By David Gee
A boat dealer has to be able to navigate change. At least they need to if they want to stay in business. There are changes in the economy, demographics, customer buying habits, staff, suppliers, weather and on and on. Clark Marine has endured way more than their share of changes in just the past year – and persevered – making them a logical pick for my Editor’s Choice.
“This was undeniably a year of transition,” said Rob Brown, owner and general manager. “We had several key players leave us, including our service manager, marketing manager, and my business partner, David Harriman, passed away after a 53-year career with Clark Marine. On top of this, I had some health issues of my own and was out of the office for several weeks. It is the strength of our business that we were able to take these massive transitions and continue without sinking. I consider this a direct reflection of our cross-training efforts.”
Brown says they responded to this change in personnel in a variety of ways. In the service department it was business as usual he said. Well-trained, long-time team members stepped in and filled the gaps.
The departure of their marketing manager gave them the ability to assess their overall marketing strategy. This ultimately led to a streamlining of the marketing process and budget.
However, the greatest transition by far, according to Brown, was adapting to the loss of David Harriman.
“His father, Gerald Herriman, was one of the founding owners of the business. To say the very least, David was deeply engrained in this business. Among other things, he was our accountant, largely responsible for the outflow of money in our business. Separating the personal from the work, the most significant changes to our business following David’s passing are related to the ownership and business structure.”
Brown, who began working at Clark Marine as a technician in 1985, absorbed David’s share of the business. Soon after, he made his wife, and Clark Marine’s office manager, Nancy Fortier-Brown, a co-owner of the business.
“It was an exceptional stress test on our business, making me very confident in the competence of our team members and the health of our business,” stated Brown.
Those weren’t the only changes at Clark Marine though. They also implemented a new lead management system, expanded their fleet with the purchase of new shop trucks and a tractor, improved interoffice communications, joined a 20 group, changed their storage delivery process, added a new part-time salesperson, and went to a paperless billing system.
“Out of a chaotic year that could have killed a business, not only did we survive, we thrived,” Brown stated.
Brown says a happy customer is a happy Clark Marine. He stressed they’re not there for the transaction, or quick sale, but instead are trying to create multi-generational relationships with customers.
“We take great care to ensure they have their boating needs met and their expectations exceeded. When it comes to a new boat purchase, we are more concerned with matching them with the best boat for their needs, and we supply this to them at a reasonable price. If this boat is the boat we want to move off the lot first, then that is a bonus, but it is not our goal. If we cannot meet their needs, we direct them to other trusted dealers who can. We bend over backwards for our customers. We make miracles happen when possible. We are not just their dealer, but their boating family. We are not just a business relationship, we are friends.”
Brown says they look on the community as a place for them to help enrich, not the other way around. They are dedicated to quality, even if that means they’re not always the cheapest. They live for boating, and don’t just see it as a business or a way to pay the bills. And he says they are painfully honest, and are never afraid to admit mistakes and/or make up for them.
“Whether someone is a customer, prospect, team member, or just a random passerby, we treat them with the utmost respect, always. These are the aspects of our business that make us different.”