2015 Dealer of the Year: Gordy’s Lakefront Marine

Gordy’s Lakefront Marine in Fontana, Wis., is always striving for improvement – even winning top honors as the Boating Industry 2014 Dealer of the Year doesn’t slow them down.

And entering the Top 100 Hall of Fame is not the end of the road. The dealership will continue its momentum by finding new ways to be better, thus continue to grow even bigger, in good times and bad.

“There’s always areas of the business that, as you grow and get bigger, you can focus on, tweak, improve and fine-tune a little bit better, a little bit more efficient, a little bit more streamlined,” said Steele Whowell, president of Gordy’s.

That’s the true mark of a Dealer of the Year: a constant pursuit of bettering and growing the dealership, no matter what accolades the company may receive or what is happening outside its business.

022-BI15DEC-DOTY2014 was such a year for Gordy’s. In addition to its Top 100 honors, the dealership achieved the top CSI award for Cobalt both regionally and worldwide for the second consecutive year. The dealership was also awarded the MasterCraft Rookie of the Year for its first full year selling the line.

To top it all off, the dealership celebrated its 60th anniversary and its most profitable year in the history of the business.

“We never had a better year in the company’s history,” said Steele. “There’s no question that 2014 becomes our model year to strive for year in and year out on pretty much every level.”

Gordy’s added several new processes to its business in 2014, looking to further streamline operations and continue to improve efficiency to keep up with its growth.

One operation the dealership streamlined in 2014 was its budgetary process. As the business grew, the budget was tweaked year-to-year but needed reworking to make budgeting more efficient and less time-consuming across all departments. The leadership team worked with the managers in each area of the business to simplify budgeting. The new budget also helps Gordy’s better plan for not just the next year or two but five to 10 years down the road, better supporting and simplifying the process for planning infrastructure growth.

“[The new process] helps us streamline our efforts into what it is that not only we’re good at and enjoy doing but also what is most profitable and what should we focus most of our attention on,” Steele said. “And it ties into not just our monthly P&Ls but also our balance sheet, and as we look at capital planning and capital improvements and reinvesting in the business. That’s something that was kind of separate in the past and we combined them to really be together.”

Gordy’s also created a 10-year strategic plan for the company and began the process of creating a succession plan; the goal is to have a written plan completed by 2025.

“Strong leadership is needed to decide the direction for the company and then ensure that the company stays headed in that same direction over time. It takes dedication, discipline, and a clear and consistent message to the rest of the team,” said Steele. “We owe it to our teammates, customers and next generation of family members to have a plan in place that allows the business to continue to survive and thrive without our involvement or with limited involvement. “

Many of the improvements Gordy’s made in 2014 were to its service and storage departments, including beginning the process of building a fifth large storage building to rack 168 boats and adding new service and storage employees.

“As we continue to grow with boat sales,” said Steele, “we have a high retention rate of the boats we sell that people then store and service with us [and] a lot of our expansion has happened in the service and storage side.”

023-BI15DEC-DOTYThe expansion is necessary, considering the success Gordy’s has had since adding the MasterCraft line to its offerings. 2014 marked the first full year of MasterCraft sales at the dealership, an addition Tom G. Whowell, principal at Gordy’s, says has increased boat sales, service, storage, pro shop sales and more for the dealership.

“There’s no doubt that the MasterCraft [addition] has increased our business right away,” said Tom. “In addition to that, it’s really a great cultural fit for us. Looking back, it’s helped us grow our brand. MasterCraft has such a strong brand and we’re really excited to align the Gordy brand with that.”

MasterCraft is the first boat line Gordy’s has added since it started selling Cobalt boats in 1997. Gordy’s has certainly had several opportunities to add lines in the past but has been selective about the ones it chooses, turning down several brands over the years that did not match the dealership’s culture.

“When we had the chance to partner with what we feel is the premier water sports brand, like MasterCraft is in the inboard market, that was a no-brainer. That was a great cultural fit. It was right in line with what we’re already doing on the water in promoting the water sports,” said Steele. “It’s been a great match and we’re looking forward to a long-term partnership with them.”

This doesn’t mean the dealership is done picking up brands for good – they just have to be the right brands. Gordy’s focuses on improving to become better, not bigger.

“We always look to choose our offerings carefully, the alignment with the highest quality, and we feel we’re achieving that in the three different segments: the sterndrive segment with Cobalt, the inboard segment with MasterCraft and now the pontoon segment with the newly launched MarkerOne from Cobalt,” said Tom. “We’re always looking at opportunities, but in the end we’re very critical. I think our focus is always on … being better. We feel if we do that, bigger will take care of itself.”

Part of becoming better is learning and growing, a huge part of the Gordy’s culture. When Gordy’s added MasterCraft, the team was invited to join David Parker’s MasterCraft 20 group, which has been a huge contributor to the success the dealership has had with the line.

026-BI15DEC-DOTY“We look at our success since joining David Parker’s 20 group with Cobalt and we attribute a lot of our growth, success and a lot of the things that we’ve done and picked up from those other 20 group members and from David himself. We hold that as really high value,” said Steele. “So when we had the opportunity to join the MasterCraft 20 group, it was a no-brainer for us.”

The 20 group has given Gordy’s great feedback and ideas for promoting the MasterCraft brand. The dealership sees opportunities to expand with MasterCraft through more events, as the customer appreciation events it held in 2014 for the brand in expanded territories were highly successful.

Gordy’s has always been a business with a water sports culture going back to its inception, when Tom W. Whowell was a member of the Geneva Lake Jumpers, a ski club that performed at ski shows and for other boating lifestyle events on Lake Geneva. Gordy’s also has the longest-running ski school on the lake, and the addition of MasterCraft has helped the dealership better promote that aspect of the business.

Finding a brand that matches the culture of the dealership is pivotal for Gordy’s in the decision-making process when it comes to adding boat lines, because the culture is ultimately what sets Gordy’s apart. Tom and Steele agree the culture has been crucial in retaining customers and excellent employees.

“The family culture is what you get with a family business that you don’t get with a non-family business. I feel like the family is what’s helped create the culture that we have. I don’t think we’d have the culture that we have if it was a non-family business,” said Steele. “We really have a ‘work hard, play hard’ attitude and I think employees see that and they adopt that, and they’re willing to put in the time and the extra effort.”

Those hardworking employees are given plenty of opportunity at Gordy’s to be rewarded for their efforts and the dealership actively promotes from within. Gordy’s promoted Kurtis Boss to service manager in 2014; Boss worked at Gordy’s for 15 years, starting on the seasonal pier staff and working his way up through several positions.

“When we see really hard workers, people that fit our culture and people that love the boat business, we really try and do what we can to win those [employees] back when those kids get through high school [and] college to see if there’s opportunity where we can bring them on full-time,” said Steele, “because we’ve seen a lot of success with that and it helped build the culture we have today.”

In 2014, the dealership also moved a service team member to the sales team after a position opened up and the employee showed interest. The leadership encouraged the move and has seen positive results.

“Moving that person to the sales side that [had] the service background was an immediate success and that also opened up more opportunities for new member to grow existing members in the service department or bring in new team members,” said Tom.

The dealership also continues to offer expanded training opportunities for its employees, part of which has meant bringing more and more members to the Marine Dealer Conference & Expo every year. Those employees present two or three items at the company’s annual meeting that they think would be beneficial to implement in the coming business year.

“If we brought two people and they did that, that might be three or six things that we’re implementing,” said Steele, “but if we’re bringing five [to] 10 employees that are all implementing change in our business for the better, we see a lot of value in that.”

Growing the team will always be a focus for Gordy’s; as the company’s biggest asset, the business cannot grow if the employees are not growing with it.

“Great teams are made of great players and I just think of all the great players we have on our team, and I just think that’s a huge part of our success. The great job they’re doing every day – not just one time or some time, but every day and everything that they do so all of our customers have that great experience,” said Tom. “I’m just so proud of our team and privileged and honored to have the opportunity to work with them every day.”

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