The Boating Industry Top 100 dealers represent the best boat dealers in North America. In this ongoing feature, we’ll be checking in with our top dealers each month to see what makes them so successful.
In the classic fable The Tortoise and the Hare, Aesop regales readers with a lesson about pressing on carefully as speed gives way to inactivity.
Top 100 dealer Spring Brook Marina embodies the tortoise’s careful approach with its first expansion outside of its Great Lakes “bubble” in the company’s 54-year history.
The company’s move to Traverse City, Mich., will be its first office in northern Michigan and took two years to plan.
“To start to expand to a different location was truly a big deal for us. Where a lot of companies just kind of throw locations out there, we just want to make sure that everything is right,” said Kyle Stenzel, general manager at Spring Brook Marina.
He said the meticulous planning finally paid off with the new location, which opened in mid-March.
“It’s close to areas that there is a demand for higher-end boats,” said Stenzel. “So with that location, it covers a nice little triangle so that we’re within five hours of our customers in either direction.”
“Once we found that market, the key for us was finding the right guy. For our tight-knit little group, we wanted a knowledgeable guy who’s down to earth enough and would fit our team,” said Stenzel. “Bill [Allgaier], the guy we found up there is a resident of Traverse City, a third generation in Traverse City. He’s been a broker for 25 years – I think he’s going to be the perfect fit for us.”
We don’t want to be one of these dealerships that have 30 locations and can’t really control their core business,” said Stenzel. “Staying smaller and staying tight knit while getting more boats out there has been the magic formula for us.”
The business, started by Jim Thorpe and his father in 1961, has thrived with that formula and a simple mantra: “Service first and sales second.”
That close focus on service helped keep it afloat during the recession “100 percent,” said Stenzel, adding that the demographics of the area help a lot. “Our guys aren’t everyday boaters like the Florida guys typically are. We see a lot of recreational guys who aren’t as mechanically friendly. They want to be able to come to their boat, turn the key and go out and have fun.”
Mobile trucks provide the majority of the service calls, but sometimes trucks just can’t get to everyone, which is when an airplane comes in handy.
“We’re lucky enough to have an owner who is a pilot and has an airplane that can get to people who are in need of service very quickly,” said Stenzel.
“For example, we have a customer who just bought a 55 Prestige from us and is going to take delivery this spring on Catawba Island. We’ll fly over three or four techs to prep the boat, do the final equipment, the final check through, the final walkthrough and all the testing before we hand it off to the client,” said Stenzel. “We won’t rely on anyone else to do that. We make sure to white-glove it for all our clients.”
That extreme focus on service doesn’t mean they forgot about sales altogether. Spring Brook Marina’s satellite offices are focused mostly on sales. During the long time in the bubble, the team has learned which brands fit the niche for the area. High quality and aggressive pricing are the No. 1 trait for the brands it offers, said Stenzel.
“We were a Carver dealer for 37 years, we’re currently a Cruisers dealer going on about 13 years now; and a Prestige dealer, which has been for three years,” said Stenzel. “The majority of our business is from the 35- to 65-foot segment. The sweet spot we’ve really had luck with is the 40- to 60-foot segment.”
He said the move to Prestige turned out to be a great boon for the company since it didn’t want to take on several lines and overwhelm the customer with choices – or the service bay with a slew of technical quirks.
“I think we made a really smart move picking up Prestige three years ago. It’s a brand that has definitely taken a ton of market share,” said Stenzel. “Actually in the three years we’ve had them, we’ve gotten 23 owner-operators out there. We feel, for our market, that’s a pretty big number. They provide a really high quality boat for a really reasonable price.”
He said all the lines, the in-house financing department and precision service goes along toward some impressive statistics for returning customers.
“It’s not like we have 300 to 400 customers to deal with. We have a very select group, and we kind of like it that way because we can control it a lot better,” said Stenzel. “Repeat business, just looking at stats, is about 70 percent of our business. It’s a big deal for us.”