The 2010 Top 100: Best In Class

Most Improved Dealer: South Shore Marine

South Shore Marine had the most impressive list of improvements of any Top 100 Dealer this year – and perhaps in the history of the Top 100 Dealers program. With more than 100 improvements from throughout the Huron, Ohio-based dealer’s operation, not only was it the longest list of any of this year’s applicants, but it featured such accomplishments as: joined a 20 Group, signed a dealer agreement with Regal Boats, created an internal ACV report, began tracking its financials weekly, revised its new hire orientation program, hired a part-time telemarketer to contact all leads it hadn’t heard from in over a year, and lowered its floorplan limit on new inventory while increasing it on pre-owned. In 2009, the company called all Regal owners in Ohio to inform them of the company’s status as a Lake Erie dealer for Regal. It stepped up employee recognition and perks and introduced the first annual winter ski trip for employees. The dealership drafted a lead tracking plan, and it purchased 27 “rescue boats” wholesale from National Liquidators Cleveland. These and the dozens of other initiatives it listed demonstrate this dealer’s commitment to excellence and earn South Shore Marine the title of Most Improved Dealer.

Best Succession Plan: M&P Mercury Sales Ltd.

Like most leading dealers, M&P Mercury Sales Ltd. has in place a financial strategy and plan in the event the owner departs, voluntarily or involuntarily. But what sets this Burnaby, B.C.-based dealership apart is how it grows its employees by leading them toward a better future with the company while “improving staff morale, reducing risk, and ensuring the business can continue to operate effectively without interruption.” This begins with the company’s performance evaluation system, which identifies training opportunities for employees, setting specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound goals. Individual development plans are created as a result of these evaluations. They also help identify when employees would be available for promotional opportunities, should they present themselves. For example, detailers and dock staff are encouraged to focus on becoming junior techs, parts staff or sales staff, and junior techs grow to become senior and master techs through M&P’s training programs. Every employee’s career path is discussed quarterly. In addition, each management position within M&P has a staff member under consideration for that role through promotion or attrition, and a training program is developed to prepare that person for the opportunity. As part of its succession plan, M&P also targets and connects with key external applicants in the industry in anticipation of voluntary departures or retirements, which has proven to be an important strategy as the market has shrunk in recent years.

Best Changes In Response To The Downturn: Singleton Marine Group

After pulling back in the fall of 2008, Singleton Marine Group entered 2009 with a new, aggressive approach to business. To fulfill its goal of having its expenses covered by all revenue centers other than new boat sales, it created additional profit centers in as many arenas as possible. And to help create an environment that fostered the thinking, the company began holding weekly sales and service meetings to generate ideas. The company became very opportunistic in 2009 and early 2010, adding many high-performing employees in all departments, picking up four new boat brands (Regal, FinCraft, Carver and Marquis) and acquiring two of its competitors. The improvements led to the company partnering with Manheim Specialty Auctions to become the auction house’s official service inspector, and it was also designated as a Marquis Factory Yacht Center, an official sea trial location for Marquis dealers around North America. To keep an eye on expenses, it launched a 13-week cash flow statement that is updated weekly. Finally, it partnered with a national lender to become a service and sales center for remarketing their distressed inventory in the southeast. Through these changes and others, Singleton Marine Group not only grew its revenue in 2009, but it also established a foundation for even greater success moving forward.

Best Marketing Strategy: Parks Marina

Okoboji, Iowa-based Parks Marina, Inc. has a unique approach to marketing that’s unmatched by any of its peers. It includes an aggressive social media strategy, a $1-million clothing and souvenir business, record-breaking on-site events, weekly TV and radio appearances and, quite simply, the atmosphere it creates at its facility, which features its Tiki-themed Barefoot Bar. In 2009, for example, Parks Marina launched a weekly e-mail campaign, “Come Grow With Us,” which focused on spending family time on a boat as a solution to kids growing up fast. The dealership also made daily contributions to its Facebook and Twitter pages, driving up its Facebook “friend” count to its maximum capacity of 5,000 in three months. Its following has grown even more since becoming a “fan” page. Finally, Parks Marina jumped into viral advertising with its “We’ll put your boat in” YouTube video. These innovative campaigns complement the company’s internal marketing strategy, in which everything customers touch and see at the marina, from newsletters and menus to bathroom ads, drinking cups and clothing, is an advertisement for the business. This approach to marketing is one of the driving factors contributing to Parks Marina’s record-breaking growth during one of the toughest economic times in our industry’s history.

Best Employee Development Strategy: George's Marine & Sports

While most dealers were cutting their training budgets and employee benefits to the bone in 2009, George’s Marine & Sports increased its focus on employees’ education and their working environment. Not only did the company put additional emphasis on cross-training, but the Ottawa, Ontario-based dealership also invested more than $1,500 per employee on training, bringing both Richard Guthrie of GPB Consultants and Dr. John D. Mlinarcik of PCS Global into its facility. Dr. John’s training program cost more than $10,000, but it helped the company transform phone calls into sales appointments, resulting in a 37-percent increase in appointments and a decrease in the number of “no show” appointments. In addition, the company continued to offer a wide array of employee incentives and recognition, as well as a strong benefits package. As President Jeff Wilcox explains, “it’s critical in today’s economic environment that marine businesses attract, retain and grow their top performers."

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