Top 100 Profile: Singleton Marine Group, No. 3

Realizing that trying to be all things to all people is a strategy for failure, Singleton Marine Group has turned the traditional notion that choice is the exclusive realm of the consumer on its head.
With four major locations — and three satellite locations — throughout the Southeast, the company could have a herd of buyers stampeding through its showrooms. But SMG, our third-ranked dealer, has chosen quality over quantity and prefers to focus on providing superior service to a select group of clients rather than a lesser level of service to a broader base.
With numerous customer satisfaction and service awards, a tremendous marketing plan and sales that have increased between 10 and 20 percent each of the last six years, it’s hard to argue with the strategy.
“What we want to do is sell the high-end product to the high-end customer and be at their beck and call anytime they need us,” says owner Austin Singleton. “And it’s been working pretty good. We’re not trying to cater to the masses, not putting the big old sign out in front of the dealership that says ‘Oil Change $39.99.’”
SMG spends a lot of time and effort producing events like invitation-only cocktail parties, barbeques and wine and cheese parties as well as pro wakeboard clinics and raft-ups. Some of the events are so popular that 75 percent of those who are invited show up.
The expense of organizing and hosting those events is more than offset by the buzz they create for the dealerships, which Singleton says get more than 50 percent of their customers through referrals. SMG wants to market the boating lifestyle to the type of customers it’s after, rather than buying an ad somewhere listing models and prices.
“It’s not hard to go out and market to a high-end customer, but I don’t think you’re going to capture a high-end customer – my feeling is that if you have a guy that’s making a couple of million dollars, he’s not going to see a postcard or an ad in the newspaper or a magazine and say, ‘Hey, I think I’m going to go buy a $100,000 boat today,’” Singleton says.
In the beginning
Phillip Singleton, Austin’s father, founded the company in 1988 with Blue Creek Marina on Lake Martin in east-central Alabama, which now boasts 1,100 feet of waterfront space, a 10,000 sq. ft. boat showroom and 80 wet slips.
Austin Singleton began his career at the business in 1993, working on the gas docks and cleaning the bathroom. He began running the company in 1996 and it began to expand soon thereafter.
SMG is now comprised of four major boat dealerships: Blue Creek Marina, Dadeville, Ala.; Cobalt Boats of Atlanta, Buford, Ga.; Keowee North Marine, Salem, S.C.; and Plantation Marine, Eatonton, Ga. The company also has two satellite sales locations in Alabama and one in Georgia.
Singleton says the new stores SMG has opened during its expansion are catching the niche the company is looking for and “it’s almost then like a domino effect where they just start steamrolling. They’re doing incredible.”
The boat brands offered by SMG vary slightly from location to location, but three – Cobalt, Harris, and Correct Craft – form the core selection.
Throughout its history, SMG’s dealerships have all been operated as separate entities. But Singleton believes there may now be more value in branding them together so that, as the business continues to grow, customers will realize that if they buy a boat from SMG, they will be joining a far-reaching service network.
Programs like SMG’s Total Confidence Package – which includes benefits such as a free 20-hour service check, free service calls while the boat is under warranty, free storage for six months and loaner boats – have been very popular with customers. But they’ve done even more for the business.
Free dry-stack storage, for example, which Singleton says about 50 percent of customers take advantage of, allows the dealership to showcase that service, then sell it when the time period ends. The loaner program is a win-win for the company. SMG has had to actually loan boats less than 10 times in four years, yet by offering the service, and coming through when customers truly need it, word gets around and more sales are the result.
“When they get that boat out of the showroom and it’s brand new and there are no questions asked, they end up sending us a lot of customers,” Singleton says.
As SMG grows, it has begun to centralize some of its functions, such as moving all the accounting and marketing operations under one roof. There are also plans to hold a multi-day in-house dealer meeting, where all employees will gather to share ideas, receive training and learn about upcoming plans.
The meetings, the services, the programs and the strategy help to set Singleton Marine Group apart, but when they’re all combined they add up to something special.

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