Trends from the 2018 Top 100

As some of the best boat dealers in North America, the Boating Industry Top 100 dealers – and those who apply for the list – offer us great insight into the top issues facing the industry. 

As I write this, we’re deep into evaluation of this year’s applicants. (By the time it’s published, the 2018 list will be done.) Here are a few interesting insights from this year’s applicants. 

2017 was a very good year

Almost every U.S.-based dealer that applied for the Top 100 this year had a significant increase in revenue in 2017 – more than 90 percent grew business this year. Many companies saw revenue increase by double-digit percentages. (I’d guess somewhere around half.) 

Canadian dealers had it a little tougher with economic conditions not being as strong north of the border. Unfortunately, that’s something many dealers up there expect to continue this year as tariffs put increased pressure on boat imports.

More dealers are emphasizing customer service

Customer service has always been important to the best dealers, but many companies are trying to refine their processes even further. 

Many dealers report hiring more staff dedicated to customer service and CSI scores, Others write about improving communication, especially with service customers. 

We’re also seeing more dealers sign with third-party companies to conduct customer surveys outside of the manufacturer CSI cards.

“Each and every customer from our service department receives a follow-up call, post service completion,” writes one Western dealer. “We continue to see that customers are more likely to be truthful and forward when speaking with a third party. These reports allow us to immediately reach out to affect positive change in how the customer perceives their experience with us. We can address issues and have an opportunity to correct any issues the customer is still experiencing.” 

Boat shows are still alive and well

Although boat shows have changed in the wake of the recession, dealers are adapting to that reality. 

Those dealers that are in top markets are still seeing great results from their boat show efforts. Many wrote about increasing their investment in shows. This seems to be an especially strong trend in northern climates, like the Great Lakes, Northeast and Canada.

As one Midwest dealer put it, it’s not a boat show, it’s a boat sale. This dealer says it is about changing the mindset to be sales focused.

“Many dealers have pulled back on their commitment to these shows and we have accelerated. We have made the shows fancier, most featured, and have focused on the overall customer experience at the boat show. We partner with our local on-water restaurant and offer sample foods, drinks, summer-themed prize wheels, and live music in [the] booth. Last year [at the show] we spent over $130,000 for four days, but we were able to sell 166 units and over $5.6 million in four days.”

Benefits are improving

We all know that it’s tough – and getting tougher – to keep the best employees. With that in mind, many dealers are adding new benefits or improving the ones they have.

Health insurance “is one of the most important benefits to employees but also one of the most costly,” writes an East Coast dealer. “In the past we paid for half the cost of the single plan but with the skyrocketing costs have put a maximum participation of $60/week for a single and $160/week for a family plan. Although this puts a greater burden on the company, it is a necessary investment in our employees. In addition, every January 1 we give each employee a Flex Spending debit card with $2,500 on it to use towards their deductible, co-pays or medications.”

Many dealerships also added or reinstated matching on 401k or other retirement plans. Other financial incentives like tuition reimbursement, bonuses and profit sharing are also making more frequent appearances. The number of dealers that offer those benefits had grown dramatically in the last five years.   

Jonathan Sweet is the director of the Boating Industry Top 100 program and former editor-in-chief of Boating Industry magazine. He can be reached at or 763-383-4419. Follow him on Twitter at @JonathanWSweet.


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