The human equation

I know that being a boat dealer isn’t easy. But in March, I gained a little more insight into just how tough it can be.

That wake-up call took place during the Spader Total Management 1 workshop, where we took a deep dive into price vs. gross margin, key expense ratios, seasonal trends, inventory management, pay plans, plateaus, and the role each plays in a dealer’s success.

Between boats, parts and accessories, finance and insurance, and the service department, marine dealers are often managing at least four different types of businesses under one roof.

There were a few times when I got lost in the numbers during my week with Spader Business Management. But in the end, I walked away feeling like the financial part of running a marine business, while complex, may be the less challenging part.

The more difficult part, in my mind, is what Spader calls “The Human Equation.” Believe it or not, once you have the right processes in place to help you manage the financial part of your business, you should be spending the majority of your time as the owner or general manager focused on people, according to Spader. Here’s why: Your sales, customer loyalty and profitability are largely in the hands of your employees.

Few of us in the marine industry are experts in motivation and workplace culture, but the research is clear. I can be a master of my dealership’s financial operations, but if I don’t get the right people in the right seats within my organization, and create a culture that keeps them engaged and motivated, I’ll never do much more than survive.

Frankly, I’m tired of talking about survival, and I know you are too. Now that sales have rebounded enough to give us a little breathing room, it’s time to focus on how we can accelerate that growth. Better financial management is part of that, but so is better people management. In fact, I think the latter is probably the best opportunity we have to set ourselves apart and run more profitable, fulfilling businesses.

That’s why it’s going to be a central area of focus at the Marine Dealer Conference & Expo, November 16-19, in Orlando. Many of you out there are in hiring mode, but are having trouble finding the right employees for the job. Or you’re hiring, but struggling to get them up to speed.

When hiring is on the rise, you’re also under more pressure to hold onto your best employees. And that’s a key priority. Experts estimate that it can cost your business as much as 250 times a person’s salary to replace them. And if you want to increase your profits by 50 percent, just aim for a 5-percent increase in employee loyalty, according to Fred Reichheld, author of “The Ultimate Question.”

Others of you may be thinking about retirement. Regardless of how far away that day appears to be, if you want to protect your future, even the youngest among you should have a strategy for replacing key employees, should the unexpected occur.

At MDCE, you’ll gain new tools and skills to tackle many of these topics and plenty more. There will be an entire track devoted to leadership and management, one dedicated to service, parts and accessories, and we’ve also added a full track, splitting sales and marketing into two separate educational tracks.

Given the speed at which marketing technology is evolving and how fast the ways our prospects use it is changing, we all need to stay on top of where to spend our marketing time and money to maximize our results. But marketing isn’t any good if we’re not at the top of our sales game.

The entire MDCE team has its heart set on serving you – the marine retailer – because we know that’s the path to industry growth. You’re the ones on the front lines, bringing boating to life in your community. Without your success, none of us succeed.

My pledge to you is that you’ll walk away from this year’s event with a return on investment the likes of which you have yet to experience. You’ll take with you so many fresh ideas, best practices, skills and resources that you’ll forget you ever heard the word “survival.” Join us in Orlando and ignite your growth.

Liz Walz is director of education for the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas. To learn more, visit or email her at


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