The 2015 Top 100 Dealers

As the Boating Industry Top 100 enters its second decade, the dealers on this year’s list are healthier than they have been in years.

The growth and recovery that started in 2011 continued this year, as the Top 100 and Hall of Fame topped $2.5 billion in total sales — the highest total for the Top 100 since 2008.

With that recovery also came the toughest competition in years, as plenty of good companies did not make the cut for 2015. From thousands of dealers and hundreds of nominations, this year’s Top 100 has emerged.

The average Top 100 company grew revenue by 10.8 percent this year — the fourth year in a row of double-digit sales growth.

The Top 100 sold 23,117 boats in 2014, a 17 percent increase from 2013. They sold nearly 5,000 engines, a 19 percent jump.

At the same time, they grew net profit and margins, and improved service efficiency and CSI scores.

Here you’ll find best practices from the Top 100 in marketing, management, service and more. You can read more about our Top 100 dealers, the Best in Class winners and the Dealer of the Year here.

Best Practices of the Top 100

What makes the Top 100 stand out from the other dealers in North America?

It’s not just about being the biggest. While many of the Top 100 and Hall of Fame are among the largest dealers in North America, it’s also about delivering great service, standout marketing and a boating experience that promotes the industry.

These are some of the best practices that have helped this year’s Top 100 and Hall of Fame achieve more than $2.5 billion in total sales. For more best practices and tips, be sure to read the Best in Class profiles.

Growing globally

Recognizing that there is potential outside its home market, Miami Ski Nautique has focused on expanding outside the United States.

Miami Ski Nautique continued to create market share in Latin America through exhibiting at boat shows in Colombia, Guatemala and Panama.  The company also has worked closely with Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s Enterprise Florida Department of Commerce Exportation Group. It sponsored multiple events and athletes throughout Latin America and the Caribbean in the effort to create and grow market share through product recognition and relationship building.

Representatives from the company also traveled to Cuba with other members of the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

“This four-day trip gave us firsthand knowledge about Cuba and its boating industry,” said owner Kimberley Laursen. “We visited key tourist sites in Havana, a recently built marina in Varadero, older marina complexes and existing boating sites throughout the central region. This trip helped us gain a good understanding of Cuba’s culture and market potential that will enable us to plan for future opportunities.”

That international approach is reflected in the staffing at Miami Ski Nautique: the employees represent 13 different nationalities and 94 percent of the staff is bilingual or trilingual.

Streamlining CRM

Marine Connection, West Palm Beach, Fla., partnered with Dealership 360 to implement a brand new cloud-based CRM software, which can be accessed by employees remotely via mobile devices, regardless of user’s location.

Marine Connection partnered with Dealership 360 to implement a brand new cloud-based CRM software, which can be accessed by employees remotely via mobile devices, regardless of user’s location.

Marine Connection partnered with Dealership 360 to implement a brand new cloud-based CRM software, which can be accessed by employees remotely via mobile devices, regardless of user’s location.

“We believe our CRM practices should be robust, accessible, user-friendly and help generate new sales,” said owner Danny Goldenberg. “Our Dealership 360 CRM system is simple to use and navigate, keeping all team members across all three stores up to date with sales opportunities and hitting every possible chance to close a sale or encourage a customer to buy again.”

The Dealership 360 email and SMS marketing tools allow Marine Connection to reach out to its customers in a more timely manner, keeping them informed of special events and new products, and allowing the dealership to personalize its communication with them.

“As a result, it has helped us streamline our lead-management process and gather more information about our existing customers and prospects,” Goldenberg said. “Their reporting tool for day-to-day sales operations has allowed management to have visibility of all sales activity and customer communication, and made our lead-response time much faster.”

The CRM captures information from online leads, as well as those collected by sales associates. The dealership manager receives a notification and can then use a computer or mobile device to push that lead to the staff person who is best equipped to handle that particular sale. The staff member who receives that lead is responsible for reaching out to the customer in a timely manner. All leads are automated in real-time to allow dealership managers to maximize each and every opportunity for a sale.

24/7 availability

WakeSide Marine, Elkhart, Ind., likes to measure its customer service against some of the best businesses in the world.

“We know our customers also shop at Nordstrom’s, Lexus and Southwest Airlines – companies that get customer service right,” said president Jeff Haradine. “Therefore, we are always looking to find ways to offer better service.”

To further that ideal, WakeSide implemented a new 24-hour emergency service program.

WakeSide started the development by working with its techs to make sure the program would be priced properly. The team settled on a $295 charge to send the tech, pricing it as a luxury option.

WakeSide implemented a new 24-hour emergency service program.

WakeSide implemented a new 24-hour emergency service program.

The company contracted with an answering service to handle the calls 24/7.  The answering service takes the call, logs the issue and explains the charge, giving the customer the option on how to proceed. If the customer wants to go forward, they are directed to the company’s website to make an immediate payment.

“We have given the option back to the customer on what they want us to do and that is the critical component of service,” Haradine said. “When we have done a service call they are thrilled, and when they choose not to, they tend to be happier on Monday when we work them into the normal rotation because we have provided an immediate option to address their issue rather than allowing them to build on the frustration all weekend.”

Budgeting beyond basics

Irwin Marine, Laconia, N.H., credits its budgeting process with helping it outperform the competition in times both good and bad.

The process starts with the budget basics developed by Duane Spader, but then takes it several steps further. Using IDS software and an advanced Excel program, Irwin drills down to each line item for each location.

“The process intentionally provides us latitude in making or tweaking adjustments based on management’s observations and experiences over the years,” said vice president John Irwin.

From parts to service to sales, Irwin Marine credits its budgeting for its success.

From parts to service to sales, Irwin Marine credits its budgeting for its success.

Sales, across all departments, are reviewed from the past year.  Local and global trends in the industry are noted and objectives applied in forecasting sales for the budget year. New product introductions, national and local sales trends are accounted for in unit sales projections. Margin trends and objectives are incorporated, as well.

“Careful budgeting and expense management have been critical in constantly improving our accuracy and to an end, profitability,” Irwin said. “Once the annual expense numbers are loaded into the Excel program and three-year trends are applied we are able to see P&L line items broken out by location on a monthly basis. We can evaluate expense ratios and identify anything that may be out of line and require further review or adjustment. After this is complete, the results are downloaded into our IDS operating software. From there we can see budget vs. actual amounts on a monthly basis.”

Those results are monitored constantly throughout the month by management and reviewed with final month end statements by the 10th of the following month. Variances can be quickly identified and corrective action taken promptly.

Embracing Lean

In 2014, Clark Marine, Manchester, Maine, implemented Lean principals in its service operations, increasing efficiency and improving profitability.

The revised system is designed to limit technician movement. Everything from positioning of service boats to how parts are delivered to how a technician accesses the repair orders were addressed by the new system.

Clark Marine’s use of Lean principles has made service more efficient.

Clark Marine’s use of Lean principles has made service more efficient.

“The entire layout is designed to limit movement in every way we can,” said owner Rob Brown in describing the new process at the Clark Marine Manchester facility. “Every effort has been made to reduce the amount of space a technician has to cover to gather information and supplies before going to the boat they have next in line. … There is always at least one boat staged and available to be worked on at all times for each technician.”

To that end, the service orders are now positioned just a few feet away from the service admin whom logs in and logs out each technician and parts, oils and lubes are all kept within easy reach.

“Once the technician is on their boat/job, every effort is made by the service admin, the parts people and the service manager to keep them hands on,” Brown said. “The goal is for the technician to not have to leave their work area until all services are completed.“

Similar systems were put in place at the company’s Monmouth facility.

Even with a smaller staff, Clark was able to service the same number of boats there as in 2014.

“Going into mid-September because of the horrible summer weather we experienced we were tracking 600 billed hours behind our 2013 same time results,” Brown said. “Through improved efficiency we were able to take on more over-the-counter services and by the end of November we had made up the lag.  Most of the pickup of hours was accomplished at the Manchester facility via over-the-counter services increasing our cash flow.”

Buyers Assurance Program

New boat buyers are often concerned about the cost of maintaining their new vessels. To address that concern, Deep Creek Marina, McHenry, Md., offers all of its buyers its Buyers Assurance Program.

Deep Creek’s Marina Club is just one of the benefits the dealer offers new buyers.

Deep Creek’s Marina Club is just one of the benefits the dealer offers new buyers.

The program includes a 10-year engine warranty on new items and five-year engine warranty on all demo boats or rental boats as long as the boat is serviced and stored with Deep Creek Marina. Other benefits include a free loaner program if the boat won’t be ready for the weekend, free pick up and delivery during the first year for any warranty or service items, discounts on accessories and more.

With Deep Creek’s Trade Up Guarantee for the first 30 days, if the customer found out that they purchased the wrong boat they can trade it in and get the same value they paid on another boat in the Deep Creek Marina inventory. The buyers also gets to be a member of the Marina Club.

“Our Marina Club that is exclusive to Deep Creek Marina boat purchasers is something that sets us apart from our local competition,” said managing member Adrian Spiker. “We are creating a place for our customers to go and hang out on a daily basis to meet other boaters and friends. We are giving back to our customers, giving them a place to hang out, meet other customers, mingle with the staff and create memories.”

Efficiency for all

At George’s Marine & Sports, Eganville, Ontario, the management team believes in tracking the efficiency of its sales, parts and accessories employees, not just the technicians.

George’s Marine & Sports tracks efficiency across all its departments.

George’s Marine & Sports tracks efficiency across all its departments.

“To encourage our employees to do their best and to feel they have an investment in their future, we track the efficiencies of all staff members who have a direct impact on sales and profitability,” said president Jeff Wilcox. “The benefit of this personal accountability has helped increase the performance of our staff and created a few friendly competitions among those who enjoy that type of challenge.”

The sales staff is required to have a closing ratio, the parts staff is measured on average dollar/ticket and overall sales and service technicians are required to have an efficiency of no less than 70 percent.

“Another benefit to measuring efficiencies is we can distinctly see how we can improve our game as the measurements let us know whether we’re winning or losing,” Wilcox said. “Our transparent corporate philosophy encourages everyone to be accountable for his or her work.”

Customer service beyond CSI

Unwilling to rely only on CSI scores to measure its customer service, Off Shore Marine, Branchville, N.J., has created its own customer service survey.

“We have focused our effort on both storage customers and showroom/over-the-counter customers,” said president Louis Cecchini. “Since a great number of our storage customer’s rarely visit Off Shore’s facilities, it is important to receive feedback from those customers with regard to our services and performance. “

More than 950 students have attended boating education classes at Off Shore Marine.

More than 950 students have attended boating education classes at Off Shore Marine.

Off Shore reformats the survey regularly, updating questions to stay relevant and keep customer’s engaged in their responses. The 2015 focus will be on the dealerships hundreds of fall service customers.

“When manufacturer CSIs are not effective measures, we will continue to create our own surveys,” Cecchini said. “We operate by a philosophy that follows a 7 to 1 ratio.  If you make seven customers extremely happy, they will tell one person about their experience, but, if you upset one customer, they will tell seven others about their bad experience. … We refine our questions yearly and use the information provided by the customers to address any items of concern.”

One area that Off Shore has been able to identify was the need for additional instruction, which they addressed on the water or in the showroom in person or even over the phone.

“Our store is a perfect place for training as the instructors are able to use new products from the store as visuals when describing their use,” Cecchini said.

One comment

  1. It's good to hear that the boat industry is utilizing SMS campaigns for their mobile marketing activities.

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