From the archives: Warm up your winter sales

With Labor Day on the near horizon, we're heading into the slower sales season for most boat dealers, as attention turns from boat sales to service, storage and maintenance.

But just because it gets cooler and the days are getting shorter doesn't mean you can't still find some new ways to drive revenue. The smartest dealers know there's money to be made throughout this year.

This article from 2010 offers some great tips on increasing sales during the offseason.

In all but the most temperate climates in the country, there will always be an “off-season” that boat retailers will have to weather. Sometimes it’s a slowdown, and sometimes it’s more of a grind-to-a-halt, batten-down-the-hatches survival mode. But with some planning and strategic thinking, a number of businesses have actually found ways to thrive even when buyers aren’t showing up waving their checkbooks.

Boat makeovers make money

Talk about tough winters. If there’s anyone who knows the brutal realities of a boating off-season it’s Larry Russo, who owns three Russo Marine locations in New England. Staring down a glut of pre-owned boats from trade-ins to repos of all shapes and sizes, and recognizing that 2010 would not be a robust year for new boat sales, Russo and his team decided to get aggressive with a campaign targeting customers with service, repowering, restorations and upgrades. What resulted was a much more extensive program than he expected.

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“You know it’s always been easier in the past to sell a new boat,” says Russo. “But we decided to create an Extreme Boat Makeover program that literally takes a pre-owned boat down to the fiberglass, and it just mushroomed. Now we’re enjoying the profits from those endeavors.”

After hiring a media agency to film a video of a boat restoration and showing it at the Russo Marine booth during several New England boat shows, the dealership has been able to generate more than $250,000 in additional parts and accessory sales and as much as $350,000 in incremental service business over the past 10 months. Russo says the new program has given his team an emotional lift that may outweigh the financial benefits.

“The concept of creating Extreme Boat Makeover has put some fun back into the dealership,” says Russo. “In really bad times, you can’t generate enough service to save your business, but it helps fill the voids and lulls. It helped us keep people employed. We just made up our mind that last winter was not going to be all gloom and doom.”

The new initiatives have brought a buzz to Russo’s customer base as well, particularly those who had thought of the business as only a new boat dealer. The business has had a lot of success attracting do-it-yourselfers, who exercise a lot of influence in their communities.

“Most of us boat dealers that think of ourselves as ‘new’ boat dealers kind of forget our roots, servicing customers and asking for their business,” Russo explains. “We can always find a way for them to spend money on what they love, either in small doses or, in some cases, extreme doses.”

Boosting customer awareness

Leveraging boat storage for specific service opportunities was the angle Buckeye Marine took last winter up in Bobcaygeon, Ontario, Canada. Running a special winter service program not only helped keep techs working over the off-season, but had the added benefit of increasing storage business in the process, according to Carly Poole, Buckeye marketing director.

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