Marina Certification: Q&A with Alex Laidlaw, CMM

After years of seeing marina certification as a mirage in the far distance, there’s a good chance the program may come to fruition in the near future.

Among those on the forefront of spearheading the effort to certify marinas is Alex Laidlaw, CMM, area vice president of Holiday on Lake Lanier Marina in Buford, Ga. As vice chair of the new Association of Marina Industries (AMI), Laidlaw is working in tandem with AMI’s Executive Director James L. Frye, CMM, and AMI Chairman Gregg Kenney, who is also Flagship Marinas’ President.

Just like with the manufacturer and dealer certification programs, there is a lot of groundwork to be laid with a potential marina program. Laidlaw suggests, however, that key components of a certification rating system would be similar to that of the Marine Industry Certified Dealer Program: employee improvement as it relates to customer satisfaction, the quality of dealer operations and facilities, and profitable and ethical sales and service processes.

Of course, Laidlaw says, marinas have special quality control needs, as well, including environmental and safety concerns, facility design, permitting and other government compliance, and relationships with governmental bodies.

Boating Industry spoke with Laidlaw regarding plans for a certification program, and a feature article regarding the topic appeared in our June issue.

Boating Industry: Marina certification is not a new idea. How long has it been bandied about and what held it back?

Alex Laidlaw: The concept of certifying marinas is surely not a new one. It has been talked about as long as I’ve been on the marina side of things — some 15 years. We made a concerted effort a little more than five years ago to create a certification model through the International Marina Institute (IMI). We had an ad hoc committee that met a number of times, and we actually started drafting some of the components.

However, we hit a couple of significant roadblocks that basically killed the movement. Two of the biggest hurdles were identifying design and dock standards, and the actual certification business model. We needed to decide who would administer it, how much it would cost, how would marinas be evaluated, and so on. We finally concluded that we (the industry) probably weren’t ready for all that it entailed.

Boating Industry: Why do you believe that certification’s time has come?

Alex Laidlaw: Primarily because of the merger of the Marina Operators Association of America and IMI to create AMI. It will provide the single industry vehicle needed to provide consensus on moving forward with the design and implementation of the program. It is also a very hot button for the entire industry as we move forward with Grow Boating.

Boating Industry: What is the goal of marina certification, and how will certification contribute to Grow Boating?

Alex Laidlaw: The goal of certification would be to improve marina facilities and subsequently the experiences of their clientele. Marina operators host most of the boating experiences already, providing the necessary support systems to help boaters enjoy those experiences. In short, our industry shares an interest in increasing professionalism and thus the quality of the marina experience.

Boating Industry: What is the connection between marina certification and that of dealers and manufacturers which will result in “Certified Products from Certified Dealers”? What needs will certification meet in the marina world?

Alex Laidlaw: A marina certification program will certainly have to relate to existing programs and those in development among other industry segments, specifically manufacturers and dealers. Manufacturers are certifying products and dealers are certifying their facility and business process.

Boating Industry: How does the Clean Marina program fit into the certification scheme?

Alex Laidlaw: That will be part of overall certification. Obviously, any program that seeks to raise professionalism, in this case as it relates to DNR regulations, is a benefit to both the business and its customers. (By the way, the Clean Marina programs show that a voluntary certification program can work, which is encouraging.)

Boating Industry: How would it differ from or resemble the CMM program?

Alex Laidlaw: The CMM program focuses on individuals who continually look at their businesses in a more critical way. Certifying marinas will probably look at all the components of the facility together.

It’s reasonable to assume that CMMs manage sound, environmentally responsible marinas that are doing a good job servicing their customers. That should give them an advantage in achieving certified marina status but one certainly won’t guarantee the other. We’ll look to set out some objective criteria that all marina operators can aspire to and create a certification process that is ultimately achievable by everyone in the industry.

Boating Industry: Who will most likely be the sponsoring agency?

Alex Laidlaw: Probably AMI

Boating Industry: The biggest hurdle with any certification program is policing it. Who would be responsible, and how would it work? Have you spoken to any third-party companies, such as Five Star, that administer the program and perform the inspections?

Alex Laidlaw: We agree that policing is critical. We’re not that far along, but at the moment we’re considering an independent inspection every three to five years, with an annual recertification undertaken by the marina itself.

Boating Industry: How would AMI or the marinas themselves promote certification?

Alex Laidlaw: Again, we’re not quite sure, but we’ll look at a number of marketing vehicles.

Boating Industry: It seems that there are many areas of certification that have yet to be tackled, resolved, and put into place. For instance what will the program look like? Will there be various tiers for various types of marinas? And from what source will the operational funds be derived?

Alex Laidlaw: Those are the right questions, that’s for sure. Unfortunately we haven’t had the opportunity to begin to ask them as a group, never mind arrive at any answers worth sharing.

Boating Industry: How do we move forward? Do you have a timetable?

Alex Laidlaw: It’s part of the strategic plan for AMI, but no specific timetable has been established by the Board of Directors. It is AMI’s intention to delve into these areas in the coming months. The climate seems right to take another look at marina certification, but there is much to be done, and we won’t have any specifics for some time.

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