2020 Top 100: Best Practices

Now in its 16th year, the Boating Industry Top 100 truly continues to celebrate the best of the best.

There’s simply no denying that 2020 has been a different year to say the least and while the 2020 Top 100 is decided on 2019 results and data, the current year certainly shaped how the program ran for this year, including a virtual gala celebration.

Despite a number of anomalies for this year’s Top 100, one thing certainly remained constant; the dealers on the Top 100 list just keep getting better.

From single-location family dealerships to multi-store organizations, the 2020 Top 100 dealers continue to set the pace in sales, customer service and overall success. Yet, most importantly, every dealer on this year’s list shows a promise and maintains goals to continuously push themselves to be better and to make the entire industry better.

Here you’ll find some of the best practices from these elite dealers.

Following that you can read about what once again made Quality Boats the Top 100 Dealer of the Year, as well as the Editor’s Choice dealerships (FB Marine Group and Jerry's Majestic Marine) and the Hall of Fame companies. To round everything out, you can also see the full list of the Top 100, with the Top 20 ranked.

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Invest in your facilities

Regardless of how many or how few buildings you have within your dealership, your facilities are often the best way to present yourself to both current and prospective customers.

In 2019, Payne Marine put a large focus on taking its facilities to the next level.

“At Payne Marine, we heavily re-invest into our company each and every year,” president Mark Payne said. “We already have one of the most modern, organized and cleanest facilities that you will find anywhere, but we wanted to step it up even more for 2019.”

While the facelift to your facilities doesn’t all need to be completed in one motion, even the smallest changes can make the biggest difference.

Payne says consistency is key when it comes to maintaining the condition of facilities. “Every building, forklift, office space, dock, walkway, you name it, is kept in top-notch condition at all times,” he added.

2019 brought Payne upgrades in the form of new exterior for both a service shop and a retail store, new paint for five other buildings, new flower gardens and other property beautification enhancements, new roofs on the company’s rental homes and upgrades to the dealership’s restaurant side.

“We will never accept what we do today is the best it can be; there is always better,” Payne said. “That means better processes, better training, better facilities, better product offers, etc. The list can never end nor will our desire to be better.”

Communication is key

It’s common for Top 100 dealers to put a lot of focus and emphasis on maintaining communication with customers, but another area to focus on for success is internal communication processes.

Y Marina’s operations manager, Ryan Lancaster says strong communication processes through all departments of a dealership help create the optimum work flow and cohesiveness around a dealership.

The focus for 2019 was refining communication from top to bottom at Y Marina.

Aside from revamping communication, processes and procedures within all departments of the dealership, Y Marina also integrated Trello to help work flow management in rigging, service, finance and warranty, and implemented Slack for communication internally.

“All of the changes we made led to further efficiencies and an increase in unit sales, service sales, parts sales and finance sales,” Lancaster said.

Enter the digital era

In the digital age, it’s more important than ever for dealers to keep up with technology trends customers have come to expect in all aspects of their lives.

“We took a close look at customer service and we wanted to find a way to better serve our customer as our business continues to grow,” Lincolnton Marine president Jeremy Dawkins said. “Overall our main objective was to find a better customer service experience.”

Lincolnton started by going totally digital by adding iPad’s for the entire service and sales teams, along with adding to the dealership’s Office 365 account to take advantage of cloud capabilities.

The digital enhancements allow service writers to work up the service check-in forms on the tablets, which are followed up with pictures for warranty issues, customer damage, etc. Immediately after, while still on the tablet, the customer can sign off on the work needing to be completed. After the signature, a copy of the full check is immediately emailed and/or texted to the customer and saved in the cloud for the dealership.

“This assures everything discussed or found at check in was documented and signed off on,” Dawkins said. “This also allows the tech writer to already have any warranty pictures taken and saved, so that any claims that need to be filed can be filed the same day as check in.

The digital tools also allow the service writer to record and save the check in process, so that technicians can listen to the customer themselves explain what’s going on with their boat, removing the necessity to play phone tag with customers.

“All in all, this has been a great add to the dealership and in today’s digital world, customers are really liking the way we are doing this,” Dawkins said.

Defining a brand identity

Along with the digital era and the need for embracing digital marketing tools comes social media. Creating a brand identity for your organization will help drive what content you provide your current and prospective customers across all of your social media channels.

Connecticut’s Harborside Marina & Yacht Sales zeroed in on creating a brand identity for digital marketing efforts throughout 2019, as the dealership shifted its marketing to mostly digital platforms.

“Rather than spending a ton of money on boat shows, where you gain several leads and possibly a sale or two, we shifted some of our budget to various forms of digital advertising and marketing to include social media, paid search, email marketing and video, etc.,” Harborside Marina & Yacht Sales marketing manager Abigail Benchimol said. “As a result, we have never been busier.”

The shift to digital and creating the dealership’s own brand identity helped create a cohesive voice to represent the dealership and attract new customers as well as maintain current customers, across all of its marketing efforts from top to bottom.

“Creating and managing a brand identity for Harborside through social media, email, online advertising and other unique low-cost forms of marketing for smaller businesses has definitely been memorable and fun for 2019,” Benchimol said. “By shifting our marketing efforts to primarily digital, we have seen a huge increase in both sales and service leads and ROI.

Take advantage of every opportunity

There’s no denying that little things add up over time. And even though they may not even necessarily be “little,” there are plenty of chances to keep boaters happy, while increasing your profits at the same time across a dealership.

McHenry, Maryland’s Deep Creek Marina starts by taking advantage of the “off-season” in the winter months by putting a focus on selling winter work, by inspecting each and every boat as it came into the dealership.

“This drove stellar sales through the off season into the first of the year,” manager Jordan Smith said.

In an additional effort to bring more people in during the off-season, Deep Creek began doing some weekly receptions, bringing in up to 50 visitors on a weekend in January.

Preventative maintenance was an absolute hot spot for Deep Creek Marina throughout the 2019 year, mostly due to work done during the winter months.

On top of sales, service and storage, Deep Creek also operates and marina club with an 82-boat rental fleet and a gas dock to make sure they cover every possible customer out there.

The Marina Club also is used as a selling tool to help in the sales department, as it is only available to customers who service and store with Deep Creek, as well as members of the Carefree Boat Club.

Community connection

With the majority of your customer base local, connecting with the community can give you a better sense of who your customer really is and what they care about.

Getting involved in the local community is an easy way to expose community members to your business and who you are as a business owner. It also presents opportunities for team members to come together to support great causes.

Blue Springs Marine’s Jeff Siems got involved with his local community in a variety of ways from sponsoring toy drives to running for the local school board and a multitude of other events and opportunities.

“These large community forums and events allowed me to meet and interact with many members of our community,” Siems said.

In a different effort, Siems and his team wanted to expose the community to more of the dealership’s surf products, both boats and gear, while getting involved with a group that is all watersports-based.

Siems said that getting involved as a sponsor for a local ski club state tournament provided the results they were exactly looking for, connecting them with a new variety of customers all interested in the watersports side of boating.

Aside from sponsorships and community involvement, Siems and Blue Springs Marine also gets involved in the community by celebrating the community itself in the form of annual lake celebrations.

“We always set money aside to try new or creative things, as we know our main customer base is around our 15 local private lakes and the communities that surround them,” Siems said.

Invest in leadership

It’s no secret that leadership sets the goals and pace for a successful business. Yet a leadership team needs nurturing and growth to set a business up for success after success.

“Our management team has truly revolutionized and re-energized our business shifting it from a sole owner-directed mindset, to a more robust, shared dealership objective,” Regal & Nautique of Orlando general manager and owner Jeff Husby said.

The management team at Regal & Nautique of Orlando is 100% dedicated to ongoing improvements for the dealership, with the understanding that it is directly linked to training and professional development for each person and the entire organization.

From national conferences to participating in annual management 20 Group review meetings, as well as sharing internal expertise with the entire management team, Husby and the team at Regal & Nautique do everything they can to better themselves and the dealership all around.

“Our focus to empower our managers and our staff has paid dividends in the success and continued growth of our organization,” Husby said.

Power in information

For 2019, Maryland’s Pasadena Boat Works focused on the information they have available to answer any and all customer questions.

In the digital era, we know that many customers are more informed prior to walking through a dealership’s doors than ever before. However, with the variety of information out there in today’s world leaves room for misinformation.

“Some of the first words we say to every customer are ‘the marine industry is not black and white, it is full of gray and we like to tell you our experience and process, however we do not pretend to be the all and end all for all things marine-related,’” owner Nick Doetsch said.

Doetsch explains that Pasadena Boat Works found the best route was to create a platform for every area of the business from general information, detailed information contacts and an open door policy with shop technicians in order to be as transparent as possible about how business is conducted.

“As the information age continues to roll through industry after industry, the marine industry is going through an information explosion, where customers themselves are attempting to fill the voids when manufacturers and dealerships do not step in,” Doetsch said. “This has been both good and problematic as misinformation or biased information can steer customers in the wrong direction, creating a customer-dealer relationship that gets off on the wrong foot.

The team at Pasadena Boat Works explains to customers exactly how they look at everything in the marine industry, creating a stronger relationship with each and every customer.

“More time with thoughtful explanations has only benefitted our shop with more sales and better customer service interactions,” Doetsch said.

Knowing when to shift

Processes and parts of a dealership’s way of business are ingrained in the mind of leadership, especially in dealers who have been around for quite some time.

And while these ways of business may have been successful in the beginning, sometimes a process can begin to slip and just needs to be changed.

In 2019, Short’s Marine of Millsboro, Del. took a long look into its ways of conducting business and made some decisions to move in a new direction.

After 10 years of internet sales, president Don Short and the team at Short’s Marine made the decision to exit its internet sales of parts and accessories.

“This was a difficult decision, but we found too many resources were being diverted from our core business causing a reduction in properly supporting our face-to-face customers,” Short said.

The team overall found while the department had been very successful in the past,  the financial returns were not sufficient to justify the negative effect on the core business. “Ironically, we found this part of our business had grown so large that the taxing effect on the entire operation became unsustainable,” Short said. “Looking long-term, it was not worth the commitment of personnel, time and financial risk to continue this segment of our operations. This change is allowing us to redirect resources to our core business.”

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