Secrets to Success

When it comes to work, everyone is a philosopher.

Whether you follow the wisdom of those who came before you, embrace the tenets of the great business books or run your operation by gut instinct, all leaders are guided by something.

In our attempt to shed some light on what makes the marine industry’s leaders tick, we interviewed dozens of executives across every sector of the industry to determine the secrets of their success. Here is what they told us.

Strong customer relationships and unrivaled
customer service have a direct relationship with each other, and, we believe, are two important ingredients for success. Having the ability to build strong relationships with your prospects is one of the first and most important qualities we must have from the moment we meet a potential client. I say this because our belief is that people want to do business with whom they like and trust the most. Knowing any potential client is probably also working with our competitors, it’s critical to ensure each and every encounter your prospect has with you and your organization is one which is extremely pleasurable, makes a long-lasting, positive impression on them, demonstrates your knowledge and instills trust.

The second part of the equation is displaying unrivaled customer service. When we are trying to earn a prospect’s business for the first time, the single most important feature we are selling is customer service. This can be a trying task because it’s easy to say your company has unrivaled customer service but is difficult to demonstrate it without having done business with them before. This is why it’s important that you make your prospect feel as comfortable as possible with you from the moment you first meet, because it gives you an edge on gaining their trust before you actually earn it. You can’t fully earn one’s trust until after you’ve made a prospect into a client. We do this by meeting all of their needs and meeting those needs beyond their expectations, just as we promised we would during the selling process. Once you have proven to have unrivaled customer service, the relationship and trust between you and your client strengthens, resulting in customer loyalty and retention.

— Gregory Krueger, president, Jefferson Beach Yacht Sales, Top 100 Dealer

Striving to be the price leader or the volume leader in your business category is just as likely to drive one toward failure as it is to bring success. A much more viable, long-term strategy is to focus on quality, technology and customer satisfaction leadership. If these three elements are successfully implemented within your organization, it is surprising how much
easier every other aspect of strong business performance suddenly becomes. It is not a coincidence that so many of the consistently leading companies in our industry follow this philosophy.

— Phil Dyskow, president, Yamaha Marine Group

I learned a long time ago that ‘attitude’ was the defining difference between success and failure. Every day you get out of bed you have a chance to choose your attitude. So why not choose to have the day you would like to have? Attitude is a mental road map that helps you accomplish the tasks you face everyday. A very simple statement that always summed it up best for me is ‘whether you think you can or you can’t … either way you’re right’ because if you don’t think you can then chances are you won’t.

So the next time you face a task that appears to be out of your comfort zone, set your mental road map first by believing you can do whatever it is you are facing and then visualize yourself actually accomplishing the task. You will notice how your attitude change makes it easier to start the project as well as improve the final product.

— Dennis Zirkelbach, director of marketing,
Teleflex Marine

Success is all about the customer, who they are, what they want and giving them what they want — whether as a clerk in a retail store or leading a team of people in a large retail company — that respect for the customer, that desire to get into their heads, to really know them, who they are as human beings, not just buyers of merchandise and figuring out a way to take care of them.

— Peter Harris, CEO, West Marine

First, you have love what you do. At GEM, we’ve changed what people think about deck hardware because we approach product development, business relationships and our customers with a passion for perfection. It makes it easier to apply the Golden Rule because we naturally put the extra energy into building products that we’d want to buy. We use our products on our own boats and are always investing time and effort into making things better. Our passion creates
an environment where we become almost fanatical about treating our customers and our employees the way we’d like to be treated. Our industry has historically looked at stainless-steel products as somewhat of a commodity, but our passion sets us apart. It makes us and our customers more successful. Passion can be contagious.

— Matt Bridgewater, president, GEM Products, Inc.

As leaders we are responsible to maintain our focus on the overall processes which we use to run our business. This does not mean we should not be aware of the individual customers and the quality of service they receive, it does mean that we should look to the processes which are driving that service and make sure they are correct. Having the correct process allows us to eliminate customer dissatisfaction drivers before they become problems vs. fixing the crises as they arise.

— Bill Fraine, general manager, Legendary Marine, Top 100 Dealer

I surround myself with the right people, get them the tools they need to make magic, and then get out of their way.

— Clint Moore, president and CEO, Volvo Penta of the Americas, Inc.

We have always lived by the creed of positive thinking and our entire staff knows the saying that ‘business is like the game of tennis: he who serves best, usually wins.’

— Jane Bellamy, vice president, Silver Lake Marine, Top 100 Dealer

Without passion in the way you work, love and live your life, you are a walking potential for failure in any of those areas. As I thought of how I could illustrate this, an event in my life from many years ago came to mind.

When I was much younger I played semi-pro hockey for a while. I remember a game where we were outmatched. There was little time left in the game and we were several goals behind. On a line change one of my teammates asked me ‘Blackie, what the hell are you doing? You’re skating like a maniac out there. What are you trying to do? Kill yourself? There is no way we can win.’

Well, we didn’t win but we came within one goal of tying the game and sending it into overtime. The message here is that if everyone on the team had the attitude of the player who made that statement to me, at least some of us would have walked away from the game wondering if we had tried just a little harder, would we have succeeded. I wondered if the person who made the statement to me had more passion in what he was doing that night, would we have tied the game and eventually won?

I fervently believe that there is absolutely no shame in not winning. There is only shame in not having done your absolute best. If you haven’t, you will never know what could have been.

— Dave Blackburn, president and CEO, Faria Instruments

Find something you love to do and become passionate about it. Involve your family. Work hard. Respect others. Protect your integrity. Do not be afraid to fail. Give back to your industry and to your community. Go for your dreams and live the life you always imagined.

— Larry Russo Sr., president and CEO, Russo Marine, Top 100 Dealer

I’m often surprised at the progress that comes from doing simple things well. Leadership takes courage, imagination, vision and a number of other lofty ambitions but what it mostly takes is perseverance and a willingness to do the work. Few victories are won with the toss of the coin; you have to be willing to play the whole game, all the way to the end.

— Jim Frye, president, AMI

Business success is very simple: it’s all about the relationship. Customers do business with people they trust. To earn their trust, you have to get to know them and show them you have their best interest at heart and will deal with them fairly. They should not have to worry about you taking advantage of them. Build a relationship, treat them fairly, earn their trust and they will be your customer for life.

— Mike Hebert, president, Texas Marine, Top 100 Dealer

Anticipate customers’ needs, solve their problems, give them solutions before they ask (we say our business is maritime solutions, not boats).

Empower your team. Of course, first surround yourself with the right people, people who will complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses, including (your own), and then let them do their job. If they can’t do it, train them, coach them and, if need be, replace them.

Enjoy the ride. We are selling fun. Let’s understand what it is. Let’s have fun with our products.

— J.J. Marie, president and CEO, Zodiac of North America, Inc.

Put yourself (or your company) in a position to succeed and then do it. That sounds like an
obvious point, but I’m amazed at how few people adopt this philosophy. I hear people say ‘I want to lose weight,’ or ‘I want to get out of debt,’ yet they don’t have a plan to get them there. They don’t even know how much weight they want to lose or how much money they want to make. It’s the same with many business leaders. They say they want to increase market share or improve profits yet have no goal or plan. The reality is that you most likely won’t stumble into success. You need a specific vision, well-thought-out strategies and a realistic tactical plan. As the leader of this company, I have to set and communicate a meaningful achievable vision, put the tools and people in place to execute the plan and clear the way so that the team can achieve the goal. It goes along the lines of what Mark Twain said: ‘You can’t expect success but you can deserve it.’

— John Dorton, president and CEO, MasterCraft

Distraction is a byproduct of the massive quantity of information available today. I develop simple, clear, end-result goals. As I rummage through the inevitable deluge of data, opinions and complications, I continually revisit those goals. That way I maintain focus on exactly what I want to accomplish.

— George Bellwoar, vice president of sales and marketing, Perko Inc., and NMMA chairman.

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