Learning from experience

While a relatively small percentage of dealers currently have a written business plan in place, those dealers that do use one have a hard time imagining running their businesses without it.

“Do you go on a trip without a map?” asks Chuck Guthrie, owner of Lynnhaven Marine, Virginia Beach, Va. “Without one, how do you know how you are doing?”

Not only has Guthrie had a rolling three-year plan in place for many years, he conducts “budget projects” to help him imagine alternative versions of his business with or without different profit centers.

While Guthrie admits that sales projections have been difficult to make and meet over the past three years, he says his expense projections have been quite accurate.

“A business plan is essential when you plan big changes like adding new lines or a new location or restructuring your service objectives,” he says. “It must take into consideration competition, local markets, financial climates, trend analysis, cash flow considerations, product compatibility with your abilities, infrastructure cost, the cost of money to your company, ownership risk, etc.”

Seattle Boat Co. is another dealership that has relied on a business plan for many years.

“We began a formal process in 2005,” says Alan Bohling, president and CEO. “Our company was experiencing substantial growth and positive returns; a number of our management team had completed a training/educational program called Management Action Planning; and personal experiences with other boards all were reasons to create annual business planning.”

In addition to monthly management meetings, Seattle Boat Co. now conducts annual strategic planning retreats off-site with all key employees. Bohling uses plans and ideas he has found online, in combination with his experience in planning sessions conducted by professional consultants, to design those meetings.

During the three-day retreat, employees brainstorm to create short- and long-term goals. Afterward, a review is drafted that highlights the plan’s cornerstone initiatives for each department. Then, a scorecard matrix is added, placing every idea for improvement and growth into the document. That scorecard is reviewed monthly at management vital factor meetings, he explains.

The end result has been shared confidence, determination and agreement amongst employees throughout the business.

“Whether good times or bad, the development of the business plan has assured our staff of a confidence in the future, knowing we have hard work in front of us and lofty goals to reach,” says Bohling.

Here’s what a typical day looks like during Seattle Boat Co.’s annual strategic planning retreat:

Service Strategic Planning AGENDA
December 15, 2009

Outline for the Day:

• Celebrate Accomplishments
• Becoming More Effective Managers
• Vision, Mission, Values
• What is important to you
• Identify, Prioritize and Establish Plan

9:30 – 9:50
a. Meeting Fundamentals
b. Introductions, de-scramble, IQ Test

9:50 – 10:05
a. Successes and Highlights
b. Current Year and Prior Year

10:05 – 10:30
a. Missed Opportunities
b. S.W.O.T.
c. Start, Stop, Keep Doing

10:30 – 10:45
a. The Basis for all decisions
b. Review Company Statements
c. On Track? New points or goals?
d. Newport Plans review

Break and Activities
10:45 – 11:15

11:15 – 11:45
a. What is Efficiency, Productivity, Standard Hours
b. Basic Training, entering time

11:45 – 12:30
a. The P&L Statement
b. What influences labor rate?
c. Working from the bottom up
d. Establishing Productivity and Efficiency goals
e. Spader “Moving On” questions

Lunch and Activities
12:30 – 1:15

1:15 – 2:45
a. Brainstorming, explorations, ideas
b. Prioritize, distribute
c. Round Robin Teams develop plan from Priorities

Break and Activities
2:45 – 3:15

3:15 – 4:00
a. Removing Barriers
b. Develop Outline
c. Share Plan

I. Survey
4:00 —

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