Top 100 Profile: Crystal-Pierz Marine, No. 4

For a business that bills itself as the largest volume dealer of Glastron, Lund, Bennington, and Crestliner boats in the world, Crystal-Pierz Marine never seems to be satisfied.

That’s what sets it apart.

Nearing its 50th anniversary, with 290 employees at 13 locations — 10 in Minnesota and one each in Iowa, Wisconsin and North Dakota — Crystal-Pierz is a leader in one of the most important boating markets in the country.

The company regularly does millions of dollars in business at local boat shows alone, selling 595 boats at four shows during a one-month period in 2004, worth $12.3 million in sales.

However, for all its past glory, Crystal-Pierz, based in Brainerd, Minn., continues to be one of the most innovative marine dealerships in the country.

Initiatives like the company’s “Urgent Care Repair” program or its efficient, informative Web site, directly benefit the customer.

Urgent Care, a companywide initiative, mimics urgent healthcare clinics: Any boat owner who brings a boat or motor in with mechanical difficulties will have a service technician examine it, then, if possible, diagnose the problem and fix it on the spot.

The company’s Web presence is also extremely customer-centric, going far beyond highlighting products for sale at its dealerships. Customers can also take a survey to help them determine what kind of boat they should be shopping for. They can fill out an online credit application, or a form that allows them to learn how much a potential trade-in might be worth. They can buy parts and accessories. They can participate — and many obviously do — in the discussion forums, on topics that range from product and technical advice to favorite fishing holes.

That online focus has paid dividends, and Crystal-Pierz now possesses a database of more than 10,000 e-mail addresses, which enables it to send out newsletters with news content, special offers and sales.

Some of the company’s other efforts are aimed less directly at consumers, but benefit them nonetheless. Crystal-Pierz works tirelessly to improve internal operations, and programs to do just that are always underway. The company has brought in Six Sigma Black Belt consultants from GE to help foster better communication among staff and to create best practices that will be applied companywide.

Employee feedback and facilitator intervention are used to improve problem areas, and there is a manager-in-training program to develop internal talent.

In addition to job-specific, continuing education for all employees, the company holds a yearly training session for everyone in order to achieve consistency in message, service, policy and quality control when it comes to customer service.

Crystal-Pierz is also working to map out every process in the company, creating step-by-step instructions that can then be used to construct an electronic training program for future employees or those assuming new duties.

The company has even compiled a coloring book for kids featuring a superhero called Crystal-Pierz Marine Man, whose job occupation — listed on the trading cards the company has also made for him — is listed as “Aquatic Super Hero: Guardian of Boater Happiness.”

Those programs, and the many others like them, have been undertaken to fulfill the company’s mission statement: “Our mission is to have the highest percentage of happy customers of any marine dealership anywhere.”

It’s a lofty goal, but then Crystal-Pierz is always pushing itself to be the best — to not only be better than the competition, but to stay ahead and continue to widen the gap.

“Every time we get together in managers’ meetings, we talk about how we have to push ourselves to get better,” says Luke Kujawa, vice president of sales and marketing for Crystal-Pierz. “We’re targeted by a lot of dealers right now. We’ve got targets on our back. We’re not necessarily chasing anybody, but we’re kind of running our own race. We don’t care what anybody around us is doing. We’re just going to keep pushing ourselves harder and harder to succeed and to try new and different things.”

Apart from the competitive nature of the business, Kujawa believes dealerships like Crystal-Pierz, which set the pace rather than follow it, have a duty to press forward, not just for their employees and customers, but for the good of the entire industry.

“I think the industry as a whole is way behind where it could be,” he says. “Doing our part as a dealership and doing our part in the industry, it’s our responsibility to continue to push, and push hard, to try and break through the mediocrity — or whatever you want to call it — that the industry has kind of been trapped in for a while.”

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