A couple weeks prior to my visit to Sail & Ski’s Austin, Texas-based business, the dealership hosted a boat-christening party where four recent boat buyers backed their shiny new Sea Rays into side-by-side slips and showed them off for a couple hundred attendees to oooh and ahh over.
The new owners provided tours of their vessels while fellow Sail & Ski Owners Club members wined and dined on that evening’s fare. The concept for such parties — and Sail & Ski hosts dozens like them each year — are simple. It brings boaters together and creates a passionate and loyal following for owner Rod Malone’s business.
“My belief has always been that if you could get a boat owner to have five positive experiences each year, it justifies his ownership,” Malone explains. “It really doesn’t matter, their financial status. If he’s having positive experiences, even in hard times, he’ll keep the boat.”
While that’s part of Malone’s long-term vision, it’s also contributing to his company’s immediate success. Even in what most would consider hard times, his business is thriving, gaining market share and increasing sales.
In fact, just last year, Malone purchased the marina that sits about a half-mile behind his Lakeway, Texas, store. The marina was the site of this year’s Sail & Ski Summer Kick-Off Party, and Malone has grand plans for solidifying a growing relationship with his customers there, including a customers-only launch ramp and marina and a new 175-seat restaurant that will be open to the public.
Such investments are paying off in big ways for the company. Sales at the Lakeway store have more than doubled since the acquisition. And over in one of Austin’s even more affluent neighborhoods, where homes surrounding the Rough Hollow Yacht Club and Marina start at $3 million and go up, Sail & Ski has been named the official boat dealer of the Parade of Homes. The company secured a number of solid leads from the most recent event there, while shuttling potential home buyers back and forth to the marina.
Through all of the extra offerings, the company has not lost sight of the most important aspect of the business, though. Sail & Ski is one of only 40 dealerships — out of more than 5,000 total — named as one of Mercury’s Service CSI Award Winners two years in a row. Last year, the company became the first dealer ever to earn the highest CSI scores in both sales and service for Sea Ray Boats. And on the day prior to my visit, Sail & Ski also became the first dealership to ever record a perfect score (out of 2,000 total points possible) on its Sea Ray Master Dealer audit.
“The program is just good common sense stuff that all of us try to do every day,” the proud yet humbled Malone explains. “Just the discipline of knowing you’re going to be reviewed or audited, that has created a culture that is easy for us. Once it becomes culture, it’s just natural.”
It’s becoming equally as natural for Sail & Ski’s customers to relax in a culture, indeed a lifestyle, of community boating. The cradle-to-grave experience that the dealership offers its boat buyers, its marina customers and any other boater who’s interested in getting in on the fun, is an ownership experience other dealers have a hard time matching.
“Relationships kind of push you through the tough times,” says Buzz Watkins, company sales manager. “We sell them a boat, and we can service them, but you have to take care of them in other ways. You’ll see more and more of that from us in the next couple years.
“For us, it’s really the dream being
Dealership name: Sail & Ski Centers
Location: Austin, Texas
Number of locations: 2 sales/service, 1 sales only, 1 marina, and 1 mobile marine service depot and storage location
Number of full-time employees: 92
Boat and engine brands: Sea Ray, Boston Whaler, Nautiques, Crest, Kawasaki Jet Ski
CSI score: 98.11
Of particular interest: “There are too many people in our industry who get caught up in the gloom and doom and create a self-fulfilling prophecy. We just don’t listen to that. There’s a lot of opportunity out there for somebody who can be aggressive.” — Rod Malone