20ft and under boat becoming our lifeblood, everything pontoons has been hot, used boats are raging, even purchasing used boats from unconventional sources, and adding supplement boaters and lakeshore items to offset the decline in new boaters. And its never been more important to keep in touch with exisitng customers. Support the boat shows or we let an important avenue die.
    Summarizing, the comments on a "soft 2011" can beneficially remind dealers to sharpen their poker skills and watch inventory mix, volume, and turns, without sacrificing selection. We are in charge of our own positive attitude we project, or else we may make our own "self fulfilling prophecy" of "Game Over"

  5. Hello Liz, $1500 per employee is exceptional as long as you are getting good return for your investment. By the results posted by George's Marine, their money sounds as though it is being very well spent. I don't have a dollar value pinned to it though our schedule calls for just over 700 hours of training combined this off season. Split between, on-the-road, on-line, and in house. Increased education has always paid dividends here. Rob

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