As part of this year's Top 100: Top Dealer awards, Boating Industry has recognized seven companies with special “Best in Class” awards, for companies that particularly excelled in one area of their business.
Below are the Best in Class award recipients for 2022.
Best Industry Advocate
WaterSports Central, headquartered in Buford, Ga., has five locations across both Georgia and South Carolina. Over the past four years, they’ve added and remodeled showrooms, service bays, and more in Seneca, S.C. and Lake Oconee, Ga. The dealership has also taken over service operations at the Lake Rabun marina near Atlanta, Ga.
Recently, the dealership came under new management after being purchased by Jeff Husby, the owner of Regal & Nautique of Orlando, the 2022 Top 100 Dealer of the Year. “The first year with the new CEO was exciting for everyone at WaterSports Central,” said Preston Davis, EVP of WaterSports Central. “Jeff Husby was an industry leader known to prior management through joint participation in the Nautique Parker 20 Group. With WC's five locations plus Orlando, Jeff could not successfully implement the changes without the support of a solid team within Watersports Central.”
Despite many changes, the dealership remained an active member of various industry associations. One of their most important memberships is that of the Water Sports Industry Association (WSIA). The WSIA is an industry advocate with a core mission to preserve the vitality of towed watersports long into the future. The WSIA is comprised of and supported by industry brands from boat and equipment manufacturers to cable parks and waterski and wakeboard schools. In the last several years, the WSIA has moved towards protecting the industry from threats such as localized campaigns against wakeboats.
“WaterSports Central understands that as a dealer, we are the first line of defense against these threats and usually the first to hear or see them coming,” said Davis. As a result, the dealership takes a proactive role by educating current, new and prospective boat owners on safe boating practices. “Whether through sharing the WSIA’s ‘Wake Responsibly’ campaign through materials, producing educational events and seminars like our ‘Ladies on the Lake,’ or even hosting town-hall meetings as we did at Lake Rabun, WaterSports Central embraces its area of responsibility in helping protect our industry and is moving in concert with the WSIA on the matters at hand.”
Brandon Lee, the general manager of WaterSports Central’s Oconee location and owner of affiliate Wake/surf school GA Wake Lessons, serves as a chairman for WSIA, representing the “Camps and Schools” subset. He was voted into position in 2019 and has subsequently worked alongside the WSIA executive director to bring together schools across the country in order to create tools that help the other schools grow their businesses.
One of these tools is a “Best Practices Guide,” a document for WSIA members to help their camps and schools become safer and more successful, derived from and informed by the learnings of current members. Most recently, Lee has worked to coordinate efforts for schools across the country with WSIA’s major annual campaign, ‘Pass the Handle,’ an initiative to increase people’s exposure to towed watersports.
Two of the dealership’s team members, Sonny Remillard, EVP of service and Paige Mason, controller, participate in the Marine Trade Association of Metro Atlanta (MTAMA). MTAMA worked to develop an alternative in-water boat show at Lake Lanier Islands, in which WaterSports Central participated in.
Throughout the pandemic, WaterSports Central remained an industry advocate. They continue to work towards overall industry betterment through participation in these associations and other premier events such as the ELEVATE SUMMIT conference and David Parker’s Nautique 20 Group.
Miami Nautique International
A boat dealership isn’t the first thing you’d picture when asked to visualize an “influencer,” but Miami Nautique has proven to be social media savvy. The dealership is one of the few in the Top 100 with an international presence. They have six domestic locations and multiple international satellite locations in South America and Central America.
What truly sets this dealership apart is their commitment to their marketing practices. “We utilize both traditional and online mediums in order to best reach our target audience,” said Kimberly Laursen, owner and COO of Miami Nautique. “With the ability to track the performance of our marketing initiatives, we have continued to see a shift in the allocation of our marketing budget from offline promotions towards more online avenues. The objective of our marketing strategy is geared toward establishing a relationship with our customers early in the buying cycle and working with them through the entirety of the process in order to provide them with the best product that most fits their interest.”
Miami Nautique’s marketing plan is continuously evolving so that they can continue to reach their target demographic via the most appropriate channels. “With a larger focus online each passing year, we have aggressively worked to develop our search engine rankings from an organic perspective, as well as increased our paid search investments. As a result, both channels have produced increases in both aggregate web traffic and revenue,” said Laursen.
They carefully track their analytics to make data-driven decisions about marketing, the approach, tactics and ultimately, their business strategy. “We firmly believe visual marketing is currently more important than it has ever been,” Laursen said.
Their approach to visual marketing included becoming a sponsor for a household name company. “In 2021 we began a relationship with Redbull USA, and have spent much of the year on this collaboration. We wrapped a boat with the Redbull logo and offered a package to them which included the boat, a captain and assistant, and a photographer/videographer. Due to this newly formed relationship, and video content, we have seen a rapid increase in followers.” Miami Nautique currently has over 27,000 followers on Instagram, a particularly impressive feat.
They’ve achieved this through a number of marketing strategies that other dealerships may want to take note of. There is a dedicated marketing department and web administrator who is in charge of creating traffic via effective SEO through ad words and keywords. The administrator also uploads up-to-date information on boats and products. The dealership doesn’t shy away from collaboration either. They partner with other suppliers to create social media strategies to increase presence, offer promotions, and discounts and to generate brand loyalty and sales.
As people’s main access to the internet shifts from computer screens to phone screens, websites and other online portals must adapt to be mobile friendly. Miami Nautique makes sure that formatting isn’t something overlooked when sending out newsletters, updating their website or posting to social media.
It’s worth reiterating: when it comes to social media, Miami Nautique shines. They post daily to both Instagram and Facebook in order to boost brand awareness. The dealership also takes time to interact with their audience. “We are aware that social media ‘goes both ways.’ In other words, customers appreciate it when they know we are watching their social media accounts rather than just posting on ours,” said Laursen. “We follow our customers and push "likes" and make comments which encourages them to tag us in the posts. We use this as an integral part of the sales process for establishing relationships and deepening our existing relationships. In turn, we have a chance to analyze what prospects are saying about our brands and our competitors. It's a great way to research markets and initiate conversation that may lead to a sale.
“At Miami Nautique International, we are all about engaging a worldwide community by presenting our brand and products in interesting ways. We continually do our best to offer images and content that appeal to the lifestyle of our end users.”
Best Service Department
Atlantic Outboard, Inc.
Atlantic Outboard is a Connecticut-based dealership, located in Westbrook’s Marine district. Along with their 5000-sq-ft showroom and 48000-sq-ft service center, they have two marina locations with 100 slips.
Boating Industry recognizes Atlantic Outboard as Best in Class due to a number of improvements and best practices they implement when it comes to their service department. In 2022, the dealership hired a full-time service coordinator. The service coordinator works directly with customers to relay messages about their boat progress and fields all service phone calls and emails. “By hiring a full-time service coordinator our service manager now has more time to work directly with our technicians. Our technicians love it! Our service manager is also a master tech and teaches our technicians daily,” said Gina Trasacco, office manager for Atlantic Outboard.
The dealership uses a point system to schedule and dispatch their service jobs. “Each customer is awarded a certain number of points based on how much they interact with our company,” Trasacco explained. “Ways customers can earn points include purchasing a boat/motor from us, winter storage, general maintenance, slip customers, and parts/accessories purchases. For example, if we have a customer who bought the boat from us, keeps it at our marina, stores in the winter and has us do all of their maintenance they have higher priority than someone who only comes here for parts.” This points system allows the dealership to build solid relationships with loyal customers.
The service department is also sure to stay on top of all incoming service orders. Whenever a boat is dropped off for service, technicians will have looked at it within 24 hours. This allows for an accurate time estimate on the job and gives the department a chance to order any relevant parts.
The dealership has a 91.1% technician efficiency rate, an impressive feat they achieve through careful tracking and ample incentives. Efficiency is tracked through Dockmaster. The service department has also implemented flat rates for all jobs. “There is a chart in the shop that displays our flat rate times. We found that this is very helpful for our technicians,” said Trasacco. “They like to be able to look and see how their times are compared to the flat rates. We also have monthly meetings to go over efficiency times with the technicians. In these meetings we talk as a group, and we will have one-on- ones. In 2021 we went over our flat rate times with all of our technicians. We were then able to adjust our flat rate times, so they became more accurate. Our new service coordinator, Jim, provides weekly reports to help us track.”
All technicians are compensated hourly, and the dealership employs all staff members year round. On top of this, the dealership implements billable hour compensation. For every five billable hours, technicians receive a raffle ticket. Raffle prizes include gift cards and free vacation days.
The small things matter too. “In 2021, we expanded pizza Fridays,” said Trasacco. “Now, technicians have a choice of pizza Fridays or iced coffee Fridays. In the summer iced coffee is a huge hit for our technicians! With the hot weather they would much rather have some fresh iced coffee to get them through the workday.”
“We'll continue to have our foot on the gas,” comments Evan Cusson, manager of Atlantic Outboard. “In addition to being names Boating Industry's Best Service Department, we also received the coveted CSI Dealer of the Year award for North America for Robalo Boats for the second time. While we clearly have processes that work well and produce great results, we're constantly adapting and tweaking to make ourselves better and help enhance our customer's experience. However, it all begins with a dedicated team who enjoys what they do, we're lucky to have some of the best and most talented team members in the industry.”
Gregg Orr Marine
Hot Springs, Arkansas
Gregg Orr Marine, a dealership with locations in Arkansas, Texas and Florida, knows the value of community. To this end, they are an active part of every local community they are in, hosting and participating in a variety of events. This enthusiastic approach has earned them a Best in Class distinction for 2022.
“Community Events are our specialty! We believe that regular customer interaction is vital to a long-term relationship and the quality of our clients' boating experiences,” said Lisa Murphy, general manager of Gregg Orr Marine. “We are big supporters of youth fishing and have regular events for youth anglers and adult anglers. Additionally, we hold watersports clinics and classes. Our goal is to make sure boaters have the best experience on their boats. Teaching families to surf helps to give them confidence and keep them ‘Behind the Boat’ for life.”
One of the dealership’s biggest events is the Youth Fishing Seminar. This event is geared towards all young anglers, youth and high school fishing teams, parents, coaches, and sponsors. The seminar had door prizes and featured guest speakers including Mark Davis, Brad Whatley, Homer Humphreys, Hunter Baughman, Michael Yoder, Taylor Johnson, and Shane Smith. “They all did a fantastic job and put smiles on a lot of young faces,” Murphy said. “Every one of them stayed late to sign autographs, answer questions, and interact with everyone there.” The dealership is also a sponsor for the Arkansas Young Guns Bass Trail, a tournament for Youth and High School Anglers. They don’t neglect adult anglers either: each June, they host a bass tournament.
Aside from tournaments, Gregg Orr Marine puts on clinics. Introduction to Wake Surfing is an all-day event for children ages 6-17. “Our Hyperlite rep brings boards & equipment for kids to use and helps our in-house pro with wakesurfing lessons for kids,” explained Murphy. “We serve lunch and have gifts for the kids. Parents are encouraged to attend.”
The dealership couldn’t make these tournaments and clinics a success without their customers, so they’re sure to include yearly events to show their appreciation. Every year, they have a Customer Appreciation Day with live music, catered food, gifts, games and prizes and a pro shop sale. “It's a great day to get our staff and customers together for some fun in the sun,” said Murphy.
There are also four ‘Party in the Cove’ events held on Lake Hamilton each summer. These began in 2021. “We sponsor and co-host these events. We have several live bands out at our favorite local cove playing on a floating barge. We give out event t-shirts and this event always has a huge turnout with over 100 boats tied up and listening to music and having a great time.”
The fun doesn’t stop when summer ends: during the first week of December, Gregg Orr Marine hosts a Christmas Boat Parade to benefit charity. People decorate their boats and enter them into the parade. “The winner of the Best Boat Decorations is voted for on Facebook and 100% of the entry fees are donated to the winner's charity of choice,” explained Murphy. “We match the entry money so double is given. This grows every year, and locals line all of the restaurants on the lake to watch for the Christmas boat parade. We also have Cookies with Santa on the day of the parade at our pro shop. Kids come have cookies and cider and have their photo taken with Santa.”
Gregg Orr Marine has a lot of events catered to youth, cognizant of the future of the industry. They’re also involved in the Wake the World Kids Day and Adaptive Day. Wake the World (WTW) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that provides watersports opportunities to underserved children and the disabled community. The dealership sponsors and participates in the events, providing boats, drivers, and watersports instructors for both kids days and adaptive days.
Best Boat Show Strategy
Riverside Marine, located in Essex, Md., has been busy making improvements and brainstorming new ideas to capitalize on the easing of the pandemic. One of the biggest parts of Riverside Marine’s overall strategy is their participation in boat shows. “Boat shows are a very important part of our business,” said David Baumgartner, president of Riverside marine. “By early summer, after speaking to other dealers and NMMA (who owned the Baltimore Boat show) we felt like we were going to lose our regular Baltimore Boat show. So Riverside Marine began plans for a new winter show in the marketplace.”
This initiative earned the dealership a Best in Class recognition. “Covid changed the landscape and the planning for boat shows for 2021,” said Baumgartner. “Now, you have to work well in advance of what you had to do in the past to plan inventory for display at a show.”
“Maryland's Only Winter Boat Show” was a huge success for the dealership. It was hosted in a large, outdoor tent in accordance with Covid restrictions, and it took place over weeks instead of just days. Riverside Marine took full advantage of social media to publicize this new boat show.
“We used mobile advertising through an agency who is also the promoter of several large winter boat shows on the East Coast,” said Baumgartner. The dealership also uses google keywords, pay-per-click advertising, and behavioral and geographic targeting. Advertising is just one part of the entire endeavor. Riverside’s approach to boat shows ensures that they’re well prepared for their audience.
“Our goal at boat shows is to meet and greet more customers, take more leads and sell more boats than any dealer at the show. We developed a process in the 90s that we utilize and tweak year to year so we can continue to be very successful at boat shows,” Baumgartner said. “Show space is very important to our success. We like to rent a lot of space, usually the largest display of any dealer at the show. Over the years we have been able to secure our space location to be on a main aisle, where the crowd must pass our display more than once.”
For Riverside Marine, boat show preparation for the next year starts the day after the current show ends. The sales team meets 3-4 months prior to the show to review the models and begin to work on the show display. Over the next month, they finalize the models for the show, tag stock boats that will be used, and confirm ordered boats with color and options for boats not in inventory. In the time running up to the show, they have multiple meetings discussing sales goals for each boat brand and provide product training on all models to be displayed.
When asked what advice Riverside Marine would offer other dealerships on their own boat show strategy, general manager Trudy Jefferson had this to say: “The number one thing we can say is to treat every boat show as the utmost important event of the year. And if you don’t have a local boat show or if it was cancelled? Then do your own! The Covid landscape was certainly trying and forced us to get creative, for us we decided to have our own boat show in a massive outdoor tent following all safety measures and we publicized heavily it through all our local media/boating outlets.
“Now that boat shows are back in action, sign up and go! We’ve seen over the years a trend of fewer dealers attending shows, and for those that do, taking smaller displays and smaller staffs, even pre-Covid. Our mentality has always been the opposite. No matter how much consumers shop online and buy remotely, we believe that a boat requires face-to-face and hands-on interaction. There’s no better time to foster that relationship than at a boat show. Commit to attending your boat show with the biggest display and most salespeople – the return will greatly outweigh the cost.”
Best Customer Service
Dockside Marine sets itself above the rest by an unwavering commitment to the highest level of customer satisfaction. The Houston-based dealership is located near Lake Conroe and sits on three acres with access to the local marina. Notably, the dealership is among a select handful of the Top Dealers to have achieved a perfect 100% CSI score.
Dockside achieves this score by listening to their customers about details both big and small. For example, Dockside expanded their pro shop at the suggestion of their customers and received encouraging results for their efforts.
“Our customers have shown great appreciation to us for responding to their request for a pro shop,” said L.P. Carlson, president of Dockside Marine. “We have again expanded our Pro Shop which includes lifejackets, ropes, wakeboards, surfboards, and many other accessories. Our customers really appreciate the ability to get what they need for the water without having to make another stop.”
The dealership doesn’t leave anything to chance, either. They’ve implemented a system for all sales to garner feedback on areas of improvement. “Our ‘Dockside Family’ closing document, which communicates important aspects of boat ownership, has played an integral role in building an open line of communication with our customers from the very beginning,” said Carlson. The dealership’s Buyer Acknowledgement form aims to clarify any potentially confusing information for the customer. At the end of the sale, the customer is presented with a two- question survey. This is used as a basis for follow-up phone calls and emails. The questions are straightforward: 1. Are you 100% satisfied with the service you received from Dockside Marine? 2. Would you recommend Dockside to a friend or family member?
“For any customer who does not answer yes to both questions, Resolution Form must be filled out and presented to executive management,” explained Carlson. “We continue to lake-test every boat, both sales and service, to ensure seamless delivery and performance. Our business is fueled by our repeat customers, and referral customers. Our review responses have been tremendous with the implementation of our new phone app which allows us to send a review request to our customer with the click of a button and our customer can conveniently leave a review for us on the site of their choice.”
The dealership also has a custom app for service and event scheduling and offers service specials for customers who schedule over 30 days in advance.
“Our Mobile Service Unit is dedicated to the convenience of performing service for our customers and potential customers without the hassle of bringing their boat to us. Our tracking system documents each customer who calls our dealership or visits our showroom. This provides us with current data regarding the needs and wants of our customers in terms of type, make, or model of boat inquiries or type of service needed.” “We want all of our customers to feel like movie stars at our dealership,” Carlson says. “This type of treatment is the reason for our record number of repeat customers and referral customers, as well as perfect CSI Scores and a 100 NPS.”