Top 100 Profile: Slalom Shop, No. 5

Darrell Wilson doesn’t live by the seat of his pants. With three beautiful daughters to raise and an extended family of more than 40 employees, he knows there’s a lot at stake with each decision.

It’s no surprise then that Slalom Shop Boats and Yachts’ day-to-day operations are among the most carefully planned and executed of all the Top 100 Dealers. Careful doesn’t translate into stagnant, however. Wilson is constantly on the search for new ways to improve and grow, from new product lines and locations to new profit centers and management techniques.

“There continue to be opportunities for expansion in this market through both new product lines and acquisitions,” Wilson says. “With five acquisitions in the last six years, our long-term strategy remains to stay aggressive in the marketplace and continue to improve our processes while looking for the right moves to increase market share and grow our business.”

Careful doesn’t mean timid, either. Slalom Shop is going toe to toe with its biggest competitor, MarineMax, opening a new dealership next door at Pier 121 Marina in Lewisville, Texas. It also recently added Carver and Marquis to its yacht line-up to provide a wider range of models, allowing it to better compete with its bigger rival.

Another characteristic that sets Slalom Shop apart is its owner’s role in the business. Unlike so many other dealer principals, Wilson has structured his company so that its growth and improvement is his personal and sole responsibility.

“My role for the last several years has been to work on the business not in the business,” he explains.

As part of Wilson’s quest, the Texas dealership sports perhaps the longest list of industry affiliations of any Top 100 Dealer, including positions on four boat builder dealer councils, involvement in two 20 Groups and active membership in both his state and national trade association. It’s this combination of in-depth planning and process mapping, combined with a personal commitment to improve and grow the business that sets this dealership apart.

Slalom Shop also excels in the customer experience it delivers. First of all, in 2006 the dealership launched a free school for each kind of boat it sells. Not only does this improve the safety and enjoyment its customers get from boating, it allows boaters to get to know and learn from each other.

Slalom Shop provides all of its new boat customers with an on-water delivery with one of its three full-time captains and free service calls for the first year after their purchase. Mobile service is another of its core offerings. Each of its four senior techs has a service vehicle, and Wilson says the service department operates more than half the time dockside. With that level of customer service, it comes as no surprise that Slalom Shop’s average CSI rating is 97.89 percent.

Increased emphasis on alternate profit centers was one theme throughout this year’s Top 100. But Slalom Shop was ahead of the curve. Pre-owned boats sales, for example, were already a strong contributor to its business. The dealership had previously developed an exclusive brokerage agreement with two of the largest marinas in its market, giving the company the opportunity to represent more than 2,000 boats when their owners decide it’s time to move up, down or out of their boat. With its new Pier 121 location, that number has grown to near 3,500 boats. While the company currently considers its pre-owned boat department to be “a very important profit source,” contributing about $8 million in annual revenues, Wilson points out that it also feeds the dealership’s new boat sales.

The integration of more Internet-based business was another Top 100 theme this year. And Slalom Shop was no exception. Not only did Channel Blade design a new Web site for the company and sign it up for Footsteps lead management software, Wilson now personally monitors all Internet leads, which come to his cell phone, ensuring they are forwarded to the appropriate salesperson.

The owner’s personal touch can actually be seen and felt throughout the business. When asked in the Top 100 application what sets Slalom Shop apart within the boating industry, Wilson forwarded the question to his team. One employee responded, “What sets us apart from the competition is the fact that it is a family-oriented dealership. Starting at the top with the owner we take into consideration that family is very important to each one of us and to our customers. This positive family environment shows through to our customers, and they end up becoming an extension of our family. As with all families, there will always be bumps in the road, but the difference is how we work through them in a giving and servant attitude with each other and those who we come in contact with at our dealership on a day-to-day basis.”

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