Editors Pick: George’s Marine & Sports

Not every boat dealership can be on the water.

But George’s Marine & Sports is … sort of.

When President Jeff Wilcox designed his second dealership location, built in 2004, he selected a spot behind a pond big enough to hold 30-foot boats as an “eye-catcher” for folks zipping by on the highway.

This kind of innovative thinking is evident throughout the dealership, especially in how it presents itself to the public. Looks don’t mean everything, but Wilcox knows they’re important. The new facility, located in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, has the modern, upscale feel of many auto dealerships. Those walking in the front door are greeted by a receptionist offering refreshments, after which Wilcox is adamant that they experience a “no-hassle sales environment.”

All of the boats in the dealership display prices and monthly payment amounts that do not change once the sales process begins, or if it becomes apparent that a trade-in will be involved. Then, when the customer returns on the day of pick-up, he or she will find a parking spot in front of the dealership with their family’s name on it. The “personal parking spot” has been a big hit for the company.

George’s (ranked 39) isn’t just about first impressions, however. The 36-year-old dealership has a large service department to take care of customers after the sale and does a significant parts and accessories business. And a high percentage — 70 — of repeat customers and a strong CSI score — 92 — suggest they’re pretty satisfied with their experience.

One reason for their satisfaction is likely the result of an emphasis on training that truly sets the dealership apart. Not only does the new facility have its own employee training room, complete with Internet connection, DVD player and a white board, but salespeople also engage in weekly role-playing sessions to keep their skills sharp. Those employees who attend offsite training sessions host formal sessions when they return, teaching what they learned to the rest of the employees — a lesson in getting your money’s worth out of each training dollar.

The commitment to training has not gone unnoticed by the employees either, as it seems they are pretty satisfied as well, having told many friends and acquaintances that the dealership is a good place to work. The company says referrals have accounted for the vast majority of its current workforce, with less than 15 percent employees having been hired as the result of media advertising.

George’s Marine & Sports has also made an impression on its boat builder partners. It has received sales recognition awards from Tracker, Bayliner, Sea-Doo and Mercury, and it was the first Canadian dealer to be designated a US Marine Pro Dealer.

Marketing is another of the dealership’s strengths. It advertises in what some might call unlikely spots — grocery stores, bank lobbies, airport baggage claims and golf tournaments. About half of George’s Marine & Sports’ annual marketing budget goes toward radio advertising, for which it has its own on-air radio personality. Customers hear this person during its 60-second radio spots and also when they’re put on hold.

George’s knows how to put on an event. One of its most successful involved three NHL players signing autographs and conducting live radio interviews. Customers were lined up out the door, says Wilcox.

In addition, the dealership recognizes the importance of the Internet. Customers visiting its site — www.gmas.ca — can take a 360-degree tour of its new facility, check new and used boat inventories, make a service appointment or submit a loan application.

George’s Marine & Sports also stands out because of its efforts to continually grow and improve. Despite being in business for 36 years, the Wilcox family hasn’t become complacent. George’s has seen significant growth since it was founded by Jeff’s father in 1969. It has gone from a $100,000 company to what Wilcox expects will be a $12-million company by the end of the 2005. Such growth wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for the company. From 2003 to 2004, for example, the dealership increased its revenue by 8.2 percent to $9.9 million.

As a result, George’s has been named one of the top 500 fastest growing companies in Ontario. And with potential for further market penetration near its new location, Wilcox anticipates this growth will continue.

A final way in which Wilcox is looking to improve is through the establishment of a Spader 20 Group. While he says he could simply join a U.S.-based group — and has considered it — he’s trying to put together a group of Canadian dealers. Ultimately, if he is unsuccessful, it will be less his loss than that of his peers.

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