Learning to share

Dealership name: Hoffmaster’s Marina
Location: Woodbridge, Va.
Number of locations: 1
Number of full-time employees: 12
Boat and engine brands: Cobalt, Chaparral, Volvo Penta
CSI score: 97.5
Of particular interest: Hoffmaster’s Marina offers its boat buying customers a guarantee: if they buy a boat that’s not a perfect fit for the family, it’ll take it back during the frst 30 days after the sale in exchange for another of its boats.

Surviving in today’s economy is often about returning to the fundamentals – you know, those lessons you learned in kindergarten.

At Hoffmaster’s Marina in Woodbridge, Va., sharing is, in fact, a fundamental piece of its strategy for overcoming the industry downturn.

When I visited the dealership this spring, owner Joe Hoffmaster was up to his elbows not in paperwork, but in dirt. He had been outside working in some of the dealership’s flower beds. Management’s willingness to share in the most menial tasks shows employees that they are all on the same team, a message that’s critical for a business facing tough market conditions.

Another key strategy is showing employees you care about them professionally, says Hoffmaster. That strategy is perhaps most challenging when it’s time to reduce your staff. Hoffmaster had to let three employees go this year, but he was able to help most of them find other jobs – in one case, a job that paid better. This not only showed those employees leaving that their contribution was valued and that the dealership would stand behind them, but it also went a long way toward reassuring current employees.

In another example of sharing, Hoffmaster’s invited salespeople from another regional Chaparral dealer to share its Washington, D.C., boat show booth this year, paying them split commissions on Hoffmaster’s deals and encouraging them to do the same. As a result, Hoffmaster’s signed 11 Chaparrals at the show while the other dealership signed another 5.

After the boat show season ended, Hoffmaster’s — like many dealerships across the country — was left with more inventory than it typically holds that time of year. So the dealership jumped into action, creating a password-protected Web site, uploading boat window stickers, and calling local Chaparral dealers to determine their interest in sharing inventory.

“Someone has to go first,” explains Hoffmaster. The company now receives calls every week from other dealers inquiring about those online inventory listings.

Hoffmaster has also been sharing the leadership duties. He sent his service writer and business manager to Spader’s five-day Total Management Workshop in January. This focus on training has not only helped the dealership grow its alternate profit centers during a time when boat sales are taking a hit, it means more of his staff understand and can communicate the reasons behind the dealership’s financial decision-making process.

A final example of “sharing” – one the dealer has long had in place – comes in the form of the grill at Hoffmaster’s Marina. The grill, which is located in the business’ main office, allows the company to share its family atmosphere with customers. Not only can boat buyers sign a contract at the counter over a hamburger and soda, they can interact with employees and marina slipholders to better understand the ownership experience they can expect as a Hoffmaster’s Marina customer.

This and other of Hoffmaster’s “sharing” strategies have allowed the dealership to fare much better during the downturn this year than it otherwise would have.

“It’s a time when you remember to go back to basics, back to your values, back to what’s really important,” he concludes. “Everyone has had to pull together. We’re a lot closer this year.”

Boating Industry magazine asked Joe Hoffmaster to pull five business books off his shelf that he has found most valuable in running his dealership. Here are the ones he selected:

  • “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership,” John C. Maxwell
  • “Failing Forward,” John C. Maxwell
  • “The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It,” Michael E. Gerber
  • “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway,” Susan Jeffers
  • “Integrity Selling for the 21st Century,” Ron Willingham

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