Legendary Marine started in a single-wide trailer in 2001 with three employees. Today it is spread across five locations, employs more than 140 full-time workers and is the 2012 Top 100 Dealer of the Year.
That’s quite a journey.
It begins with Fred Pace, Legendary’s managing partner, who entered the marine industry in 1988. After the dealership he was managing was sold a decade later, Pace did consulting work for three years as he waited for a non-compete agreement to expire. When it did, he still had the itch to work in a marine dealership, and Legendary Marine was born.
The company had rapid growth from the beginning. Getting a start-up company off the ground is never an easy task, but Pace was aided by a tourist-driven area in the Northwest Gulf Coast that was growing quickly and producing a reasonable amount of prospective customers. Just five years after the company started, in 2006, sales were robust.
And then things changed.
When people stopped building homes and condominiums and tourists stopped coming, the market dropped off. Pace had been through ups and downs in the industry, but like most dealers, he had never experienced anything like the depths of the Great Recession.
That brought Legendary to the next stage of its journey. Pace challenged his management team to build a business more suited to weathering a downturn. Like a lot of companies, they knew they had to change their model from an aggressive focus on sales to a more balanced approach.
“We always felt that we had a very good parts and service center,” Pace says. “But we realized we needed to capture a greater market share of those people that we sold boats to as well as going out there to capture customers that we hadn’t sold boats to and be their provider of service going forward.”
That involved a new way of thinking. They used direct mail, e-blasts and old-fashioned guerilla marketing to reach out to those customers, aggressively going after the business of dealerships that had scaled back or closed.
“We felt that if we could get those customers into our fold so to speak that we would retain those customers and maybe get another opportunity to sell them another boat,” Pace says. “But more importantly we’d keep that annual revenue stream providing their parts and service.”
When things began to pick back up, the company had created a nucleus of parts and service that helped it make the peaks and the valleys of a typical off-season much less deep.
From the beginning, as the company grew quickly and branched out to multiple locations, Pace says he was blessed with good people who could facilitate that growth. In turn, the money generated by the growth has been funneled into additional people, allowing the company to expand into new areas without spreading itself too thin. Pace oversees the process, but his team remains very involved in the direction of the company as a whole.
“We have a very, very strong management team that is not afraid to make mistakes, not afraid to think out of the box with regard to things we should try to gain additional market share, to gain new business, to get people out using their boats more,” Pace says.
That outside-the-box thinking has led the company to pursue multiple alternate revenue centers as it works to further diversify its income streams.
To expand its brand in recent years, Legendary launched a marina management arm, a high performance division, a military VIP program, a marine transport department and more. Some initiatives were met with more success than others, but a willingness to try new things has led to some lucrative discoveries. Marina management, for example, has proven to be a steady income stream for Legendary, as many marinas today are owned not by the people who started them but by banks. Transport has also been a solid business, and the military VIP program has taken advantage of the company’s proximity to several large military bases.
Though the recession has ended, Pace says the company continues to explore new ideas, some generated internally and others, such as the rental operation they implemented two years ago and the boat club they are about to launch, gleaned from Legendary’s peers in the industry.
Dealer of the Year
Legendary has been on our radar for a number of years now — as it not only survived the recession but actually expanded its business — and after another year of significant growth and a host of positive improvements, it was clear that the company was more than deserving of the Top 100’s highest honor.
A complete list of the company’s 2011 accomplishments would take up more room than we have available, so the list will necessarily provide an incomplete glimpse into what the dealership was up to. However, the following are a few examples.
Legendary refined its product mix, with a new focus on pontoons and a new bay boat brand, to better match market demand. A new strategy introduced the company’s business manager earlier in the negotiation process, resulting in an 11-percent increase in finance penetration. A strategic shift moved Legendary away from price-oriented selling and toward selling the boating lifestyle as repo sales were replaced by new boat sales. Marketing director Wanda Kenton Smith reorganized the three-person marketing department and brought creative in-house. Director of training John Lane introduced the concept of personalized videos for key hot prospects. New managerial contracts were added in the marina management division. Customized e-newsletters were added for the sales team. Customer satisfaction scores increased. Profit is up.
You get the idea.
Still, Pace isn’t satisfied, and we have no concerns that the innovation coming out of Destin, Fla., will slow down any time soon.
“The challenge going forward is how can we ensure these different profit centers so that if new boat sales — or boat sales period — were to be negatively impacted by a global event or another recession we continue to be a healthy company,” Pace says. “We’re a lot better positioned today to do that than we were five years ago, six years ago. But that’s an ongoing thrust.”