MDCE Keynote: “It’s not your fault, but it is your problem.”

ORLANDO — The 2009 Marine Dealer Conference & Expo, which moved from Las Vegas to Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort in Orlando this year, got underway yesterday night with a keynote from the Disney Institute’s Rob Morton. The speech, titled “Leading Through Turbulent Times,” covered the importance of designing a brand strategy for long-term results, as Disney famously has.

Before the keynote, Matt Gruhn, associate publisher of Boating Industry, told dealers in the audience that as survivors of the recent recession, they had been chosen to lead the industry going forward. He also suggested that in addition to the educational materials available at the conference, they take advantage of another important resource: each other.

He then turned the mic over to MRAA Chairman Ed Lofgren, who encouraged the audience to consider becoming both a Marine Industry Certified Dealer as well as a member of the MRAA, if they weren’t already.

Next, John Vallely of Vallely Sport and Marine, chairman of the MDCE convention committee, came onstage to formally introduce the evening’s keynote speaker. Echoing Gruhn’s earlier comments, Vallely called the dealers in the audience “survivors” and said the committee’s goals for both the keynote and the conference as a whole were to acknowledge the challenges dealers are facing and to offer concrete business strategies.

Vallely then pointed that, as a former Jungle Cruise skipper at Disney World, the next speaker was no stranger to boating, and Morton took the stage.

Morton began with the premise that maximum repeat business and referrals would lead to survival and prosperity, something Disney achieves through brand loyalty.

He said that a lot of what happens to any business is beyond anyone’s control — a fact that is more acute than ever during a business climate like we see today. However, he said Disney doesn’t look at the things it can’t control but rather the things it can.

During the speech, Morton promised to share simple concepts that were not so simple to execute.

He said good business starts with satisfied employees, who in turn provide customers with good service, creating happy and loyal customers.

Disney’s reputation for good customer service, he said, is based on having a friendly and knowledgeable staff that treats customers like individuals. Those customers then come back, recommend your product, and generally become an advocate for your brand.

And having satisfied employees, according to Morton, starts with good leadership. Leaders have to decide what is important to them, and then communicate that through their actions.

“We judge ourselves by our intentions,” Morton said. “Others judge us by our actions.”

He said how leaders act dictates how employees feel about their jobs, and if employees are unhappy, that is transferred to customers — and ultimately the bottom line.

“Every leader is telling a story about what he or she values,” he said.

Morton suggested that leaders need to ensure that they act the same way whether times are good or bad.

“Do you want them stressed, or creating loyalty for the brand?” Morton asked the audience.

Morton said it is important for businesses to go out of their way for their customers as Disney does at its parks, and to anticipate their needs and wants.

At Disney, he said, they work hard to eliminate barriers to doing business. For example, the company provides free delivery for customers who buy items at their parks, to eliminate the possibility that people won’t buy because they don’t want to carry the item around. He also said the company will go out of its way to help customers find a car when they’ve forgotten where they parked, noting that a situation like that might not Disney’s fault, but it is its problem.

Similarly, he said, other businesses can gain customer loyalty by addressing even those problems they didn’t cause, rather than ignoring them.

Ultimately, Morton said, boat dealers had to remember that like Disney, they are in the business of selling dreams. And whether the economy is up or down, you can’t sell a dream with a poor customer experience.

The MDCE conference continues until Wednesday, Nov. 18.

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