Editor’s Picks

MacCallum’s Boathouse
MacCallum’s Boathouse does small very well. The one-location dealer in Epsom, N.H., has made its second appearance on the list of Boating Industry Top 100 Dealers and has done so not with overwhelming unit sales or dollar volume, but rather by establishing consistency.
The dealership says it consistently achieves Top 10 rankings with each of its product partners, all the while keeping a keen eye on its customer focus, continuing to offer the “human touches” that were offered by owner Peter MacCallum’s father and grandfather before him.
“Let’s face a few facts,” Peter says. “MacCallum’s Boathouse is located in a town with more cows than people. Yes, we are fortunate that we have been in business for a long tenure … however, it’s the consistency of performance year in and out [that makes us successful] and that makes me the proudest.”
It’s that consistency, coupled with the attention to customer satisfaction, that keeps those customers coming back.
To ensure a successful strategy in the world of customer service, MacCallum’s (Ranked 94) established a document that includes eight tips on improving CSI. Among the ideas are tips such as “create a culture that will empower all staff members to make decisions on their own to create a happy customer,”; “visit the best CSI provider in your market – make an appointment with the principal, ask for a tour … to help you understand what makes them so successful,”; and “being responsive, polite and knowledgeable are the things that don’t cost your dealership money but pay big dividends and have a huge impact on your customer’s perception of your store.”
Peter says that his dealership has long used the templates created by manufacturers, but he created this document after adopting ideas from those and realizing a need to tailor the principles to MacCallum’s market. “Each of our employees has a copy attached to their work station/area, and knows that our future success as a business is driven by this document,” he says.
The company’s future success is also driven by its goal to become a destination for boating families throughout New England. To that end, MacCallum’s made a significant investment in curbside appeal over the last year, landscaping, creating a customer convenience center and acquiring additional land. It’s all part of a long-term strategy that will include a state-of-the-art building, increased traffic flow efficiency, a new parking area and update to the 59-year-old “family-safe” waterfront.
The cosmetic improvements are one thing, but MacCallum’s puts a lot of time and energy into making customers happy with what it continuously refers to as the human touch. It uses reunion picnics, wakeboard and ski clinics, VIP show tickets and “over-the-top customer attention” to garner CSI scores that average 97.3, in addition to myriad accolades for both volume and customer service.
“Tops in sales and marketing, tops in service and customer care for over a decade is an impressive statistic for a large market,” Peter explains, “never mind a small market like the one we enjoy in New Hampshire.”
One of the company’s premier initiatives is its guarantee that no customer will be off the water for more than 24 hours during the summer. “We either fix it within this timeframe,” says MacCallum, “or make arrangements to deliver a loaner boat until the appropriate repair is completed.”
It’s that sort of mindset and attention to the customer that convinced me to choose MacCallum’s as my editor’s pick for 2006.
– Matt Gruhn

Hampton Watercraft & Marine Inc.
Tony Villareale is living the American Dream. Following an early passion for boating, he launched a yacht washing service in junior high school. This one-man operation blossomed into what is now a multi-million-dollar dealership boasting more than 40 employees.
But it’s not how big Hampton Watercraft & Marine Inc. (Ranked 13) has grown that makes Villareale’s story so compelling– it’s how good it has become.
In an industry in which the biggest player is more than a thousand times larger than the smallest one, the little guy can suffer in comparison. But not Tony. From the beginning, he has aimed high.
After graduating from college, he went back to his marine business full-time. When buying parts for a repair job, he overheard that the local Yamaha personal watercraft dealer had dropped the line, creating an opening in the market. Villareale — who was still living at home — created a business plan that blew away Yamaha executives, convincing them to choose him over other established businesses in the area. Then, he overdelivered on it.
That was in 1990. Today, Villareale owns a $13-million, two-location boat dealership in conjunction with his brother and the handful of key employees who serve as partners. Those partnerships were Villareale’s way of rewarding and retaining his business’ top employees, something he says is the most significant factor in a company’s growth. Hampton Watercraft & Marine also makes a serious investment in its employees’ training, budgeting $50,000 per year, almost $1,300 per full-time employee.
And grow it has, both in excellence and in dollars. Hampton Watercraft & Marine recently became the highest scoring Master Dealer in Boston Whaler’s history, with one location rating No. 1 in CSI worldwide and the other placing No. 4. It’s also a Tiara Yachts Gold Level Dealer and is on track to achieve Marine Industry Certified Dealership status.
Behind some of that growth is the company’s unique marketing strategy. Hampton Watercraft & Marine’s communication with its customers stands out, from its used boat listings, which tell a story about each product, to its “Find Yourself” print ad campaign and its daddyneedsaboat.com cable ads. Unlike most of its peers, the dealership closely monitors its return on marketing investments, using 800 numbers and Web stats to gauge consumer interest.
Hampton also has a strong infrastructure supporting the business, from dealer management software to lead management and follow-up programs. In addition, it recently adopted a pre-owned boat trade-in procedure to help drive new boat sales while ensuring the profitability of its pre-owned business.
“We may never be the biggest dealership in the country, but we can be the best,” Villareale explains.
Ultimately, what drives this small business owner is not a desire to prove he can hang with the industry’s giants. It comes back to his customers. Villareale lives in a small town – the same one he grew up in and where his business is now based.
“I can’t go out to dinner at night and look across the room at an unhappy customer,” he says. “I make everyone happy somehow.”
Behind that casual “somehow” is actually a well-thought-out customer satisfaction policy, overseen by a CSI manager – a position rare in the industry at large and unheard of in a dealership of his size. His pledge to offer 100-percent customer satisfaction, no excuses, carries across his dealership to every employee – each of which has a 100% sign hanging in their office, tool box or locker.
This dedication is the result of lessons learned, says Villareale. While he once would question an inexperienced customer about a new boat problem, he often pays to fix those problems today, no questions asked.
“With CSI, you have to look through the small dollars to see the big dollars,” he says. “A confrontation with the customer ruins his day and ruins your day. Then you spend half the day talking to the manufacturer because the customer called and said you didn’t treat him right.”
This ability to see the big picture from what some would consider a low vantage point is perhaps what makes Hampton Watercraft & Marine such an example for the rest of the industry. Tony Villareale sees – and therefore experiences – no limitations for his business, for his customers and even for the industry.
Case in point: Hampton Watercraft & Marine’s attention-grabbing new ad campaign is called daddyneedsaboat.com, but watch out. Who do you think owns Mommyneedsaboat.com, Thekidsneedaboat.com and Thefamilyneedsaboat.com?
– Liz Walz

Boat Town Inc.
The Greek philosopher Socrates once said, “the unexamined life is not worth living,” meaning the true essence of existence is found in the never-ending search for knowledge and truth.
It may be a huge leap from ancient Greece to Austin, Texas – and from the meaning of life to a successful business strategy – but despite the distance, the maxim holds true.
A commitment to self-awareness and examination is as healthy a business philosophy as it is a blueprint for life. It’s a philosophy that has been embraced by Boat Town, Inc., a two-location marine dealership based in Austin.
Boat Town (Ranked 49) has worked with David Parker of Parker Business Planning for years, was the first member of its Cobalt 20 Group, became one of the first dealerships to complete the Marine Industry Certified Dealership requirements, has worked with GE Commercial Finance’s At the Customer, For the Customer Six Sigma program to process map its operations and has now twice been selected to Boating Industry’s Top 100 list.
Clayton Raven, the company’s president, began running the business 10 years ago, but he has been involved with it almost from the time his father Louie bought it in 1974. He grew up around the water, was a tournament water skier, and began to work at the dealership when he was 11. His lifelong employment with the company was almost inevitable.
“I never gave anything else a consideration, really,” he says. “I love boats, I love business. It’s all I ever wanted to do.”
Boat Town’s commitment to self-improvement has a long history, as well. The company’s relationship with Parker led to its involvement with the Cobalt 20 Group, which he started in 1999, and which Raven believes has paid big dividends for the dealership.
“We had been working with David Parker for years prior, and he was talking to Cobalt, and I said ‘Old buddy, I want my name first at the top of the list, you can sign me up now,’” Raven says. “[Joining a 20 Group is] the best thing, in my opinion, any dealer can do.”
It was a step that Boat Town was originally reluctant to take, fearing the idea of having to share its numbers and details of its operations with other dealers. But Raven says that within the first 10 minutes of his first 20 Group meeting those concerns became a “non-issue,” as he realized the power of shared knowledge and how beneficial regular consultation with a peer group can be.
“The wealth of information — there’s 20 people there that are going through the same thing you’re going through and have seen the same problems,” Raven says. “If you come up against something, you can phone somebody. It’s incredible the amount of knowledge that’s in that one room.”
There’s also a healthy dose of competition – although not direct, as members are not in the same markets. Each month, the members of the 20 Group send their financials to a facilitator who then generates a 30-page report that is sent back ranking the dealerships in a variety of categories.
The group will then meet three times a year to discuss any item a member would like put on the agenda, then look through the rankings and, as Raven says, “dive in” to the numbers.
“If a member of the group is not doing well, the other members sort of put their arms around him and drag them right up,” he says.
Boat Town’s involvement with the 20 Group made its subsequent participation in the industry’s certification program that much easier. Raven estimates his dealership had already implemented 90 to 95 percent of the measures required for certification prior to taking part.
But despite some initial reservations about the amount of time certification would take from an already hectic schedule, he believes the willingness of the program’s administrators to be flexible and offer help where Boat Town asked for it, made the investment in time, and money, worth the cost.
However, Raven says the program must continue to elevate dealer professionalism across the board if it is to continue to justify that cost.
“I think it’s good for the industry but I want it to have teeth in it,” Raven says. “It needs to have teeth, where they don’t just rubberstamp everybody for the $2,500 fee every year.”
Boat Town has also benefited and become a better business from its participation in the Top 100 process. The company rethought its plans for succession after taking part in year one of the program, which Raven described as “very eye opening.”
And Boat Town’s ongoing self-examination convinced him that the dealership needs to remain focused on serving the high-end customers that are at the core of its business. Toward that end, Boat Town has purchased a boat brokerage that had been a Cruisers Yachts’ dealer, and now offers that brand to consumers in the market for larger boats.
“We cater to the high end and we don’t get out of our niche,” he says. “In the past we’ve tried pontoons, and fishing boats one time. Every time we’ve gotten out of our niche it’s been expensive. As long as we stay in our niche we seem to do pretty well.”
– Jonathan Mohr

Munson Ski & Marine
Combine business savvy with a niche market and you’ve got a recipe for success. Bake it for nearly 50 years in northern Illinois and you’ve got Munson Ski & Marine.
With so many forms of boating available to consumers these days, Munson (Ranked 66) has definitely found its niche. Water sports are part of nearly every aspect of the dealership. It isn’t trying to be everything to everyone, but to follow its mission statement: “To sell the best products at the best price with the best service.” And the Munson family does it with a smile and an emphasis on customer care.
Located in Round Lake, Ill., about an hour northwest of Chicago in the Chain O’ Lakes area, Munson has gone through a few name changes in the 48 years it has existed, but the Munson family has been there all along. Current owner Mark Munson’s father Lloyd opened Munson Marine in a cornfield. The name was later changed to Munson Ski & Inboard Water Sports. Now called Munson Ski & Marine, Mark Munson is focusing on updating the dealership inside and out, including creating separate showrooms for the boat lines he carries: Malibu and Chaparral.
Munson’s affiliation with water sports goes beyond carrying two boat lines. It’s clear that Munson and water sports are synonymous. Water sports are to Munson what oxygen is to people: the life force.
The dealership’s employees have managed to integrate this aspect of boating into almost every part of Munson. Of course there is a pro shop, which, combined with other parts and accessories sales, makes up 15 percent of total revenue. The dealership claims its shop is Chicagoland’s largest. Among industry involvement with the Marine Retailers Association of America and Spader Management, the dealership includes membership with USA Waterski and the WaterSports Industry Association. Munson even has a dress code for its Wake Team to follow.
Munson’s End of the Line Ski School teaches anyone who wants to learn to waterski, wakeboard, wake surf or barefoot and maybe even a few tricks. Customers can choose hour, half-day or day-long sessions for an individual or groups of up to four people. The school rotates to different bodies of water Tuesdays through Fridays during the summer. The dealership’s Wakeboard Wednesdays are open to the public and are much the same, but focused on wakeboarding at nearby Kief’s Reef. Large posters listing these and other events are posted around waterways and frequently visited areas to spread the word about what’s coming up.
The dealership sponsors several local ski show teams with boats and equipment and participates in the Chicago Air and Water Show. It also holds at least three wakeboard tournaments a year. Munson has rallied skiers and boarders it knows to raise money for various charities, including the American Red Cross and the Make-a-Wish Foundation.
One of the dealership’s most interesting ski-centric features is part of the Munson Rewards Program. The dealership has a rewards card specifically for ski team members. Ski team card holders can earn double points (equal to a 10-percent discount) for every dollar spent in the pro shop.
The Munson Rewards Program extends beyond ski team-ers to boat buyers and preferred customers, each with a different reward structure, and is just one of the many ways the dealership works to build and maintain excellent relations with its customers.
The dealership starts early with correspondence to reel a potential customer in. Once a customer shows interest in a specific model of boat, the company creates and sends them a card with a picture of the model on the front, thanking them for stopping in.
Once a purchase is made, Munson demos all of what it sells, including wakeboards and water skis, and has a performance guarantee for pro shop equipment, allowing customers 30 days from the purchase to exchange a product if they feel it is not right for them.
Like a number of this year’s Top 100 Dealers, the dealership uses Cal-Pro, a customer relations company. Someone from the dealership takes a picture of the new boat owner(s) at delivery and the company creates a number of items incorporating the picture. Mark Munson also personally calls new boat owners.
Service customers get a follow-up call within a week of pickup from a dedicated follow-up individual and are asked a number of questions about their service experience. If sales or service customers aren’t completely satisfied, Munson’s owners are ready and willing to work with them to ensure they have a good experience.
This dealership is committed. Not only to the water sports that keep it going, but to the procedures and relationships that make it run smoothly; yet it’s not afraid to try new things, adapt and find what really works best for the situation.
– Lisa Young

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