2019 Top 100: Best Practices

As the Boating Industry Top 100 celebrates its 15th year, the dealers on the list continue to outpace the rest of the industry.

The Top 100 and Hall of Fame achieved more than $3 billion in total revenue in 2018, while enjoying the highest average net profit in the history of the program.

These dealers also faced stiff competition to make the list. From the thousands of dealers in North America – and hundreds of nominations – these 100 dealers are the best of the best.

As a group, the Top 100 employs more than 4,000 people, while selling thousands of boats and motors. All this while maintaining healthy profits, industry-leading CSI scores and strong turn rates.

On the following pages, you’ll find key stats and benchmarks from the Top 100, along with some of the best practices from these elite dealers.

Following that, you can read about what made Quality Boats the 2019 Top 100 Dealer of the Year, as well as the Best in Class winners, Editor’s Choice dealerships and the Hall of Fame companies. Finally, you can also see the full list of the Top 100, with the Top 20 ranked, and the rest appearing in alphabetical order.

Training for local conditions

Many areas have unique boating challenges of which new boaters may not be aware.

In the Rio Grande Valley, the shallow waters there can present unexpected issues for many novice buyers.

That makes the delivery process and training even more important for The Sportsman in San Benito, Texas.

“A well-executed delivery is very important as product orientation goes beyond the physical knowledge aspect,” said general manager Christi Romero. “Customer confidence, immediate pride in ownership, dealership/customer relationship building and customer referral opportunities are important by-products of a well-executed delivery/orientation.”

Besides the walkthrough and hands-on, on-water training, first-time owners are given several reference sheets, ranging from starting procedures to engine maintenance.

One of the most common problems of customers new to shallow water boating is water pump replacements due to overheated engines. It was clear additional education was needed.

“During our delivery process, we explain to every new boat owner that overheats are inevitable, but easily corrected, when operating their boats in shallow waters,” Romero said. “We then school them about the contributing factors to overheats and teach them how they can easily remedy the situation so they can continue having a great time out on the water. In addition, we clarify that water pump repairs are not covered under warranty and that it is the owner’s responsibility to pay for any repairs associated with water pump failures.”

The Sportsman’s quick reference guide, “Keeping Your Engine in Tip-Top Shape,” includes preventive measures for engine overheats as well as customer contact numbers for both during and after store hours to call if they have any questions or concerns.

“Our customers are informed and much more confident in operating their boats in shallow water,” Romero said. “Problems caused from overheats have been reduced drastically.”

iPad inventory at the boat show

For the annual Indianapolis Boat, Sport & Travel Show, Marine Center of Indiana displays 50 to 60 boats, giving buyers an ample selection of vessels.

Despite that, there still may be a boater looking for something else.

“In past years, we always had a board of inventory back at the store, both new and used, however it was located in only one area, and wasn’t very visible,” said Grant Rafferty, director of digital sales & marketing. “We decided to change this for 2018. We made albums on iPads showing all available inventory. This includes pictures of units, specs, as well as pricing. This was very effective and customers found this much easier. The sales staff liked the result of this as well, because they did not have to take customers to a different part of the exhibit to view this. They could simply grab an iPad (we had them spread out accordingly), sit down with the customer on a boat, and find exactly what they were looking for if we did not have it at the show.”

Compensating technicians

In 2018, Atlantic Outboard Inc. implemented a new way to compensate its technicians for each billable hour with a monthly raffle.

For every five billable hours the technician receives one raffle ticket, with two names drawn on the last workday of the month. The winners then each receive a $50 Amazon gift card.

“Our technicians really enjoy this new compensation we offer to them,” said sales manager Evan Cusson. “Another token of gratitude we offer all employees is a pizza lunch party every Friday. We have a weekly vote on which pizza everyone wants for that Friday. We do this to show how happy we are with all the hard work everyone puts in during the week.”

Surveying customers

In 2018 Blue Springs Marine, Blue Springs, Mo., conducted a new poll sampling of its customers.

“We phone interviewed our new boat buyers to determine why they chose one of our brands over another,” said president Jeff Siems. “Was it price? Quality? Brand Recognition? What caused them to lean to one over another?”

The results were surprising to the Blue Springs team. They learned a lot about what its customers are looking for in amenities, as well as how they make purchasing decisions.

“We learned our customers don’t buy as much on price as we thought,” Siems said. “Those that do buy on price have higher than average expectations for service accommodations. We follow-up with our service customers on a monthly basis to make sure our service department is meeting the needs of our customer base. This allows us to make necessary changes as quickly as possible to maintain our level of service our customer’s expect.”

Managing aged and lean inventory

Like many dealers, FB Marine Group makes managing inventory turns a top priority. A dedicated inventory manager is charged with making sure the dealership moves aged units while also managing the lack of inventory from some manufacturers.

“During our weekly sales meetings, we dedicate a portion of the agenda to ‘wish list’ buyers,” said managing partner Kim Sweers. “This helps our inventory manager make educated decisions when considering inventory to purchase.”

FB Marine Group has clearance and blowout sales to push slow-moving units.

“In some cases, we’ve created enough of a demand for a slow-moving item that it makes sense to reorder another one,” Sweers said.

A bigger problem recently has been low inventory as manufacturers struggle to meet demand.

“FBMG manages lean inventory by having an effective system for communicating to our purchasing department, when an item is under contract with signed acceptance of vessel, so that the boat can be replaced quickly,” Sweers said. “Our inventory strategy requires the sales team to analyze inventory for color and equipment balance. We have found that certain colors, motor options, and electronics don’t sell in our market. Therefore, we purchase and build only high-demand colors, engines, transmissions, and other options.”

The dealership also has one of the largest service departments in South Florida, allowing it to recondition boats for retail sale.

“The goal is to repair the vessel to ensure it’s in good condition and operational upon sale,” Sweers said. “This practice allows us to move inventory quickly, improve our gross profit, and improve our dealership’s image as a top repair facility.”

Data tracking

Superior Boat Repair & Sales implemented a new protocol and policy and launched several new key data tracking and lead management reports.

The “sales/lead” report tracks all incoming leads, from phone calls, door swings to internet leads.

“By disciplining ourselves to capture all lead information, we are much better able to determine the sources for our leads and establish ROI for all media sources,” said president/CEO Bob Bense. “This also provides the opportunity to review the status of the deals and the details with members of the sales team to help increase and enhance sales conversions.”

A “conversion rate” report for the sales team tracks every sold boat, who sold it and compares that against the number of leads assigned to each salesperson. This allows management and the sales staff to monitor and track their conversion rates and measure individual performance.

The “goal budget” allows the dealership to establish goals for profitability.

“We are now able to track our performance accordingly for every boat sold. Each boat is recorded on this report so we can quickly analyze our profitability,” Bense said. “In addition, the ongoing running tally allows us to review year-to-date, monthly and weekly performance figures and results. This new tracking mechanism has allowed the sales team to stay focused on meeting our goals and objectives since there is accountability on every sale.”

The efforts have helped the company grow sales 50.2% year-over-year.

Google Calendar for scheduling

Sometimes something as simple as switching over to a shared system like a Google Calendar can make a big difference.

“After switching over to the Google Calendar last year, we have stuck with it and never looked back,” says Wakeside Marine controller Angela Riley. “Our organization [and] transparency amongst departments has only gotten better and better.”

A central TV monitor in the back service shop makes sure the schedule is always visible and the Google Calendar has been paired with Google Sheets to evaluate progress.

“These sheets include any and all necessary information so that any department can look at the sheet and be able to answer a question or coordinate an appointment,” Riley said. “As work is completed, we have a color coding system so that the billing department knows when to close out the final work order and notify the customer of completion quicker than ever.”

The company has even linked its Google Sheets with other companies to better monitor process. The local dock/lift companies can use that information so that they could follow Wakeside pulling the boats with them removing their docks.

“This will flow into 2019 when those same dock companies start their own Google sheet that we will follow in the spring so that we can follow their lead and deliver customers boats as soon as we know their docks are in,” Riley said. “We also have a Google sheet for our graphics company that cuts all the registration numbers for our new boats, so as soon as it is added to the sheet, he gets an alert and gets them cut and delivered right away. This has really strengthened our relationships with our local vendors and has helped to offer smoother scheduling for our customers.”

Real estate partnership

In 2018, Regal & Nautique of Orlando entered into a major marketing partnership with PC & Stockworth Realty, the leading real estate firm in Central Florida, with more than $160 million in sales in 2018.

“This comprehensive new initiative has yielded not only sales results, but the highest level of marketing activity and quality of deliverables ever achieved in our dealership history,” said owner Jeff Husby. “Banking upon the proven success and demand for video, RNORL has been able to leverage the experience and skill set of the top real estate company in the market and its marketing team to tap its marketing expertise and internal production capability. This enhanced association has delivered strategic-based strong brand messaging that resonates with a very discerning buyer through multiple platforms.”

The companies are working on a phased marketing program that includes highly relevant marketing activity including its own targeted, custom-produced social media and in-market TV/video content and programming.

“We firmly believe this is a marketing partnership poised for long-term growth and mutual benefit as both parties invest, collaborate and partner to reach and influence a like-minded, highly affluent demographic,” Husby said.

F&I beyond F&I

For the past several years, The Boat House has worked to present “100% of our products, to 100% of customers, 100% of the time.”

The goal to get all its services in front of all customers. So while finance deals are important, so are extended warranties, protections, and maintenance packages that have continued to generate impressive sales and strong margins. The dealership added staff in 2018, allowing it to get in front of more customers, more often, leading to more growth.

“We continue to incorporate finance and products into our sales process by developing an end-to-end process,” said national marketing director Trent TerHaar. “Starting with our sales staff who introduce the products to the customer during the selling process in an informative, soft sell presentation, we have refined our finalization process by having closings (both cash and finance) scheduled and handled through the Business Manager who also is part of the F&I Team. We clarify to customers that in order to be Red Flag Compliant, it is mandatory that they at least are aware of additional warranties and products available. By using these terms, even walk-in cash buyers understand that meeting with the Business/F&I Manager is part of the process and necessary to make sure the proper paperwork is handled correctly.”

The Boat House has incorporated its CRM system in the finance department as well, using it to generate automatic emails to F&I managers of each region anytime a purchase agreement is created or a new credit application is submitted.

“This new end-to-end process has allowed us to add additional options to protect customers’ investments and create a better boat buying experience as well as improve our profits on each and every boat we sell,” TerHaar said.

Planning for the next leader

Despite only recently acquiring the company themselves, Oak Hill Marine owners Tim Sather and Jake Jost and understand that it is critical to the success of the business to provide the next succession plan that recognizes, develops, and retains top leadership talent.

As owners, they have identified the key/critical positions in the company that ensure growth and success. They have placed and will continue to place key employees in these critical positions.

“These trusted employees will take over if either or both current owners are no longer able to fulfill their roles in the marina,” Sather said. “If the business loses one of it owners due to illness/death, adequate life insurance has been purchased by both Jake and Tim to buy out the remaining shares.”

While identifying the next leaders, other emerging areas/functions are being identified that will be important for future success. These positions are being filled with team members that maintain the competencies, knowledge, skills and experience required for exceptional performance.

“Oak Hill looks for employees with a growth mindset to fill all positions; which means the employee is open to constant learning and improvement,” Sather said. “These high performing employees will continue to benefit from learning resources and activities that will continue to sharpen their skills.”

It’s also important to identify other high-potential employees and provide them with plans to help them advance their careers.

“Finally, once high performing and high potential employees are identified, each have been or will be a part of a ‘stay interview’ that will look further into what will motivate them to remain with the business,” Sather said. “Ultimately, Oak Hill Marina wants to retain its high performing and high potential employees, provide opportunities of success for those individuals, while also benefiting the business.”

Donation Board

After years of the management team making the decisions on how Paris Marine should spend its charitable dollars, the company decided to bring the entire staff into the decision with monthly Donation Allocation Meetings.

“In doing so we begun sharing the responsibility of deciding how our donation dollars where to be distributed among deserving causes with all members of our team,” says owner Joseph F. Lineberry Jr. “This paradigm shift in our process has resulted in multiple positive company-wide results such as creating a sense of responsibility among our staff members for a smart and commonsense approach to the stewardship of company assets along with the ability to possibly direct funds to causes that matter to each of them in a personal manner. Most notable is now that each staff member has an active part in the process the overall understanding of how much Paris Marine gives back to the local community is understood down at all levels. This has had an overall positive effect on camaraderie and our culture throughout the entire dealership.” 

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