Editors’ Picks | Brent Renneke: Traverse Bay Marine

Traverse Bay Marine
Traverse City, Mich.

Traverse Bay Marine reworked its process maps, developed a new inventory strategy and embarked on a new marketing campaign – all in the last year. The retooling is a never-ending process for the dealership and is part of its 30-plus year plan to be better.

Established in 1975, Traverse City, Mich.-based Traverse Bay Marine is a one-location dealership that refuses complacency. And in the past year, it built on its many strengths, improving both customer and employee satisfaction.

As step one to increase both, Traverse Bay retooled the process maps for all department functions and did so with the direct input of involved employees.

“This has led to our employees taking ownership of their part of the business and the result has been happier customers that are now better served because the employees have a guide map and a plan to follow,” says Jim Rautio, president and CEO of Traverse Bay Marine.

Traverse Bay Marine implemented many incentives in 2011 aimed at improving the customer experience.

Rautio says he then renewed the dealership’s Marine Industry Dealer Certification to further reinforce to employees their importance and role within the company. The certification, along with its inclusion in the Brunswick Master Dealer program, also distinguished the company from its competitors.

To re-tune its boating inventory, Traverse Bay examined both national market share and what was selling in its own market using SSI data. Rautio says the research led them to drop two major boat brands as well as identify new opportunities to better adapt to today’s market.

“The goal here is to gain market share for our company by knowing which competitive models to attack. This also helped us to know not just which models our dealership should stock, but also how to equip and price our stock units,” Rautio says.

Traverse Bay also began moving on a plan to increase “Likes” on its Facebook page by giving away a Sea-Doo personal watercraft in a social-media driven contest.

Rautio contracted the local NBC television station to broadcast the giveaway, which customers could enter by “Liking” the dealership’s Facebook page. If they shared the post about the contest with a friend, fans got another entry in the drawing. And to market the contest, the TV station sent out four email blasts, ran 70 commercials and had news anchors mention the contest on its local news telecast.

Traverse Bay further increased its presence in its local business community by having its sales manager join a business executive networking group. As the only boat dealer in the group, Traverse Bay is given premium access to local business professionals and owners.

One of Traverse Bay’s core strengths is its service department. In 2011, technicians recorded 92-percent efficiency in a department that routinely sees only two to three comebacks annually.

Rautio says his service personnel employ a number of processes to support efficiency. One example is in its parts department, which is located next to the service department behind a continuous counter. When parts personnel are busy, service writers, who are cross-trained in parts, are able pull parts for technicians on the clock.

“This greatly increases the fact that the tech can then get back to working on their job quickly and get the boat back to the customer quicker,” Rautio says.

Also to keep its service department running smoothly, Traverse Bay implemented an after-hours program for emergency boat repair. Rautio says he created a specific pricing system and identified certain techs willing to work after hours. Customers already in line do not get bumped and the service department is able to accommodate those willing to pay for immediate service.

One of the more admirable traits of Traverse Bay is its craving for any piece of information that will help the business improve. The dealership implemented its own survey after disappointing manufacturer CSI survey returns and lured customers to its location with a first-class meal to find how to better serve their needs.

“Striving for excellence in customer satisfaction is our passion,” Rautio says.

With our Top 100 program, the number one objective is to help all dealers, even the most profitable and knowledgeable, become better. Traverse Bay exemplifies this goal as a company that has a never-ending mission to improve.


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