Meeting the challenge

Perhaps someone should thank Irwin Jacobs.
The Genmar chairman's outspokenness led to the creation of the MRAA Challenge. “After all, why should manufacturers take dealers seriously, when so few dealers have turned out for the annual Marine Retailers Association of America Convention?” He asked in 2003.
Jacobs' question hit home for San Diego, Calif.-based dealer Tom Gray, who says he was “personally embarrassed” by it - and by the fact that he admittedly had not, in 32 years of business, been very involved with MRAA.
That's all changed now, however.
Inspired by the comment, Gray developed the idea for the MRAA Challenge, an initiative in which attendees commit to recruit other dealers to the convention. After gaining the support of Duane Spader and Phil Keeter, he presented it to the Spader 20 Group 101. Its members bought in to the concept and agreed to hold their next meeting there, to recruit other dealers and to donate $250 per dealership to enhance the agenda.
Next, Gray contacted the chairmen of groups 102 and 104 and convinced them to sign on. The word spread from there, and a handful of trade associations climbed on board.
Ultimately, Gray estimates the effort resulted in a more than 300-percent increase in attendance at the 2004 convention. In preparation for next year, Gray plans to reach out to the other 20 Groups and trade associations. He also plans to ask manufacturers to allow MRAA to promote the convention at their dealer meetings and to ask finance companies to promote it in their newsletters and through field reps.
“We must recognize that MRAA is our association,” he says, “and it will only be as strong as we make it.”
Gray would like to see 600 dealers at the 2005 convention and 1,000 at the 2006 event. Meeting those goals, he says, is especially important as the Grow Boating initiative gains momentum.
“There are a lot of big things happening with Grow Boating,” Gray explains. “The future of our businesses is at stake. I am calling on the senior members of marine dealerships. We need your wisdom. We need your experience. We need a critical mass.”

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