2022 Top Dealers: Best Practices

By the staff of Boating Industry

For the last 17 years, Boating Industry’s Top 100 program has become a symbol of the best of the best in retailers across the recreational marine industry. Now in its 18th year in 2022, the program has expanded to award and honor the elite across the entire industry. As a continuation of the original roots of the Top 100 program, Boating Industry honors the Top 100: Top Dealers, recognizing the best marine retailers across North America.

The Top Dealers portion of the Top 100 Awards is the only independent ranking of boat dealers in North America.

The list recognizes dealerships that are unsurpassed in business operations, professionalism, marketing tactics, customer service and more. The Boating Industry Top 100 has recognized the Top Dealers in North America every year since 2005.

This year’s Top Dealers program brought on a stack of new applicants and new competition to the program along with very strong returns from multi-year winners. And while the industry continues to navigate plenty of change, one thing remains to be true each and every year – the dealers on Boating Industry’s Top Dealers list continue to set the pace in sales, customer service and success overall, and continue to set an example for all dealers across North America and the world.

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.

Anticipate change

Within the marine industry and beyond, change has been near the only constant over the last couple of years. Michigan’s Club Royale Sales and Service Inc. has found success time and time again by anticipating change across the marine industry and adapting its business to accommodate.

“In general, decisions are made based on research, experience and input from customers and employees,” owner Robert Davis said. “Long term plans are made with the attempt to anticipate the upcoming changes in the marine industry.”

For example, the team at Club Royale Sales and Service Inc. noted a trend of boats becoming wider, an increase in pontoon popularity and the commonality of boats with towers in today’s (and future) boats. With this in mind, the business made the decision to sell its commerce storage location to build a brand-new storage facility onsite to accommodate the evolving boat designs.

“When it comes to decision making and long-term business plans, we’re fortunate that we have a team that can make anything happen and loves a good project,” Davis said. “There is an all-hands-on-deck approach to everything we do that makes anticipating and adapting to change that much easier.”

Grow all areas of business

With the current success across the boating industry, it’s very easy for dealers to put a continued focus on its sales department and how they can continue to better sales. However, in order to operate a continually successful business, dealers must look at all aspects of their operation.

Due to major growth in its sales in 2019 and 2020, Alberta-based Gibbons Motor Toys set a short term goal to increase parts and service roles in 2021.

“Out goal to increase our parts and services roles came to accommodate the growth we knew would follow in these areas and to ensure the sustainability of the new sales levels,” Gibbons’ controller and HR administrator June Pelechosky said.

Their 2021 plan to focus on parts and service also included some rather extensive renovations to the parts and service counter in the dealer’s Alberta store to increase the number of workstations in anticipation of the increased front-end staff. Some of the increases included the creation of new service advisor and parts shipping/receiving positions in Alberta, as well as a new parts and service advisor role in Gibbons’ British Columbia location.

“Growth continued in 2021, which provided reassurance that the changes initiated were certainly necessary,” Pelechosky said. “Making these changes has allowed us to maintain our status as an industry leader in overall customer experience and service.”

Invest, train, simplify

With business growing at an exponential rate over the last couple of years, many dealers get caught up in the day-to-day and simply remain at the status quo. Dealers finding even greater success are those that continue to invest and grow their teams’ abilities even when things are already going well.

The events surrounding the recent pandemic expedited the transition to a “digital business” for Georgia’s Lincolnton Marine.

“We have continuously invested, trained, and researched methods to simplify our processes, automate operations, and measure productivity,” Lincolnton Marine president Jeremy Dawkins said. “In 2021, management identified, evaluated, purchased tools to streamline business operations, digitalize workflow, and commence e-commerce. Customer buying habits changed with the internet, communications movement to cellular devices, and transactions becoming digitalized.”

For Lincolnton, this involved a complete shift in mindset from top to bottom.

“Disruptions from Covid expedited our adoption to streamline our business processes; digitally transform procedures; and systemize the workflows of gathering, integrating, processing, distributing, assigning, communicating, scheduling, completing, following up, measuring, monitoring, and evaluating became paramount,” Dawkins explained.

Lincolnton shifted its balance of managing physical inventory to managing pre-sold clients and therefore opted to invest in simplified tools, processes and training to connect, engage and replicate with solutions from various software and digital providers.

Customer service first, always

It should be no surprise customer service should be at the forefront of every marine dealer operation. However, with recent growth in sales and some crazy times, sometimes dealers let customer service slip in trying to help as many customers – both current and prospective – as they possibly can.

No matter how busy things get, Silver Spray Sports consistently puts customer service first time and time again.

“For over 41 years, customer service to a very select group of individuals — all of our Silver Spray customers — has been job No. 1,” Silver Spray VP of operations Patti Smith said. “Since we only sell one brand of new boat, we have to be the very best at what we do as we cater to a very narrow market.”

Everyone on the Silver Spray Sports team plays a very specific role, however it is also known across the team that individuals can lean on their associates in any time of need, helping to ensure that the ball is never dropped when it comes to the ultimate customer experience.

“We always try to treat our customers the way we would want to be treated,” Smith said. “We have always found that if you put yourself on the other side of the coin and look at things as a customer would, then you can have a better idea of what the customers want and what is really important to them.”

For Silver Spray Sports, it’s all about keeping things simple and ensuring customer experience is number one, and it keeps leading the dealership to greater and greater success.

Build leadership across the team

2021 was a year of building up leadership for longtime Top Dealer Gage Marine. As part of the past year’s initiatives, Gage Marine hired new management for one of its divisions, in order to provide strong and effective leadership.

“We continued to stress our company core focus and core values to promote our ideals of excellence and customer service, while fostering a fun and supportive environment for our employees,” CEO Bill Gage, Jr. said. “We were able to maintain high quality staffing across our businesses, which allowed us to continue to offer excellent service to our customers.”

Every year, leadership and staff from every division at Gage Marine hosts a “GEMS and Opportunities” meeting to discuss the previous season. Feedback and suggestions that emerge during these session help shape leadership and the company’s plans for the upcoming year and kick off the rest of the planning process for the organization.

It’s truly a team effort across Gage Marine’s business and one that encourages all of its employees to be leaders in one way or another, helping find success for each and every staff member and in turn, the dealership as a whole.

Being prepared for the next step

Part of running a successful business that lasts for many generations is having a succession plan in place for when it comes time to retire.

Mark’s Marine owners Merlin and Karen Thykeson began that very transition to retirement in 2021. In bringing in a new general manager and with their son moving into a leadership role, the Thykeson’s have been readying their business for continued success far into the future.

“At Mark’s Marine, Inc. we take pride in our reputation, it’s what motivates us every day in all we do,” vice president Aaron Thykeson said. “Our sales staff are experts on the top-quality boats we sell and our skilled technicians service our customer boats quickly, efficiently and with the customer’s best interests in mind. With constant training, our staff stays on top of the newest technologies and applies them accordingly.”

The important detail to note is that preparing for succession in your business is not an overnight decision. Merlin and Karen have been preparing their son and the rest of the Mark’s Marine team over the last few years.

There are a lot of moving parts that go into planning succession and many different ways to ensure the business you build as an owner continue on with success for many years ahead. However, it’s never too early to start putting a plan in place, even if that plan changes over time.

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