The Boating Industry Top 100 Hall of Fame:
- Galati Yacht Sales — Anna Maria, Fla.
- Gordy’s Lakefront Marine — Lake Geneva, Wis.
- Legendary Marine — Destin, Fla.
- MarineMax — Clearwater, Fla.
- OneWater Marine Holdings — Buford, Ga.
- Prince William Marine — Woodbridge, Va.
- Sail & Ski Center — Austin, Texas
The Boating Industry Top 100 Hall of Fame recognizes dealers who have won the coveted Dealer of the Year award twice. These companies support the Top 100 program through their continued excellence and growth. In this annual feature, we highlight best practices from each of the Hall of Fame dealers.
It’s no secret that much of the recreational boating industry, from dealers to manufacturers, faces the issue of a workforce shortage and with that the challenge of building and maintaining a strong team of technicians.
This year, we’ve asked some of our Top 100 Hall of Fame dealers to provide insight into the successes they’ve found in maintaining a strong team in their service shops, as well as thoughts for the industry as a whole to work on building a workforce for the future.
Culture is key
At Gordy’s Lakefront Marine, owners Steele and Tom Whowell continuously strive to implement a certain culture across all aspects of the dealership.
“When you have the right culture in and across your business, that plays a big role in getting, building and maintaining the right workforce,” Steele Whowell said. “You can’t just write what your business’ culture is down on a piece of paper, share it with employees and call it good. You have to live and demonstrate that culture every day.”
Within the culture at Gordy’s, communication and transparency consistently drive creating an open culture within the ranks.
“Communication with our team about what direction we’re going and what the business’ intentions are definitely helps maintain employee retention,” Tom Whowell said.
Tom also said that this open line of communication with the Gordy’s team allows for networking with current employees, often leading to finding new hires from current employee connections.
“Great people generally hang out with other great people,” Tom said. “And that’s who we have on the team at Gordy’s, great people.”
Sharing the knowledge comes first and foremost to building a strong and successful team at Prince William Marine Sales.
When a newcomer enters the ranks at Prince William, they work alongside the dealership’s three master technicians and others for their first year. In a rotation, the new techs learn from a new senior or mast technician every month.
“It really helps them learn who to go to when they have certain issues, whether it be engines, electronics, you name it,” owner Carlton Phillips said. “But along with that, it helps them decide what areas they’re passionate in.”
Phillips said it’s equally important to learn from incoming employees as it is for them to learn from your current team and you.
“All of the interactions in the dealership must be a two-way street,” Phillips said. “One-way streets only go one place. It’s important to have exchange in order to move forward.”
With that, Phillips suggests that you listen to employees’ passions and help them find what they really want to do.
“You might have a dockhand that has a passion for engine work, that you might not even know about unless you communicate with them,” Phillips said. “If you find what they’re passionate in, it’s easy to keep them around.”
Look everywhere, especially within
With a multitude of dealerships across the country, OneWater Marine Holdings faces the marine industry’s workforce shortage in more ways than one. However, that doesn’t stop OneWater dealerships from building strong teams time and time again.
How? OneWater executive VP of retail operations Scott Cunningham, Sr. said that it’s all about building and maintaining connections, along with a willingness to look anywhere and everywhere for new talent.
“Our people are our number one asset,” Cunnigham said. “The biggest thing we can do for success is make good hires in every single position, at every level.”
Even without a wide-reaching spread like OneWater, Cunningham noted the importance of connecting with a variety of networks aimed at helping get quality employees into the marine industry’s workforce. From local trade schools to trade programs like SkillsUSA, connections are what Cunningham believes is going to help best combat the industry’s workforce dilemma.
“Use the resources you already have,” Cunningham said. “Connect with manufacturers. Connect with trade schools. Look everywhere, you never know where you’re going to find these people.”
Cunningham said that it’s going to take everyone working together to tackle this industry-wide issue.
“Manufacturers, dealers at the local level, area trade schools, we need to spark the interest on the technical side together,” Cunningham concluded.
Shine a light to grow
One of the most common things heard when discussing workforce in the marine industry is the fact that it needs to draw in younger employees. Buzz Watkins, president of Austin’s Sail & Ski — which is now a MarineMax dealership — also believes that the boating industry is going to need the younger generation to solve its workforce shortage.
“At our dealership, we constantly look for the best young people that we can grow over time,” Watkins said. “It’s no secret that it’s hard to hire sales-ready or service-ready employees right off the street. You need to grow them from within.”
Watkins also said that in order to bring in the new generation, the industry needs to work in tandem with schools to put a focus back on the trades, especially for those students who might not have four-year college aspirations.
“It’s important to have good relationships with all of those outlets,” Watkins added. “Those relationships help with the fact that we are trying to hire almost all of the time.”
In addition to building relationships with schools and others in the industry, another aspect of building the workforce is showing the younger generation the appeal of the marine industry.
Watkins said that developing your service department to a year-round work model is crucial. He said that is what’s going to appeal to a new generation of technicians.
“There’s such a mindset that the marine industry isn’t a full-time career, but if you set your service department up correctly, that couldn’t be further from the truth,” Watkins said. “Concentrate on giving your employees year-round, quality employment.”