Survival of the Smartest

As you’re reading Boating Industry, you’ve heard our plugs for the Marine Dealer Conference & Expo held every fall in Orlando. It’s the largest gathering of industry talent, market forecasters, aftermarket providers and smart marine dealerships across North America.

Last week here in the Twin Cities, we had the chance to attend the next best thing: one of the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas’ regional Marine Retail University (MRU) events. A handful of experts joined some of the state’s hard-charging dealership professionals to learn about region-specific data and analysis to enable smarter business decisions in the year ahead.

From an outsider’s perspective, it was clear this was valuable information and that the crowd of 40-or-so dealers appreciated the insight. Many eagerly told me it was worth a day spent out of the office.

Here’s what I learned throughout the day:

Katy Judge, marketing manager, Dominion

There are nearly twice as many aluminum boats sold in Minnesota compared with fiberglass. Also, the entire state sold 4 percent more boats during 2013, a very healthy year-over-year growth rate. Pontoons are doing very well here in the land of 10,000 lakes, and all brands are currently growing.

Judge used the company’s Dealer Analysis Report to show where a dealership’s sales are happening in a geographic radius near the dealership. This report will show if your facility should focus on improving its sales close to the store, or farther afield. This information allows making more informed marketing decisions, and spending ad dollars where they will have the most impact.

Lou Vitullo, GE Capital Commercial Distribution Finance

While I cannot share GE’s exclusive industry data, Vitullo shared the company’s forecast that the U.S. marine market is looking healthy in the months and years ahead. Using financial data that’s widely available, he suggested that, in particular, improvements in the housing market bode very well for improving economic growth and recreational spending.

While the general economic picture looks good, changes in the prime lending rate and gas prices, which have been creeping higher, suggest growth will be slow and steady, rather than fast and strong. Vitullo added that inventory levels remain stable, putting dealerships in a position to make more money as sales pick up.

Lauren de Vlaming, senior engagement manager, Dominion

Presenting one of the most useful, accessible seminars I’ve heard on social media and online reputation management, de Vlaming came armed with a lot of easily digestible tips.

Online reputation management is important to any customer-focused business. Think about customer review sites like Yelp, Google Maps or Trip Advisor, which can be teeming with overblown commentary, but also incredibly useful advice for consumers. People trust this information, whether or not they should, and de Vlaming argued you should create a presence for your business on such review-based services or risk people doing it for you — for better or worse.

Sonja Moseley, director of certification and benefits, MRAA

One of the friendliest professionals in the industry, MRAA’s Moseley presented best practices that any dealer should implement. Her subjects ranged from the importance of preparing and using a budget, tracking inventory levels and creative ways to unload obsolete parts for a profit, whether it’s through Craigslist, eBay or by hosting an accessories flea market.

Other industry-tested advice included measuring service efficiency to create a foundation for improvements, the value of offering a service menu, profits to be made offering every customer F&I services, diversifying profit centers, tracking marketing to ensure wise spending of precious dollars, and how to differentiate your dealership at boat shows and in your store.

John Adey, president, American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC)

“You use ABYC standards every day, you just might not know about it,” Adey said at the start of his presentation. Adey was a very engaging speaker, and he listed a surprising array of ways his organization has improved the boating world with its science-based standards. He was equally convincing when explaining why all service shops should adhere to ABYC standards, including showing an example of a boat that burned following repairs that did not follow standards.

Matt Gruhn, president, MRAA

Closing out the day’s education, Gruhn’s presentation “The most important question!” focused on what dealers do, how they do it and why. The point was that presentation matters, and that the industry’s collective efforts to educate themselves and engage new boaters has been working wonders in recent years.

Consider these statistics: Grow Boating has received 45 million video views, exceeding ad industry benchmarks by an impressive 18 percent. The campaign to put Grow Boating’s message in front of movie theater patrons delivered 10 million impressions and happened to coincide with the best May in box office history.

The inference was simple: as Grow Boating grows, so may our entire industry. This coming season is looking optimistic indeed.

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