The Boating Industry Top 100 dealers represent some of the best boat dealers in North America. In the Top 100 Spotlight, we share some of their best practices.
It furthers the mission of the Top 100 program: to not only recognize the best dealers, but to share their knowledge and experience with the entire industry.
One of the greatest challenges of growth for any company is making sure that expansion doesn’t come at the expense of quality and service.
For a boat dealer, that can be especially important in the service department, as you want customers to get the same quality experience wherever they go.
Longtime Top 100 dealer Texas Marine has managed that challenge with smart staffing decisions, clearly delineated policies and now a new Business Development Center that helps drive business to its three locations.
Besides its headquarters location in Beaumont, Texas, the 36-year-old dealership has stores in Conroe, Texas, and Seabrook (Clearlake), Texas. All three locations have full service departments.
While there are some commonalities between the locations, they do tend to draw slightly different customers, said administrator Ryan Hebert.
“Generally, our Conroe location is closest to freshwater lake, so more pleasure boaters, professional business-type personalities, with family-oriented boating needs,” he said. “Our Clearlake location we are closer to the Gulf, so more of our saltwater business and fishing business. The Beaumont location has some of all of that mixed in with a pretty heavy dose of hunters and people looking for aluminum boats, bass boats. Our techs at all three of our locations are certified and experienced at all the boats we would get at any of our locations.”
For years, each shop worked independently with a service manager and a service writer, and associated techs. But eight years ago, Texas Marine’s growth allowed it to take one of its long-term service managers, Phil Stark, and make him service director for all three locations. He is based out of the Conroe shop, but is routinely on the road at all three locations.
“He helps coordinate all of the hiring and personnel decisions and operational decisions, strategy, labor rates,” Hebert said. “He also coordinates heavily with the parts department. Whatever store he’s in, he does handle some day-to-day duties. He will handle some service writing or customer issues or complaints, or helping organize the techs.”
Along with the store managers, Stark ensures that all policies and procedures are uniformly followed across the company.
One of the keys to keeping the business flowing not only to the service department but the entire business is the new Business Development Center.
BDCs are popular in the auto industry, where many dealerships have a BDC which acts as a dedicated and fully staffed department to handle incoming calls, and create business through making outgoing calls, and sending emails to centralize and coordinate communication between customers and employees, as well as between dealership departments.
Texas Marine spent more than a year researching and creating the BDC with the assistance of an outside vendor who specializes in creating them. The Texas Marine BDC is staffed by multiple part- and full-time representatives who are hired by the dealership especially for the BDC.
When it comes to offseason service work specifically, the BDC keeps busy contacting customers to see if they want to bring their boat in, prepare it for storage or take advantage of fall season specials. The BDC has allowed Texas Marine to have more touches with its customers than in the past, reminding them of recommended maintenance and other needs.
“We will reach out to them, inform them of a special we may have going on or see if they are at a point where they may need routine maintenance or may have something that is malfunctioning,” Hebert said. “We also reach out to customers who have brought their boat in for service or bought a boat from us but we haven’t seen them in ‘X’ number of months [and] try to find out why we haven’t seen them and get them back into us.”
The BDC has helped recapture some of those past customers by addressing concerns that in the past the company may not have even known existed.
“A lot of calls that we make on any given day or week at the BDC are to customers who we know have done business with us in the past but have not recently for some specified period … customers that they may have had some problem or something they were not happy with in their last experience with us,” he said. “Many times, it’s just some simple misunderstanding or miscommunication that we are able to alleviate and get that business back from them. Otherwise, it would have gone unnoticed. A lot of upset customers tend not to tell you they’re upset. They just disappear and you never hear from them again. We have a customer that’s not coming back to us for a reason and we can satisfy whatever they were unhappy about.”