By Jamie Stafford
Boaters Exchange kept ahead of tumultuous times with their commitment to customer service and enthusiasm for the boating lifestyle. The dealership’s main location is in Rockledge, Fla. 30 miles east of Orlando on US Highway 1, known as “Boat Dealership Alley” due to the number of dealers along this road. Boaters Exchange is a 3.5-acre facility comprised of a 7,000-square-foot marine supply store and showroom, a 20,000-square-foot service center, and a 2.5-acre concrete sales yard. Their second location in New Smyrna Beach, Fla. is also located on US Highway 1, with a 10,000-square-foot store integrated with sales offices and a 5000-square-foot service center.
In 2021, Boaters Exchange made some big changes. “Although our service strategy did not change much, we made major changes to how we handle boat sales,” explained Kara Karasch, the dealership’s marketing director. “Due to the preponderance of sold boats that were placed on order with the builders, our changes were internal. We revised how we tracked factory orders, reserved precious production spots, and kept in constant contact with customers over the long lead times. We implemented a proactive call campaign to current customers with boats on order. This ensured us of a bi-weekly touch point to keep them apprised, answer questions, and log change orders. Change orders were on the rise because of the long lead times. There was a great deal more work on the part of the salesperson and admin staff to keep customers happy and track open orders with each builder.”
The greatest change for the dealership was the decision to sell a majority share of equity to Marine Connection, the 2021 Dealer of the Year, making the two sister dealerships. They share inventory and production slots between the two, as well as administrative resources such as the HR manager and CFO positions, allowing for lower out-of-pocket expenses.
For 2022, Boaters Exchange kept their goals realistic, adjusting as different challenges arose. “2021 was such a strong year, our goal for 2022 was to match 2021 in terms of top line revenue,” said Karasch. “We will not make it on units, but we are on-track to meet this goal of top line revenue. We also scaled back our margin targets for 2022, to combat inflationary pressures. Customers are paying more for boats in 2022, but our dealership will accept margins more in line with pre-Covid levels. Due to the huge demand and relative shortage of inventory in 2021, we simply had no choice but to raise margin targets. For 2022, we will relax those targets offering customers better deals, even though the price per foot of boat may be high due to builder price increases.”
Long term, the dealership’s plan is to add another offshore boat brand. “We also plan on resuming in-person customer events to their fullest extent, offering our existing customers and potential customers many opportunities to interact with our company on many levels. We don’t just sell boats, we sell a lifestyle!” Karasch enthused .
This “lifestyle” approach clearly resonates with their customers. With an overall CSI score of 95.75, Boaters Exchange has reaped the rewards of staying true to their ethos, even when long wait times challenge overall satisfaction levels.
“With the continued shortages and short-ships brought on by the pandemic, customers found themselves waiting many months for their ordered boats,” said Karasch. “Our goal as their dealer was to make sure all parts, whether short or required for rigging, were at the dealership and waiting when the boat arrived. Turnaround time was crucial, as customers were anxious to take delivery of their long-awaited new boats. Our dedicated teams in each department were able to accomplish lightning speed deliveries using pre-planning, efficient processes and speedy installation methods without sacrificing quality or commitment.”