Boating Industry magazine conducted interviews with several dealers around the country for an article in the July issue that examines some of the best practices marine dealers use in their service departments.

In this edited transcript, Kujawa discusses the “Urgent Care” program used by Crystal-Pierz, a company with several marine dealerships in the upper Midwest.

BI – What is the history of the program, how did it get started?

It started about four years ago. We had the idea down in our Shakopee, Minn., store, which was growing really fast. Lot space was tight and we really looked at how service was happening within our stores and throughout the industry. And our store manager at the time had the idea to not set any appointments, or have the customer go wait in the lobby, we would just fix [the boat or engine] on the spot when they brought it in. So he presented it and we were like, ‘Yeah, absolutely, let’s give it a try.”

I think everybody was a little pessimistic, or didn’t really think it could possibly work. But once you really got guys trained – and it took a long time to get buy-in at the entire store, because it’s a whole switch in how we do everything – but we really started realizing an increase in service. We did have to staff for it, but the increase in efficiency was huge. We had additional lot space and less lot damage, and a lot happier, less upset customers.

People were coming in and we were just getting them turned around. Up to 60 percent of the boats are less than one-hour fixes. But the way it works in the marine industry, it’s a month, sometimes, before they get looked at. So it’s a one-hour fix, but you can’t use your boat for over a month. We’re just turning them much faster.

After we went through it for a year there, we rolled it out two years ago at all our stores. Last year we got a lot better at it and this year we’re close to 60 percent of all boats that come in for service leave the same day, fixed, and head back to their homes or garages or, better yet, back to the lake.

BI – When you say you got a lot better at it, what do you mean by that, what does that entail?

You’ve got to staff additionally for it. It does take additional staff, it takes a whole change in your service process. You kind of have to draw a line in the sand and just say, “Urgent Care isn’t something we’re trying to do, it isn’t something we’re going to do, it just has to become, one day, this is what we do.”

And there is nothing that falls outside of Urgent Care, every boat that comes in for service is getting treated the exact same way, it’s getting diagnosed exactly when it comes in. And sometimes you can’t, you need to spend an hour or two diagnosing it, and you can make arrangements for that. But if you get a technician to look at every single boat when it comes in, we can get the parts on order immediately if we don’t have them in stock.

So instead of being two or three weeks later and then you first look at it, and then you first order the parts if you don’t have them, doing it this way, if you look at it right on the spot, we diagnose it, get the parts ordered, when the parts come in we put it together and the boat’s gone. We’ve just kind of turned the dial a whole cog back, two or three weeks.

BI – So every boat that comes in is immediately looked at with Urgent Care?

Absolutely. Yeah, that’s the plan. If we, on a Monday morning, get 10 boats that come in all at once, there’s still Urgent Care, they are looked at in the order that they come in and they are diagnosed on the spot. Sometimes the customer will be forced to drop their boat off and leave, if they are on their way to work or something, but we still treat it like the customer is here and give it our top priority to get that boat diagnosed and fixed if possible.

BI – Is it true that you are now setting up your stores so that they are configured around the Urgent Care service?

Our new model stores, like this one (the new store in Rogers, Minn.) and the new ones that we will build moving forward, will all have fully enclosed Urgent Care bays. You drive up and either honk the horn, or whatever, and the door will open and you’ll pull all the way forward right in front of the service desk to get people out of the elements and get the boat right there in front of the service writer and the technician. And we never even have to unhook it from the tow vehicle, we’ll diagnose it right in the stall, or right in the bay on the spot.

BI – Did you have a firm, or someone else, come in to help you design this store or help you to configure it the way you wanted it?

No, we just kind of did it ourselves. We really spent a lot of time with all of our stores looking at what layouts work well and what don’t. At a lot of our stores we’ve been kind of limited because we bought an existing location, but we’ve spent a few years thinking through what the best layout would be.

BI – How important is that going to be to future dealerships. If you’re designing stores around it, is that kind of a base practice that you want from now on?

Absolutely. Where we don’t have the facility, where we don’t have the interior Urgent Care bay we will still have Urgent Care lanes. They may be outside, but we will still diagnose on the spot. We’re still going to have a technician look at the boat when you pull in, you still will not need an appointment. We’re doing it the same regardless of the facility, but the new facilities will all have that as a major focus of the service departments.

BI – It seems like it’s such an advantage to have a program like this for the customers, why do you think something like this isn’t a widespread practice?

There are a lot of reasons, actually. The marine industry, especially in the northern climates, is very difficult to staff properly, because you’re using your boats for such a short amount of time. And it definitely does take additional staff to do the “Urgent Care,” to have people on staff that can get to it right away. Typically, the marine dealerships that have been successful, have really had to keep overhead down, and things like that.

But we’ve finally reached a volume where we can expand on things like this. Urgent Care brings the efficiencies where you can have the indoor bays and things like that.

BI – Is the program paying for itself?

Yes, Urgent Care has been great for us. The cost to the customer really isn’t anymore, but the efficiencies that we gain, we’re turning everything a lot faster. We’re not dealing with the yard damage, we need a lot less space in the yard to store the service boats while they are waiting to be fixed or looked at. You start adding up all those savings it just really is cost effective.

BI – Any other plans or programs like Urgent Care that you have in the works?

We’ve always got some kinds of things that we’re playing around with.

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