Editors Pick: Boating Exchange #82

At Boaters Exchange (Ranked 82), it’s the little things that make the difference in impressing the company’s customers, and in this case, me. Many seemingly small yet powerful concepts add up for the company in its efforts to succeed in all facets of its operations, and especially in its localized focus, employee development, sales structure and marketing efforts.

Founded in 2002 in Rockledge, Fla., Boaters Exchange is owned by Jerry and Kelly Butz and Paul Berube. A single location dealership, it saw tremendous growth in 2006, beating its own expectations by posting a 57-percent jump in revenue year over year, all while trimming its parts and accessories business and dropping brands that it felt no longer fit with its family boating and fishing image.

Even before Boating Industry highlighted the concept of product champions as a growing trend for today’s dealers, Boaters Exchange was using this philosophy. Each of its boat lines has a sales consultant who “owns” all sales responsibilities for that product. Although cross-training is mandatory and cross-selling is allowed, the “owner” is responsible for ensuring the boats, brochures, etc., are showcase-ready at all times.

This northern Florida dealership puts great stock in its local community, and one of the dealership’s main priorities is to ensure the area thrives, sometimes sneaking in a boating opportunity here or there. To foster that sense of welcoming community, Boaters Exchange services all customers that pull up to its service shop. The dealership also supports a local technology company by using a customized parts inventory control system it developed. The company’s main outlet for linking the community and boating is sponsoring local events. Most recently, the dealership was involved in the Pastor Invitation Fishing Tournament, pairing its boat customers with pastors from local churches for some offshore fishing.

This year, Boaters Exchange is working on expanding its finance and insurance business.

“Having the capability to finance a deal in real-time and offer extended warranty products are crucial to cater to the purchasing trends of our target customers,” said Jerry Butz, Boaters Exchange president.
The dealership is already doing well with its F&I offerings, bringing in 8 percent, which is on par with or higher than nearly half of this year’s Top 100 dealers.

Employee initiatives is one of the areas where Boaters Exchange really shines. The foundation it has laid there, particularly in employee development, suggests that the dealership genuinely cares about each of its employees’ entire well being, as opposed to solely their work performance.

Another way Boaters Exchange cultivates happy employees is through excellent benefits. Sure, the dealership offers health insurance and a retirement plan, but it also gives out free vacation days for outstanding performance and insists its employees take off two days a week. Boaters Exchange also lets employees use a fleet of company boats and hosts weekly staff lunches and a monthly employee happy hour.

Boaters Exchange is proactive in developing its employees through yearly reviews, which are supplemented by quarterly one-on-one meetings between the employees and their managers. To aid in assessing an employee’s development, the dealership created a thoughtful employee questionnaire, covering everything from basic job understanding and dealership knowledge to how the employee relates to others and what he or she has accomplished in the last year.

Marketing is another of Boaters Exchange’s high points. In addition to print ads, direct mailers and the occasional radio branding campaign, Boaters Exchange is a guerrilla marketer, posting flyers on street-side signs and leveraging local publications for publicity opportunities, such as submitting press releases or suggesting human interest stories.

The dealership is one of the Top 100’s most active boat show participants, displaying at 16 boat shows throughout the year, including the Fort Lauderdale and Miami shows. At its many shows, Boaters Exchange takes an approach like no other. Amidst the boats it has on display, there are kids. While this by itself isn’t necessarily startling, what is surprising is that they don’t belong to show visitors, but to the dealership’s salespeople.

“For Boaters Exchange,” explains Butz, “boat shows are a ‘full-court press,’ family affair, where our sales consultants work the front lines, and wives and kids provide background support.”
The full-court approach obviously covers more than just the boat shows. Forward-thinking ideas like these permeate the strategies and operations of Boaters Exchange.

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