By David Gee
Boating Industry ELEVATE SUMMIT Director
“I’m Doyle Bryan of Bryan’s Marine in Vidalia, Louisiana.” That introduction, outside a breakout session at the Boating Industry ELEVATE Summit in Dallas, was quickly followed by another. “And I’m Joey Bryan, also of Bryan’s Marine.”
I love talking to boat dealers about how they got into the business, and this father-son duo proved so exceedingly polite, cordial, and humble as it turned out, I knew the conversation would be an easy – and enjoyable – one.
I also like to use this space to shine a spotlight on dealers who don’t actively seek it, and these two were just so plain nice, I thought Bryan’s Marine, founded in 1986, would be perfect for my editor’s choice.
“All my life it seems like this is all I’ve ever done,” said Doyle when I asked if he grew up boating. “I like tinkering on boats. My dad got me started on that. We had an old boat that that we spent more time wrenching on than running, but I guess that’s what started it for me.”
Doyle seems to have passed that down to his son, Joey, as both are licensed mechanics at their 18,000 square-foot, three-and-a-half acre facility, located within 100 miles of Jackson, Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Alexandria, Monroe and Shreveport.
The operation features a large outdoor showroom, in addition to their standard indoor showroom for boats, tackle, parts and accessories, a technician shop, a new boat rigging shop, and a loose engine storage building.
It’s all conveniently located on a main highway just five miles from the Mississippi River, and a 30-minute drive from 13 different bodies of water.
There is certainly lots of boating activity in the area, and Doyle began his lifelong career in the recreational boating industry as a mechanic, working at two other dealerships in the area for a dozen years or so.
Then he eventually decided to go out on his own, first opening a service-only business, before launching his full-service store selling pontoons, bass boats, duck boats, and runabouts.
“It’s not just a job,” Doyle told me at the conference in Dallas when we first met, “it’s a true family partnership.”
He said he had a dream and his wife and kids have shared in the development of that dream and have been a part of Bryan’s Marine since its establishment.
“My wife can take apart motors and work on them right alongside me and Joey and the other certified mechanics,” he said rather proudly.
Son Joey proudly submitted their Boating Industry Top Dealers application, and like everyone else, detailed how they navigated the murky post-Covid waters.
“It was easy to see that production was still an issue with a quick turnaround being doubtful,” read their Top Dealers application summary. “We had some products on order for as much as a year, with some models being dropped entirely. We had to increase margins across the board to offset the lack of inventory. We also learned there was no need to spend excessive amounts of marketing dollars when we were still struggling with inventory. So we continued to build our social media platforms and continued our focus on strong customer relationships.”
As a result, Bryan’s Marine went from a 6% decrease in revenue in 2021 to an 8% increase for 2022.
They aggressively went after pre-owned boats, and worked with vendors to know when inventory would arrive and presold from that.
Lowering overall floorplans and reducing marketing expenses also helped the bottom line.
Doyle and Joey also invested in employee acquisition and retention.
When it comes to goals for the future, they keep it consistent – and simple.
“Our most important long-term goal is – and always has been – to treat every customer like a member of our family. To treat them with respect and treat them as we ourselves would want to be treated. Customer relations is always our top goal.”
Doyle and Joey are optimistic the supply chain will return to normal, and they want to invest more in digital marketing. They also plan to develop a new website where customers can not only find boats, apparel, parts, accessories, and financing options easier, but also interact more directly with the service department.
Anyone in the recreational boating business knows that change is a constant. And that adapting to those changes is critical to success – and staying in business.
Doyle and Joey Bryan know they can’t do business the same way they did when Bryan’s Marine began nearly four decades ago.
But they both say one thing will never change. And that is staying true to their core values. Joey summed it up on their Top Dealers application.
“Values and our respect for our customers and employees is what has set our family owned-and-operated business apart for all these years. We have been able to change and update our business practices to evolve and thrive in the midst of change. But we have been able to make those changes without losing who we are as a whole. And we think that’s something to be proud of.”