2023 Top Dealers: Best in Class

By Boating Industry Staff

As part of this year’s Top 100: Top Dealer awards, Boating Industry has recognized four 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 2023.

Best Training

Futrell Marine
Hot Springs, Arkansas

Futrell Marine was founded all the way back in in 1948 by avid boat racer Dan Futrell. He began by selling Mercury outboards from a small store on Main Street in Nashville, Arkansas.

Dan passed his passion for boating down to his son, Woody, and after eventually assuming the role of managing partner in 1964, Woody Futrell quickly became a respected name in the recreational boating industry.

Today, Futrell Marine is a third-generation family-owned-and-operated business helmed by Woody’s son-in-law, Ricky Kesterson, who joined the company in 1993. He has been both innovative and aggressive in his corporate leadership, and has led the expansion of Futrell’s footprint to Hot Springs and Heber Springs, Arkansas including an extensive portfolio of retail offerings and services.

While Futrell Marine has certainly grown over the decades, one thing hasn’t changed, and that’s the “family atmosphere.” They say in their Top 100 application they are proud to offer a professional – and personal – experience with many employees having more than 30 years in the boating industry. Even Woody himself is still very active in the business.

Futrell covers the entire state of Arkansas with the Heber Springs and Greers Ferry locations, serving customers in the north central/northeast lakes area, and the Hot Springs Diamond Lakes locations catering to boaters in central and south regions of the state.

And Futrell’s mobile service extends that reach even further to the most remote locations.

Training investment

To say Futrell Marine “invested heavily” on training in 2022 would be a huge understatement. The fact is they upped their training expenditures by an incredible 193%!

A portion of those dollars went to Spader Business Management training.

Although they had long been a Spader client, Futrell exponentially increased their involvement – and investment.

Initially, Futrell sent select managers, along with high potential employees, to an in-person management training workshop in Sioux Falls. Managers in need of a Spader “refresh” were also included.

Senior management then visited Spader in Albuquerque for their Leadership Development Program, where among other things, they focused on how to work on the business, instead of just in the business. They also covered people management, strategy, and business structure, and came away with tools and takeaways for how to build a performance-based culture and a create a road map for staffing for growth.

With Spader’s help, they examined all aspects of their service operation, including work order management, work order control, billing and flat rates, warranty processes, work order flow management, receivables, and work order aging management.

Among other changes, budgets are now kept for individual techs, which led to increasing service productivity 13.8% versus budget.

Technicians are rewarded by increased base pay for additional training and certifications. For example, a Volvo certified technician earns $5 more per hour than a non-Volvo certified technician.

Service techs attend Cobalt Service School in Kansas and receive online training with Bennington, Volvo Penta and Ilmor.

Futrell says their technicians understand that added training and certification on increasingly sophisticated boats and technologies provides customers with the best possible service, while increasing their overall compensation at the same time.

Product training also received a heightened focus. On Tuesday mornings during the peak season, the sales staff conducts features and benefits training. During the offseason, the training is held multiple times per week.

Futrell says they have found this to be an excellent tool in cross-training sales staff on multiple lines and getting new sales staff rapidly up-to-speed. Sales managers monitor progress and results to assure accountability.

Futrell also participates in all brand sales training offered by manufacturers to improve selling behaviors, communication, and leadership skills.

In addition, the management team, along with the entire sales staff, attends national dealer meetings.

The result of all this training and a nearly 200% increase in their training budget? How about higher margins, increased commission-based compensation, increased service efficiency and billing and a 25% increase in top line revenue. That’s truly best in class.

Best Industry Advocate

Marina Holdings
Yarmouth, Maine

Made up of a family of marine businesses, including Yarmouth Boat Yard, Moose Landing Marina, Freedom Boat Club of Maine, Maine Boating Academy, Sea Tow of Portland/Midcoast, and the Portland Sea Taxi, everything Marina Holdings does is to bring life on the water to as many people as possible.

And to make sure the recreational boating industry and the boating lifestyle has the biggest spotlight possible, Marina Holdings and its businesses stay involved with a mile-long list of various groups, associations, councils and beyond.

From nationwide groups like the Association of Marina Industries and the American Boat & Yacht Council, to more local groups like the Freeport and Portland Chamber of Commerce and many more in between, Marina Holdings’ mission is clear: live for boating and share it with everyone they can.

As one of the two main parts of Marina Holdings’ business, Yarmouth Boat Yard (YBY) is located on the Royal River with easy access to the open waters of Maine’s Casco Bay. A full-service marina, YBY has 110 slips and can accommodate boats up to 46 feet. With slip space at 100% full, YBY has a sizeable waiting list for its slips. YBY features a 2,200-square-foot sales and service building with sales and administration offices on the top level and service writers, parts, and the ship’s store located on the bottom. There business also has an 8,500-square-foot heated service building, allowing the team to work on boat service projects throughout the winter months and meet customer demands for routine maintenance, retrofits, repowers, engine overhauls, as well as marine electronic installation projects in the offseason.

Marina Holdings’ Moose Landing Marina (MLM) – the other main staple of the company’s business — is located in Naples, Maine. The 15-acre property is the largest on-water facility in the Maine Lakes Region with over 1,000 feet of water frontage. Located on Brandy Pond, which connects to Long Lake and Sebago Lake, MLM customers can enjoy over 44 miles of boating from the facility. The full-service marina features over 200 deep-water slips, with grounds offering patios, grills, a ship’s store, a boat launch ramp, a double-sided fuel dock, two large bathhouses with showers, and a fleet of over 60 rental boats. In addition, MLM has an 800-square-foot boat rental office building, a 4,000-square-foot service/administration office, and one service building.

Using these businesses and its list of other marine businesses, Marina Holdings placed a large emphasis on bringing boating to the masses throughout 2022. One of the biggest ways to promote boating came while looking for a way to attract more new boaters and help retain existing ones, and with that in mind, Marina Holdings launched Maine Boating Academy in 2022.

“Through our Freedom Boat Club operations, we saw firsthand the value and popularity of boat training. A high percentage of our boat club members are new boaters,” Marina Holdings owner Steve Arnold said. “Offering safety and navigation training as part of the membership has been a vital aspect in the success and growth of our club. So, we decided to create a similar offering for our retail boat sales customers and prospects.”

The team at Marina Holdings established a full team of U.S. Coast Guard-licensed training captains to provide customized training on either a customer’s boat or on Marina Holdings’ branded training boat.

Aside from the new venture in boating safety and training, Marina Holdings also took 2022 to double-down on its efforts in investing not only in its future business success, but also industry colleagues by further getting involved in its 20 Group on a whole new level.

By involvement in a wide variety of industry organizations – both local and on a national level – Marina Holdings ensures that boating will have a long-held place in both current and future customers’ hearts.

“We strive to become a part of our customer’s family boating tradition, working to build lasting relationships,” Arnold said. “We want our customers to reach out to us for all their boating needs, now and in the future.”

Marina Holdings’ industry involvement and advocacy organizations:

  • Association of Marina Industries (AMI) Board Member
  • American Boat & Yacht Council Member
  • Boothbay Chamber of Commerce Member
  • Certified Professional Yacht Broker Member
  • Freedom Boat Club 20 Group with David Parker
  • Retail Boat Dealership 20 Group with David Parker
  • Freedom Boat Club National Marketing Council Member
  • Freedom Boat Club National Fleet Advisory Council Member
  • Freedom Boat Club National Business Services Council Member
  • Freeport Chamber of Commerce Member
  • Maine Island Trail Association Partner Business
  • Maine Marine Trades Association Board Member
  • Marine Marketers of America Member
  • Marine Retailers Association of the Americas Member
  • National Marine Manufacturers Association Member
  • Portland Chamber of Commerce Member
  • Town of Yarmouth Harbor & Waterfront Committee Member
  • Yarmouth Chamber of Commerce Member
  • YBAA – Association of Yacht Sales Professionals Member

Best Service Department

Mark’s Marine
Hayden, Idaho

Mark’s Marine has been in business since 1970, and they feel it’s important to stop occasionally, take a 30,000-foot view of the business, say who they are and make sure everyone knows “where they plant their flag” as they said in their Top 100 application.

So they challenged their staff to come up with an acronym for Mark’s to describe what they stand for as a company.

This is what they came up with:

  • Masters in our industry
  • Always have the customer’s best interest at heart
  • Respected throughout the community
  • Knowledgeable resource
  • Selling only the highest quality boats

They also added learning, growing, always improving and striving to be better every day.

Day 1 to today

Striving to be better every day was a mantra from day one for Mark Garnier when he started the business in 1970, in International Falls, Minnesota, as a small service shop and Lund dealer. Service was a focus then, and it remains so today.

In the early 1980’s, Mark’s Marine moved to Idaho. But they stayed true to their service roots, offering low key service and sales, and along the way becoming the first full-service Yamaha Dealer in the northwest. They would also eventually offer the largest marine parts and accessories selection in the Inland Empire.

The dealership is located on highway 95 right in the middle of the lakes area of north Idaho, roughly halfway between the area’s two largest lakes and only a couple of minutes from Hayden Lake. They have a 20,000 square-foot main building with a central parts/service hub design and a large indoor showroom.  Their 3,500 square-foot service shop is stocked with more than 30,000 different parts. They also have two other major buildings on their main property with a detached detail warranty bay and six additional offsite warehouses.

Every year their service technicians undergo almost 100 hours of training and factory certification to make sure they’re up to date on the latest service techniques, tricks, and technologies.

Technicians are paid on an hourly rate with seasonal overtime as needed. In addition, they receive a percentage of the service department billing as a commission to encourage collective efficiency improvements. In their Top 100 application they note that this has helped to create a much more mutually supportive environment.

All staff are eligible for participation in year end profit sharing and the two criteria for technicians on their allocation is longevity and efficiency. In addition, they employ a 5-Star Review/Perfect CSI spiff that gets split equally between the technician working on it and the front staff that interacted with the customer.

Also like most certified shops, they have quarterly proficiency and billable efficiency goals and pay a bonus every time the shop hits those marks.

As far as scheduling goes, they have a quick turn schedule that is Same Day/Next Day depending on the job type, and a standard first come/first serve system that typically has a one-to-two-week turnaround time. Currently they are only offering same day diagnostic inspection for current new boat customers.

Mark’s is currently shifting some of their scheduled workflow from their Yamaha service scheduler and table method to a newer Lightspeed system, but they have not yet completed the transition.

They have also created individual tech bins so that parts for jobs actively assigned to techs before all the parts have landed don’t get lost on their benches or in the parts dispatch room. By utilizing large, canned jobs in Lightspeed they can very quickly pull large chunks of the necessary parts for jobs to help work more efficiently.

Each rigger maintains a dispatch board next to their station with their current job, and their next three to four rigs, as well as what is currently holding up rigs in process and what the delivery dates are.

Mark’s has also been taking heavy advantage of cloud technology to share photos, inspection documents, engine downloads, and serial numbers between staff to minimize customer downtime and improve billable efficiency to 96%.

“Our focus on training, processes, and continual improvement have become our reputation and our claim to fame in the Inland Northwest Region,” reads their Top 100 application. “That reputation gives us a strong competitive advantage even against the price sellers on the internet. We aren’t everything to everyone, but we are the first, and often last stop, for die-hard fishermen. We’ve managed to maintain good margins and sales and service growth while still maintaining an outstanding customer experience. And we look forward to continuing to grow and serving our customers here for another 40 years.”

Best Events

Spring Brook Marine
Seneca, Illinois

Operating with five locations across Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan, events are among the biggest asset Spring Brook Marine Group keeps in its diverse business toolbox to keep the organization top of mind for both current and future customers.

And while events of all types are of the utmost importance to all marine retailers, Spring Brook Marine Group has found its niche in creating small, but extremely powerful, events for current and prospective clients.

“Pivoting from 2021, we changed our event marketing to more intimate style events,” Spring Brook Marine Group marketing manager Kristen Keegan said. “We have decided we are more successful at small events with the right partners rather than throwing big parties with an open invite.”

Keegan explained that with Spring Brook Marine Group’s “extremely niche customer base” casting a wide net at events and their corresponding invites doesn’t necessarily suit the style of business that the organization operates within.

With this in mind, another big pivot in events for Spring Brook Marine Group in 2022 was to move from less sponsorships to more mutually beneficial partnerships.

Keegan provided the 2022 example of a working partnership with SolJets, where each business traded participation at the other’s 2022 events. This offered the opportunity to meet prospects at the events, rather than simply being listed as a sponsor.

The partnership mentality led to a brand-new event in 2022 for Spring Brook Marine Group, Wings, Wheels & Waves. A partnership between Spring Brook Marine Group, SolJets Brokerage and Lake Forest Ferrari, the event brought together some of the most qualified potential clients for the dealership’s brands.

“The clientele is absolutely more than qualified to purchase what we have to offer so the goal of the event is networking for our sales team,” Keegan said. “We were able to bring the Hermes Speedster as we obviously can’t bring our larger yachts out of the water for one event, but the networking was second to none.”

With the Chicago Boat Show cancelled, Spring Brook Marine Group turned what could’ve been a loss on the year into an internal opportunity to funnel clients into the marina at its Seneca location.

“It was a two-day open house with Prestige Yachts, Jeanneau Power and Barletta Pontoons all on display in our showroom and service center. We had an open bar, light hors d’oeuvres and luxurious treats including custom logo cookies for all who attended,” Keegan explained. “Results were fantastic, as boaters in our neck of the woods were itching to look at boats with all of the cancelled winter boat shows and we were able to capitalize with sales.”

By changing its focus to more luxury, small-scale events, Spring Brook Marine Group was able craft meaningful partnerships across all of its markets and the payoff proof is in the numbers for the business, with consistent leads and customer satisfaction in every experience across the board.

“Our differentiator is our approach to the marine industry as a whole,” Keegan said. “We pride ourselves on being disruptive, different, and not the typical ‘old school’ boat dealership. We love boating, we love being on the water, and we believe the value that brings to people’s lives. Our sole goal is to grow boating through experiences and we have brought so many new people into boating based on all of these efforts.”

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