Brad Reeves believes in the power of training.
The newest generation to run operations at Reeves Marine, a boat and engine dealership in Shreveport, La., Reeves attends between seven and 10 training seminars each year. It's how he expands the knowledge he gained through generational succession.
But more than that, the 31-year-old knows that training is the one and only opportunity he has to set his business apart from his competitors'.
And it's working.
As Reeves finalizes plans to open a new $3-million facility in Bossier City, La., he knows he owes a great deal of his success to training. And more specifically, he owes it to Yamaha University's dealer management symposium.
The additional profitability Reeves has recognized over the past few years, he says, is a direct result of attending Yamaha University.
His testimonial is an impressive one.
Last year, a single tip he received at the dealer training course was implemented shortly after he returned home. He changed the way he billed his customers. The change didn't cost him a dime. But he added $52,000 to his bottom line because of it.
“Last year, I came to the meeting kind of with the typical marine dealer attitude,” Reeves explains. “Kind of like, 'OK, I'll go to this. Maybe I'll learn something.' It was a week-long deal last year, and I wasn't real excited about it. But after last year, I've just been bouncing off the walls and couldn't wait until the meeting this year.”
From idea to implementation
Simple ideas and major overhauls alike can be taken away from the numerous training opportunities across the marine industry. There may not be a better training program, however, than Yamaha University.
A multi-faceted initiative, Yamaha U includes 4 service seminars, 127 sales seminars and four of its premier offerings - the dealer management symposium. This three-day event, at which Boating Industry had an exclusive, inside look, featured 10 seminars covering such topics as service, sales, communication, CSI, profitability and others. But perhaps the most attractive part of this program, designed for dealers looking for learning opportunities, is the fact that there is no attempt to sell Yamaha product. It's solely an effort to help the company's dealers improve.
“What we've always said about these courses is that we don't want to spend one second of time trying to sell anybody anything at these events,” says Yamaha Marine Group President Phil Dyskow. “We're not trying to sell Yamaha. What we want to be able to do is to get each dealer principal or dealer manager that's here to take home whatever he can absorb.”
The premise behind the marine-specific program is to help dealers with ideas on how to increase profitability. There's a sincere focus on helping dealers create separate profitable businesses within the business itself. In Reeves' words, it's the only training seminar he attends that helps you from the front end of the store to the back end.
“I could really cancel all my other courses and just come to this one and be successful,” Reeves says. “What this course really tells me is that we in the marine industry altogether have got to change and have got to do things differently from the way that my family and half these other peoples' families did things 50 years ago. You've got to step up to the plate. And once you do it, it's amazing how your customers love it.”
Reeves is a walking advertisement for the course. He's seen the power of implementing something new first hand. He's changed the way he conducts business, and he continues to change.
This year's course offered many tips on how to institute better practices for branding, marketing, planning and executing sound business fundamentals. And while Reeves says the business planning, forecasting and branding were the most informational of all the courses, he says that the one thing he really picked up on this year was the importance of service department follow-up.
“I can promise you,” he says, “we'll take the forms that are in this book and we'll institute that Monday morning.”
Yamaha believes helping dealers improve profitability is the best training it can offer. Dyskow says he doesn't know a better way to increase sales and strengthen the business of the company's 2,000 or so dealers than through training.
But the initiative is a monumental investment. Yamaha spends more than $1 million a year on the program, and it's not just a one-, two- or three-year program.
“When we started this, I told all of our people that this has got to be a 10-year investment in order for us to make the commitment to initiate this,” Dyskow says. “That doesn't mean we stop after 10 years, but you can't expect an instantaneous turnaround. Have we seen progress? Yes. Do we get testimonials? Yes. You've probably heard some at this event. But this is a long-term commitment on our part. You can't do this for one or two years and stop.”
The course isn't just about presenters speaking to an audience, either. The three-ring binder that Reeves says is his business bible, to which he refers on a weekly basis, is nearly 400 pages.
It includes forms for building your own accounting system, developing a better system in the service department and a calendar to develop a marketing plan, with tips from experts like Jay Conrad Levinson, the author of Guerilla Marketing. Additionally, Yamaha gave a dealer management CD to every participant to give them the tools to begin planning, forecasting and running financial reports - three keys to business success.
Reeves sums it up: “You can't live in the marine industry day-by-day. You've got to plan and you've got to forecast your future.”
Admittedly, Yamaha has a selfish interest in the program. A healthy dealer body benefits the manufacturer as much as it does the dealer. The reality is, though, that most of the engine builder's dealers sell other brands as well.
“We aren't trying to wave our own flag in this thing,” Dyskow says. “We just hope that when it's all said and done, we have a stronger dealer organization as a result. And if we do, we're going to benefit from that. The investment will pay back tenfold. We're hoping we get a good return on this over the long haul, because it is a long-term commitment.”
Training in the plans
Last year, Reeves attended the symposium by himself.
This year, he attended the New Orleans seminar with his service manager. And next year, he plans to bring his business manager. In fact, he says, he nearly attended the Orlando meeting two weeks later with another of his department managers.
“It's not just an owner's meeting,” he says. “This is a program that can basically open the eyes of all of your employees.
“It's pretty neat when you have an employee who wants to sit up at night after dinner until 10:30 talking about different changes we can make to improve. This course has basically lit a fire under my service manager that's unbelievable. His eyes have been opened to a whole new world.”
Yamaha knows the average marine dealer doesn't make a lot of money. And it also knows that by helping with the costs (50% paid and 50% co-op eligible), it's onto something big with the event. The first session of the seminar demonstrated how every piece of a dealership's business can lead to profitability. The rest of the seminars detailed how to make systems operate better.
No matter what it was that was taken away from the event, however, Yamaha hopes that each dealer implements at least one thing. For Reeves, that's a no-brainer. Especially after the results he got last year.
“If you don't, you're not hungry” he says. “You can be hungry, or you can be full. And I'm about as hungry as they get because I want to be successful and I want to be No. 1. And the only way I'm going to do that is to implement anything and everything I can out of this course.”