Selling a marine dealership is never easy.
It can be a volatile business that doesn’t appeal to most investors and that only gets more difficult when there isn’t a next generation in the family to hand it down to.
Top 100 dealer Oak Hill Marina recently completed its ownership transition, with founders Phil and Teresa Miklo selling to employees Jake Jostand and Tim Sather, the culmination of a six-year process.
Phil Miklo started the Lake Okoboji, Iowa, dealership 23 years ago and wanted it to continue even when he was ready to leave.
“Years ago, I saw that the transition plan was a big problem in our industry,” Miklo said. “I did not want to be 65 or 70 years old trying to sell a dealership or hoping my kids would want to come run it for me.”
While the Miklos’ two children weren’t interested in taking over the business now, long-time employee Jostand was an obvious choice for the next generation of leadership. He started at Oak Hill at 16 and, except for time at college to earn his accounting degree, has worked there since.
Miklo had tapped Jostand to run the business if he were incapacitated and that started the process. Six years ago, they formalized the plan for Jostand to take over someday.
“Phil and Teresa brought me in like family,” Jostand said. “The idea was always there that I could have this opportunity. I started my career here and I want to end it here.”
Sather grew up in the area but left for college in Florida. After owning a small dealership in Kentucky, he returned four years ago to run the service department at Oak Hill.
“We eventually got to the point where it was time to come back home, so I sold out of the business, sold our house and moved back home,” Sather said. “Working with the business and getting to know the people” made him want to be part of the ownership team.
That ended up being the final piece to make the transition work.
“We were very fortunate that Tim came to work at the dealership and had the desire to have his own business just like Jake did,” Miklo said. “Even before Tim came into the picture we were looking at finding the ‘next Jake.’”
While the three considered many different ways of dividing the company, they eventually settled on Miklo selling them 100 percent of the dealership and staying on board as the general manager. Jostand and Sather will continue to head up sales and service, respectively. Once that question was settled, the negotiations were fairly simple.
“The struggle wasn’t getting to if they were going to buy it, but how it was going to be laid out,” Miklo said. “The cleanest way was to go 100 percent out. The problem is most opportunities don’t come along to have that happen.”
Both Sather and Jostand credit Miklo’s role as a mentor in helping them prepare to take over ownership. Jostand had also attended the Spader Leadership Development Program several years ago and Miklo made it a requirement for Sather as well as part of the ownership transition.
“Jake had been through the program and it brought a lot of good culture change to the dealership,” Miklo said. “I felt if Tim was going to be part of it he had to do the same thing.”
The Oak Hill team’s biggest piece of advice is to be planning for succession from the very beginning. One thing they’ve learned from their membership in Spader 20 groups is that most dealers wait too long to plan
for the future.
“It doesn’t matter how old or young you are, you always have to be thinking about what’s next … even if your transition is 10, 20 years down the road,” Miklo said.