2018 Editor’s Choice: The Boat House

The Boat House

Cape Coral, Fla. & Elkhorn, Wisc.

The Boat House is a unique operation. Unlike most multi-location dealers, it focuses mainly on two markets – Florida and the Wisconsin/Illinois Lake Country.

Originally formed in the wake of the Great Recession, the dealership has successfully leveraged its multiple markets and their different audiences to build a successful company.

The Boat House now has seven locations – four in the Midwest, three in Florida – serving a variety of boaters. As the company has consolidated its offerings, it has realized more efficiencies and improved operations. 

In the last year alone, The Boat House has made several improvements that are helping to set it apart from the competition. The management team has grown business by 19 percent in 2017 and by double digits each of the last five years, outpacing the market.

“As we continue to grow, we actively evaluate personnel and look for ways to better communicate internally and externally, as well as develop more efficient systems,” Trent TerHaar, national marketing director, wrote in the company’s Top 100 application.

Rick Gasaway, who had previously worked with the company as a management consultant, was named to the newly created position of chief operation officer. Gasaway had previously worked as chief sales and marketing officer at Nautic Global Group.

“This position will provide leadership and synchronicity to the company by focusing on an aggressive marketing strategy, building recurring revenue streams and implementing organizational and process efficiencies,” TerHaar says.

The company also implemented DISC Assessment & Personality Profiles, designed to give the dealership an in-depth look at personality traits and help align staff to use their skillsets most effectively. Recognizing that finding new talent is one of the top challenges, the company also expanded its internship program in 2017 to help interest more young people in the boating industry.

Other areas of improvement included restructured sales meetings with a greater focus on accountability and the construction of seven new storage facilities in 2017. The Boat House also began implementing concepts from the Marcus Sheridan’s “They Ask, You Answer.” 

“All managers and department heads were required to read the book and we have begun producing content on a regular basis to help inform our customers before and after the sale,” TerHaar says. “We believe this will have a significant impact on our CSI scores (and marketing efforts) in the near future.”

That effort is part of a larger plan to improve and refine customer service and marketing.

“As a large multi-store operation, it is critical for us to take advantage of the increased number of media outlets to substantiate a strong image and improve brand awareness,” TerHaar says. 

The Boat House has dedicated more resources to marketing and has restructured its operation and implemented a dedicated marketing department of three full time employees with oversight by the COO. 

“One of the strengths we have recognized within our organization is the ability of our sales staff to close a deal with a customer who is sitting in front of him/her,” TerHaar says. “Our continuing strategy focuses on that idea with the intent to create awareness about The Boat House, bring qualified, educated buyers into our dealerships, or develop ways to bring our sales staff to the customer. We execute this strategy with a mix of traditional and digital media, a significant investment in BoatTrader, on water events, boat shows, social media initiatives and using our CRM system to stay in contact with customers before, during and after a sale.”

Beyond boats, The Boat House has emphasized marketing for its other departments including parts and accessories, F&I and boat rentals.

“With the continued growth of the F&I operation, several new strategies were developed to encourage customers to finance their new boat purchases as well as expose them to after-market packages,” TerHaar says. “Recently we have redesigned the entire F&I section on our website, making it more informational and user friendly, while also showcasing the various products and protections we offer. … Several print pieces and POP signage were also created that we could use in-store and at boat shows as silent sellers.”

The Boat House also added a boat club in 2017, as well as implementing a new strategic plan to drive growth for its pier and lift division. This included giving the division its own dedicated floor space at the boat show, allowing sales staff to walk new boat owners directly to the pier and lift division for additional service. 

“The strength of our company can be seen in the end to end customer ecosystem we have developed over the last nine years,” TerHaar says. “As we continue to grow, our marketing strategy will continue to evolve to cultivate a strong base of educated boaters and water enthusiasts that will allow us to be opportunistic and deliberate, generating strong growth and building ancillary revenue streams.”   


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