The following is a guide for 2011 Top 100 Dealer applicants developed by the editorial staff of Boating Industry magazine. This document is designed to help your business achieve the ranking it truly deserves by providing you with insight into exactly what each question on the application is trying to uncover about your business.
There are 75 questions on this year’s application, up one question from last year. We’ve also modified a few questions to help us dig deeper into the businesses that apply; we’ve changed the wording of a few questions to help us clarify inconsistencies in last year’s responses; and we’ve removed a few questions that didn’t play a role in differentiating one company from the next.
With any and all questions on this application, the more information you can provide, the better the editors can understand your business and, therefore, rank it appropriately. Of course, we understand that there may be information about your business that you would prefer we keep confidential, and if that’s the case, you can simply mark any information you provide with an “NFP” – which stands for Not For Publication. Please mark NFP clearly. You can also respond with ranges on some of the quantitative questions, but please realize that, in providing ranges, you can adversely affect your ranking.
Fill out the application form as completely as possible. We recommend that you download the Word document application from our website, or ask us to e-mail you the document. Then, fill out the application on your computer; this will not only provide ample room for complete answers and make it more readable for our staff, but it will also allow you to go back and make adjustments as you work your way through the application. In addition, it will allow you to copy and paste information in future applications.
Please make sure you provide contact information so we can reach your executive team for the necessary follow-up interviews and questions. Also, be sure to include all of the information requested on the checklist, including high-resolution photos of all of your facilities; CSI score documentation; your business plan; process maps; organizational charts; your marketing plan; any and all documents that support or enhance your answers; and, of course, answers to all questions.
As always, if you have any questions, feel free to contact any of the editorial team members.
Part 1: Company Data
Questions 1 through 10
We are looking for contact information for your headquarters. The information provided here will be listed as your official city and state in the magazine and in online reports regarding the Top 100. This information will also serve as the link to executives who we will most likely interview and ask follow-up questions of after receiving your application. Please ensure that the contact info is for company executives as opposed to administrative staff.
We are looking for the number of retail locations, including one or all of the following: sales, service, marina or storage facilities. Your options are to either 1. Indicate that you have one location; or 2. Write in the number of total locations your company has.
We are looking for a full description of each of your facilities, including the address, contact information and services offered at each, as well as photos of the inside and outside of your store, service areas and any other related buildings or offerings.
Enter the year your company was founded.
Succession planning is the process of planning appropriate action in the event that a key person within your organization is no longer available to the organization. Scenarios that cause or contribute to this key person no longer being available may be voluntary/ anticipated, or involuntary/unanticipated. A full succession plan addresses both situations, while a partial succession plan addresses only one type of scenario or event. Another aspect of succession planning is employee development: the training of your employees in an effort to help them rise through your organization into roles of greater responsibility. We are looking for your plan for the succession of your business. Succession plans range from a simple legal agreement to an extensive organizational structure that effectively transfers management — at all levels of the organization — on an ongoing basis.
Please enter the number of total employees for each individual department and the total number of people you employ overall. Make sure to mark them correctly as full-time or part-time.
Question 16 & 17
Please list all new boat and engine brands that your company offers consumers.
Please list all of the services above and beyond boat and engine sales that your company offers. This might include service, storage, marina, restaurant, F&I, rentals, parts and accessories, and a variety of other services.
Please enter the name of the dealer management system(s) you use and explain how you incorporate them into your business.
Please explain your dress code. By “specific,” we are looking to see if you dictate the attire of your employees. Do your service personnel wear uniforms? Are your sales people in a shirt and tie? Do you have company-logoed apparel? Are you “business casual?” If so, what does “business casual” mean for your dealership? And so forth.
We’re looking for information on how each area of your company is structured. If you have organizational charts, please provide them, whether company-wide or by department. If not, please describe your company’s structure, including each department.
Please list any and all ways that you are involved in the industry at large. 20 Groups, dealer councils and specific trade associations are examples of what we are looking for.
We are looking for any and all ways in which you’ve improved or changed your business over the last year and why you’ve pursued those improvements or changes. This could include systems improvements, expansions, new product lines, new business processes, cosmetic improvements, etc., as well as changes to your business plan, staff, boat and engine brands, facilities, services and more.
Depending on who you talk to, the boating market may be down a few percentage points, flat or up as much as 5 percent in 2011. Regardless of which prediction comes true, we want to know what plans you have in place to grow your business in today’s market and how you’re carrying them out.
Everybody measures success differently. We want to know what your three primary metrics are for achieving success. Do you measure success by inventory turns, CSI and margins? Or are there other criteria, such as market share, total revenue, service business, employee satisfaction, or the myriad other options that are more important to you. We want to know what the three primary metrics you use are and how you rate your company’s performance in those three areas.
We are looking for your plans for the future. These short- and long-term goals could range from plans for growth or product expansion to a shift in strategy or other such plans. But don’t stop there. Tell us how you’re going to achieve those goals. Do you have a plan in place? Are you using a formal method for achieving those goals? Etc.
The Grow Boating Initiative offers dealers a chance to become certified through a third party. Are you participating in this program? NOTE: You do NOT have to be certified through this program to be selected to the Top 100.
We are looking for any and all programs, whether industry-wide or company-specific, that your dealership (or personnel inside your dealership) may have become certified through and any accolades you’ve earned along the way. Brag a little bit. Tell us what types of accolades your business has received, whether on a corporate level or at the store level. A community-related award? A manufacturer-given award? Specific levels of achievement?
Part 2: Sales and Profits
It’s important to note here that the Top 100 program is NOT about dollar sales or unit volume. It is not a program that focuses on rewarding sales numbers. The Boating Industry Top 100 is more about the qualitative answers you provide than it is about the quantitative. We do ask the following questions, however, so that we can understand the scale of your business and its reach. We also ask because your answers here can indicate how well your strategies — mentioned in other areas of the application — are working.
Additionally, we understand the sensitivity in providing some of the numbers we are asking for. We need them for only two reasons: First, to understand and evaluate your business in comparison to the qualitative answers you provide, and secondly, to promote the power of the cumulative group of Top 100 Dealers. As an example of the second part of that, last year’s Top 100 accounted for $1.56 billion in marine sales in 2009. So, with this in mind, we ask that you please include answers to all of the questions in this section, and if you do not want us to publish the numbers, simply mark the NFP box — clearly — next to your answers. Wonder if we’ll hold true to our word? Reference the stat boxes in our January issue where the actual ranking appeared and see for yourself how many companies marked “NFP” on last year’s application.
Again, if you have any questions regarding this, please feel free to contact any member of our editorial team.
We are interested in whether or not you have a written business plan and if so, how the specific initiatives discussed throughout this application support it. That’s why we’ve asked you to please share the business plan with us. The in-depth understanding it will provide will help us better understand your business and therefore better evaluate your application.
We want to know what your budgetary process looks like. When do you budget? How do you make your way through the process? How do you forecast your revenues and expenses for the year? And then, what process do you use to monitor your budgets vs. actual results throughout the year?
We are looking for your company’s total marine-related revenue from 2010. Please circle NFP if you do not want this information published.
We are looking for how your 2010 revenue compares to 2009. Please make sure that you circle either increase or decrease, and please feel free to include an explanation of why and how the number changed.
We are looking for the breakdowns, by percentage, of your revenue centers. Please circle NFP if you do not want this information published.
We are looking for the breakdowns of unit sales. Please circle NFP if you do not want this information published.
We are looking for your gross profit margin (as a percentage) on boats, service and overall operations. Please circle NFP if you do not want this information published.
We are looking for any strategies or techniques you may have used in an attempt to maximize your gross margins on boat sales amidst the pressure of the economic downturn.
We are looking for your operating expenses as a percentage of sales, including executive compensation packages. Please circle NFP if you do not want this information published.
We are looking for your net profit as a percentage of total revenue. Please circle NFP if you do not want this information published.
We’re looking for the number of times you turned your inventory, both new and used units.
We’re looking for information on how you manage your inventory turns. Do you have a goal for turns? What is it? Do you modify that goal depending on market conditions? How do you track inventory turns and how do you use that information? How do you ensure that you’re meeting your goals? If this is not a number that you pay attention to, please explain why.
The economic downturn and slow recovery have put a lot of pressure on marine businesses. We want to know that your dealership has been able to remain financially healthy and has not fallen out of trust with its lenders. If you’re not current with your lenders, please share your strategy for becoming so.
How do you use F&I in your dealership? How does the F&I process figure in to your sales process? Do you have a business manager/F&I manager? And what products do you offer?
We are looking, simply, for the gross profit margin of your F&I department.
We are looking for your strategy for selling pre-owned boats. How do you market your pre-owned boat inventory? How do you attract trade-ins? How do you determine pricing for trade-ins and the resale of pre-owned boats? How do you keep your staff knowledgeable of your pre-owned inventory?
Part 3: Service and Customer Satisfaction
We are looking for information on whether or not you service anyone who comes to your dealership or if you only service those customers who have purchased their boat from you. Please explain your theory on your practice, whether it has changed over time and, if so, why.
We are looking for how you track your technician efficiency and how you use efficiency to improve your service department – both through the formula and the system. The most accepted method of tabulating this is to divide billable hours by total hours worked. If this is the formula you use to track it, don’t limit your answer to that. We are also looking for ways that you track it within your systems. Some companies post the individual technician scores on weekly or monthly charts. Others work closely with each employee but keep the scores private. Some companies use computer software. Others keep a manual log. How does your company track this information? Additionally, some companies use other formulas based on other metrics to track this information. If that is the case with your business, please explain and demonstrate how this works. Finally, if you are tracking it by the number of hours worked, make sure that calculation includes all paid hours (training time, travel time, etc.).
We are looking for how you compensate technicians and how, if at all, their efficiency is built into that pay structure. What type of bonus programs do you tie in to efficiency ratings? How do you ensure technicians are motivated by quality of work done and not quantity?
We are looking for what your annual average technician efficiency is. If you’d like to break this out into both the on-season and off-season (for those Northerners among us), feel free, but we also need the annual average efficiency. Where possible, please provide documentation of these scores. Again, this number should be based on ALL paid hours, whether the technician was working on a boat, attending a training class off-site, or taking a paid break.
We are looking for insight into what is important to your dealership’s service department. Do you track hours per repair order, lost parts sales, future work, parts to labor ratios, overall shop efficiency, or other such information? And how do you use that information within this department and your dealership at large?
We are looking for information regarding how you schedule and assign work within your service department. Do you use a paper system? Computer system? How does it work? Do you incorporate rigging into this system? Why have you chosen the system you use?
We are looking for your average CSI score for 2010. This number should include both your sales and service CSI, and it should average ALL brands and ways that this information is tracked for your dealership. For example, if you have two CSI scores for the one engine brand you carry and two additional CSI scores for the one boat brand you carry, you will be averaging a total of four CSI scores. If you’d like to break them out, we’d welcome that, but please include and indicate the overall average. Also, please include verifying documentation of these numbers. Please include a one-page written report from as many as possible of the following: participating manufacturers, a third-party company or your internal system, if you track it yourself. If you work with a manufacturer that does not track CSI or you don’t have enough surveys returned to qualify for their program, please specify that as well.
We are looking for the strategy, including examples of how you carry out that strategy, for achieving and maintaining high customer satisfaction. Do you have a department or a specialist dedicated to customer satisfaction? Do you monitor scores closely? What systems do you have in place to ensure CSI improvement? And so forth.
We are looking for any CRM strategies, programs or procedures you have in place to develop a relationship with your customers, ensuring they will be loyal to your business, referring others to it and returning when it’s time to buy another boat. Is there a structure to your process? Do you contact customers after the sale to ensure their happiness? Is there regular communication? A follow-up program? Who follows up with them? How do you attract them back to your store? How successful has the strategy been? How do you ensure that it’s carried out?
We are looking for the process you go through when you deliver a boat to a customer. Who delivers the boats? How many boat delivery personnel do you have on staff? How do they qualify as such? Has a step-by-step boat delivery process been outlined? How do you ensure it’s followed through on? How do you handle follow-up questions/concerns regarding boat operation? Is the process conducted on or off water?
We are looking for what, if any, on- and off-water training you provide consumers above and beyond any boat delivery procedures you have in place.
We are looking for unique customer service programs that you offer customers. The key here is unique. What sets you apart? Is it events? Is it follow-up? Is it a special service or initiative? Please explain.
Part 4: Training and Education
We are looking for your beliefs and philosophies on the importance of ongoing training or the personal and professional development of your employees, and how you demonstrate that belief.
We are looking for the types of training opportunities you provide to employees within specific departments of your organization.
We are looking for whether you budget for training. And the amount of money you spent on training and education in 2010.
We are looking for if, and how, you reward or incentivize outstanding performance or contributions to the company. Give examples.
We are looking for how often you evaluate current employees and how you evaluate them. Do you set individual monthly, quarterly and/or annual goals and track employees’ performance against them, for example? Do you create detailed job descriptions and then evaluate their performance in each area of responsibility listed?
We are looking for information on the types of benefits and perks you provide employees. Please explain the types of packages you offer, including health benefits, retirement packages, tuition reimbursement and so forth. Please note, specifically, whether you offer health insurance, disability, retirement savings plans, profit sharing and/or other intangible benefits or perks.
We are looking for how you ensure your sales team is knowledgeable of the sales processes you expect them to use, the products they sell, the customers they are selling to, and the inventory you have in stock.
Part 5: Marketing
We are looking for details on how you plan your marketing strategy for the year and what that strategy looks like. What marketing avenues do you use? How do you determine the financial allocation for each?
We are looking for how you determine what your annual marketing/advertising budget will be. What is your budget (as a percentage of sales if possible; otherwise explain the calculation you use)? How does that figure compare to previous years?
We are looking for any process you might undertake to gain an understanding of consumer wants and needs. Please provide examples.
We are looking to see whether or not and specifically HOW you measure the value or return you receive from your advertising/marketing expenditures. Please provide examples.
We are looking to see how boat shows figure into your overall business. We’re looking to see what percentage of your overall business boat shows account for.
We are looking for how important boat shows are within your overall marketing strategy. How many do you exhibit at? How do you staff it? What’s your return on investment?
We are looking for what you do before and during boat shows to ensure success. How do you prepare? Who do you use to staff it? What types of programs do you offer customers? How do you stand out from the myriad other dealers? Finally, how has your boat show strategy changed over time and why?
We are looking for any events you host, take part in, or support in any way, and how you use them to interact with consumers.
We are looking for any special promotions that your company uses to encourage consumers to do business with you. Please include specifics regarding promotions used for all revenue centers, whether they are ongoing, annual or one-off promotions. And please provide examples of the marketing materials where applicable.
We are looking for how you use the Internet, as it changes and evolves, to build sales, traffic, and your brand awareness. How does it help you do business? What websites do you use to achieve these goals?
We are looking for what your lead management/lead fulfillment process looks like. How does the customer move through the sales process from the time they become a prospect/lead to the time they are converted to a sale? Does this process differ for those who walk into the store vs. those who contact you online? How do you follow-up on leads from the Internet? What personnel follow-up on leads? What kind of timeliness do you provide online responses?
This is the first of two final questions that will allow you to tell us what is unique about your company and what sets it apart from every other dealer out there. Why should we buy a boat from you vs. the dealer down the street? What products, services or experiences do you offer that make you unique?
Final thought question
This application can’t cover it all in terms of the right questions for every dealership. We did our best to hit the most pertinent topics across the industry, but we’ve left this final spot for you to tell us what other things we should consider about you. Be creative. Tell us about the other features that make you a Top 100 Dealer.
Once again, we encourage you to fill out this application in the Word document downloadable by clicking here and to include supplemental information when you think it may help us in our judging. By providing too little information, you are denying our editorial team an opportunity to thoroughly review your business, which can hurt your ranking. You truly can’t provide too much information.
The application deadline is June 15, 2011. Contact us with any questions and good luck.