2021 Top 100: Best Practices

By Boating Industry staff

Celebrating its 17th year, the Boating Industry Top 100 Dealers program continues to recognize and celebrate the best of the best.

Over the last 18-plus months, boat dealers have faced new hurdles left and right, but the dealers among this year’s Top 100 have risen to the challenge and continued to help push the entire recreational boating industry forward every single time.

From single-location family-owned dealerships to multi-store organizations, one thing remains the same each and every year, and that is the dealers on the Top 100 list continue to set the pace in sales, customer service and success overall.

The Top 100 Dealer awards celebrate not just one person’s achievements, but an entire team’s hard work. Dealerships like those found on this year’s list truly continuously set the bar at new heights, providing inspiration to boat dealers across the world.

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

Following that you can read about Marine Connection the 2021 Top 100 Dealer of the Year and what earned seven companies coveted Best in Class awards, as well as this year’s Editor’s Choice dealerships (Short's Marine and Off Shore Marine). To round everything out, you can also see the full list of the Top 100, with the Top 20 ranked, and the rest appearing in alphabetical order.

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A collaborative mind always wins

Teamwork is the name of the game when it comes to running a successful dealership. This was truer than ever when it came to navigating the ever-changing landscape of 2020. Teamwork and collaboration doesn’t have to stop just within the dealership’s walls though.

When the pandemic forced the cancellation of local boat shows, Minnesota’s River Valley Marine reached out to other area dealers (or competitors one might say) to create a coalition of dealers to launch an online boat show experience.

“2020 and adaptation were synonymous in business everywhere,” River Valley Marine president John Wooden said. “The pandemic forced the dealer to rewrite the playbook for how to handle a customer and deliver a top-notch experience. We leaned on our internal staff and partners to create new ways to reach our customers and the results were excellent.”

Wooden said working with area partners allowed often competitors to come together for the betterment of the industry as a whole, all while boosting boating’s — and River Valley’s — online presence.

“One of the biggest things that has helped us through this last year has been our strong online presence,” Wooden said. “That was the goal of the virtual show: to stay in front of our customers, current and prospective and say ‘hey, we’re still here for you’.”

Don’t forget the service department

With the sales frenzy that occurred as people took to boating for a way to escape the pandemic, it’s easy for dealerships to put all eyes on its sales team. As important as the sales team and process is, it’s equally as important for dealerships to put continued focus on its service departments.

Beginning in 2019 and continuing through 2020, Indianapolis’ Marine Center of Indiana put its primary focus on improving its service department to be able to support the amount of boats flying off the lot — particularly in the winterization and storage area.

In 2020, the dealer added another dedicated staff member to serve as a service writer and communicate with customers on the status of the work being completed.

“Overall, this has helped reduce frustration with customers, because they are more informed, as well as always having a point of contact and someone to reach out to with questions,” Marine Center of Indiana business manager Grant Rafferty said.

The Marine Center of Indiana team also continued to implement new technology in the service department throughout 2020, making it easier for technicians to make notes on work orders and ask customers questions when necessary, to better understand why the boat was brought in for service.

“We have ample room to accommodate not only our needs as a company, but most importantly our customers,” Rafferty said. “We are continually expanding and growing to be able to support our customers.”

The dealership strives for an overall goal of “in by Monday, out by Friday” service, which requires the dealership to consistently evaluate the efficiency of its service department and give the department the tools it needs to succeed every time.

Keep it simple

While new and innovative ideas and strategies are often the highlight of Top 100 dealers’ best practices, sometimes it leads to more success to just keep things simple. And that’s exactly what owner Paul Terzian and the team at New Jersey’s Causeway Marine did for 2020.

Just keeping things as simple as possible from ordering to service, helped lead the dealership to a 68% increase in sales for the year.

“The long and short of what we did that made the most impact on our business, although not super flashy, was to foresee a drastically reduced new stock availability situation developing into and inventory-manage our way into the best year we’ve ever had,” Terzian said.

By simply putting productivity and efficiency, along with a high customer satisfaction at the peak of its focus, the team at Causeway has found increased team collaboration and morale through the toughest of times.

“We don’t shoot for 100, we shoot for 110 or above,” Terzian said. “I strongly believe that treating our customers as we as owners and staff would wish to be treated, helps keep us strong in the customer satisfaction area.”

Define your values

Company culture is a key component in finding success as a boat dealership in today’s world. It’s important for leaders in the industry to define and implement their own culture and values to help create a winning team.

Florida’s FB Marine Group made 2020 a transformational year by working extremely hard to improve its business by defining and updating the company’s core values.

“If asked how to describe our company's culture in five words, we would have to say its ‘fast, exciting, grateful, hardworking and team focused,’” FB Marine Group managing partner Kim Sweers said. “We believe FB Marine Group offers the best possible work environment for its team members to flourish both personally and professionally.”

In 2020, the team at FB Marine broke its company values into seven components that drive the team every day:

1.  Entrepreneurial Spirit;

2.  Family Spirit;

3.  Mutual Trust & Respect;

4.  Customer Obsessed;

5.  Teamwork Makes the Dream Work;

6.  Continuous Improvement;

7.  Giving Back.

“Our core business values help us align and guide our organization,” Sweers said. “Aside from daily updates, we talk about our values in our monthly video newsletter. Our recognition programs are also tied to our values, as well as our hiring and our promotion processes.”

Not just defining its company culture and values, but truly working and living by them is what Sweers believes sets FB Marine apart from other dealerships in the area.

“We are a dealership with a culture focused on delivering unparalleled experiences,” Sweers said. “From our ‘oval office’ to the frontline, all of our team members are customer-obsessed.”

Putting employees first

All too often the emphasis of business is put on the customer, when sometimes taking a look at your employees first will help you on the customer front.

Putting employees first became especially important in 2020, as dealerships battled the ever-changing landscape of the pandemic. With a simple short-term goal of keeping staff and their families safe, Ontario-based Orleans Boat World did exactly that.

“We focused on our employees first,” Orleans Boat World president Daniel Proulx said. “We ended up bringing everyone back after the shutdown on the team member side, which helped us deliver a record amount of boats to extremely happy customers. Out team did an amazing job”

Proulx said that exceptional customer service begins at the owner-level and moves through the staff. “Our strategy is to have a ‘fun place to work’ environment, which then rolls to the customers,” he added.

In another effort to put team members first, Proulx and the Orleans Boat World team puts extra emphasis on training, both internal and external. Despite facing pandemic challenges, Orleans Boat World helped procure training across all of its different departments in 2020.

Be adaptable

If the recent pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that one must continuously be adaptable to new ways of doing things to achieve and maintain success.

N3 Boatworks of Indianapolis ran through the last year with a motto of “OODA loop,” meaning Observe, Orient, Decide, Act and repeat. “With this we thrived in 2020 with the most amazing and adaptable team,” business manager Beth Dougherty said.

Flexible and adaptable mindsets are equally important across all aspects of a boat dealership.

On the marketing side, the team at N3 Boatworks was on plan through March of 2020, when they were forced to change everything.

“Our entire focus on communication turned solely to digital marketing campaigns, social media campaigns, live feeds and any other touch point we could have with the customer without the physical, in-person touch points we typically would have,” Dougherty said.

Sales and service also had to adapt to new ways of doing things, leading to new and successful strategies the dealership plans to carry into the future.

“N3 Boatworks is a brand that has been developed and refined over the last 13 years,” Dougherty said. “Our vision of the N3 culture has challenged us time and again and has caused us to continually refine and develop as we grow.”

There’s always room to improve

Finding success is one thing, but continuing to look for improvement even after success, brings your dealership to that next level.

The 2020-year for Arkansas’ Futrell Marine was all about taking already proven strategies and platforms for the dealership and improving them to that next level.

To start, Futrell Marine took its extremely successful Virtual Boat Show launched in 2017 and revamped it with version 2.0 in 2020.

“A significant amount of off-season time and effort was devoted to filming and producing walk-around and on-the-water videos of the 2021 model product,” Futrell Marine managing partner Rick Kesterson said. “The new-and-improved virtual show was a tremendous success, directly contributing 11 deals and almost $700k in revenue.”

With a strong online marketing strategy overall already in place, Kesterson and the Futrell team continued to take a look at what could still be improved on the front in 2020.

On the service side, Futrell took to improving its service report to provide a more concise presentation. With a top-to-bottom look at an already successful service business, Futrell found they could bring that success even further.

“The service report enables the team to be full agile, with the ability to cure issues in a timely manner, before they develop into a larger resource-draining problem,” Kesterson said. “The improvements we continued to make in 2020 have all been game changers.”

Be involved

Getting involved with not only your local boating community, but your community as a whole is one of the most simple ways to get your dealership’s name recognized and implanted in future customers’ heads.

With an 84-year history and three generations of family ownership, being involved in the local community is something near and dear to the team at Wisconsin-based Don’s Marine.

“Don’s Marine works to give back to the community,” owner Andrew Manke said. “These aren’t things we’re asked to do, they’re things
we’ve volunteered.”

By getting the dealership and staff involved in things like the Grade Boat Club, the community’s Memorial Day veterans program and much more, Don’s Marine has become a beacon in it’s local community.

While the pandemic put a halt of some of the regular events in the community Don’s Marine is a part of, the dealership still made it’s effort to get out in the area whenever possible and maintain its status as a contributing business to the community, all while getting the name of Don’s Marine in the minds of potential boat buyers. “We are not going to wait for the marine business to come to us,” Manke said. “We will be proactive and aggressive in bringing the marine business to us.”  

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