2014 Dealer of the Year: Gordy’s Lakefront Marine

Gordy’s Lakefront Marine

For 60 years, family has been at the center of what makes Gordy’s Lakefront Marine successful.

What Gordy Whowell started on Wisconsin’s Lake Geneva in 1955 as a seasonal boat ride and rental operation has grown since then to a diversified operation including boat sales, service, storage, marina, award-winning restaurant and more.

“What’s been core throughout that has been the family,” said Tom G. Whowell. “No doubt the family is a key part of our history, our tradition and our success.”

Along with brother Steele and sisters Rallee and Tigrr, he represents the third generation running Gordy’s. Their father (and founder Gordy’s son) Tom W. Whowell also still serves Gordy’s as president of the dealership.

Even as the company has grown, keeping that focus on family has been an important part of the Gordy’s success story. The growth has never been about getting bigger for growth’s sake. Instead, success has come from staying focused on keeping it simple: What’s best for the “family” of customers, team members and the company.

“If it’s going to be best for those three areas, the decision becomes a little more clear,” Steele Whowell said.

Instead of making acquisitions or expanding with multiple locations, growth has come from adding services to meet the needs of its existing customers. Besides one additional location in Fox Lake, Ill., to serve the Chicago market that already provided many of its summer clients, the company has focused its expansion efforts on Lake Geneva.

When compared to Gordy’s 60 years, even boat sales are a relatively new addition. The company didn’t start selling Cobalt boats until the late 1990s and only added its second brand – MasterCraft – in 2013.

Again, it was about seeing an opportunity and filling a need for its customers. With the growing interest in wake surfing and other tow sports, adding a premium tow brand like MasterCraft was a “no-brainer.”

Gordy's2“As we’ve grown, we’ve had a lot of opportunities in terms of buying other dealerships, having more satellite stores, picking up more boat brands,” Tom G. Whowell said. “For the most part we’ve said no. We’re not looking to just add boat brands to have another line.”

The addition has already paid dividends, with many buyers purchasing a MasterCraft to complement their Cobalt. That’s just one of the improvements that helped Gordy’s win this year’s top dealer honors.

After all, you don’t win Dealer of the Year because of 60 years of history. What separates Gordy’s Lakefront Marine from the pack is what they have accomplished over just the last few years.

Already recognized as one of the best dealers in North America – ranking No. 2 on the Top 100 in 2013 – Gordy’s has continued to improve. Most notably, 2013 was Gordy’s best year for total sales, as well as the most profitable in company history. Several recent innovations have fed that growth.

In boat sales, Gordy’s made the aforementioned addition of MasterCraft, but also implemented a new pricing strategy and pre-owned boat process.

In line with the Cobalt “Yes You Can!” marketing message, Gordy’s offers more aggressive pricing out of season and less aggressive during the busiest time of year. Non-currents are discounted more heavily than current year models and as the year goes on, the non-currents continue to decrease in price and the current model year increases, showing a wider range between the two. In addition, specific models are weighted differently according to inventory availability and customer demand.

When it comes to pre-owned boats, the key is tracking and marketing the boats to create opportunities for both trade-ins and purchases.

Gordy’s has one pre-owned boat manager who is responsible for managing inventory, inventory location and marketing. Gordy’s encourages buyers to trade their used boat on a purchase, but also offers consignment sales if they prefer to go that way.

Gordy’s made the inspection process for the pre-owned boats more comprehensive and also added pre-owned certification to the boat sales process to give buyers more confidence. Boats are priced with a specific form using research, price guides and more. Inventory is listed online and updated daily.

Gordy’s unique Cobalt Farms service operation, which was recognized in 2012 with the Top 100 “Best Service Department” award, also made several improvements in 2013. Originally built in the late 1990s when Gordy’s added Cobalt sales, Cobalt Farms is a state-of-the art service and storage facility on 35 acres surrounded by beautifully maintained landscaping and green space.

Gordys1“Our father was the one who was the visionary, saw the vision of Cobalt Farms,” Rallee Chupich said. “He saw we could really make it a beautiful facility.”

The service team improved scheduling and email campaigns, implementing a new online process and follow-up emails. A new cleaning manager helps ensure quality of the work and upsells new items, and several team members received new certifications. The storage facility was also rearranged to accommodate larger boats, such as the new Cobalt A40.

A major investment for Gordy’s in recent years was the Abbey Dockominiums, located in Lake Geneva’s only protected harbor. The company had owned nine slips there since 1991, but unexpectedly had the opportunity to purchase more in 2011 and 2012, eventually acquiring 163 more slips. It was a significant expenditure but one that is already creating a positive cash flow, with all slips sold out by May 2014.

Operating from its lakefront marina, the Gordy’s Boat Club has also been a growing success. Designed to fill the gap between its rental customers and buyers, the club offers unlimited usage of the fleet of five Cobalt boats and has resulted in positive feedback from new members.

Beyond its high ranking on the Top 100, Gordy’s also received several other honors in 2013, including the Top 100 “Best Customer Service” award and Worldwide Best CSI for all Cobalt dealers. It’s clear that great customer service is an important goal for the Gordy’s team.

“What really excites me about our success is the difference we’ve made in the experiences we’re giving these people, our customers, our team members,” Tom G. Whowell said. “It’s exciting to see them enjoying themselves, having fun with their families.”

Every Monday morning, Gordy’s has a planning session with all service and sales employees to focus on customer needs. All employees know that customers and their families and friends are important and to treat everyone with excellent customer service no matter what size, year or type of boat they have, according to the company leadership team.

With 60 years of success behind them, the Gordy’s team still has plenty of ideas for the future. Additional storage buildings are a top priority for 2015, as demand continues to increase, especially for larger boats.

Longer term, there is opportunity to better capitalize on the company’s lakefront buildings, Chupich said, to improve curb appeal and flow between the various businesses and increase business.

While not looking to expand, the Gordy’s team sees potential to grow its business in Illinois, specifically the Chicago area, with a goal of being in the Top 5 in market share in the next three to five years.

“We think we can expand our customer base,” Tom G. Whowell said. “People are gravitating toward quality and that’s what we offer our customers.”


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