Customers, friends and industry well-wishers arrived in continuous waves to help Wayzata Marine founder Gary Briggs officially celebrate his retirement after 50 years in business.
The Minnesota boating industry icon spent the better part of an August Saturday moving from table to table visiting and sharing stories dating back to 1967.
That’s when Gary and Darlene Briggs opened Wayzata Lake and Lawn, a retail store offering boats, lawn tractors, snow blowers, snowmobiles and garden supplies.
Through the 1960s and 1970s, the store grew and changed to meet customer demand in the Lake Minnetonka market and beyond.
By 1980, the company was focused completely on marine sales and service. In 1982, the corporate name officially changed to Wayzata Marine.
“In a simple word, this is simply overwhelming,” Briggs said, referring to the Aug. 26 event that filled the dealership floor.
Every year since 2006, Wayzata Marine has been included in the Boating Industry Top 100. And, as the company’s business expanded and evolved over the years, personalized, local service and long-term customer relationships made Wayzata Marine a leader in the boating industry.
“I was improperly brought to believe that age 65 represents retirement,” Briggs said with a laugh, adding: “I found that’s not true.”
In 1989 Chris Craft became Wayzata Marine’s premier brand. This was also the year that son Dave’s status changed from part-time sales person to sales manager. Dave grew up in the business, made his first boat sale in 1978 at age 13, and advanced as a full-time sales person, becoming sales manager and then general manager in 1994. Chaparral and Wayzata Marine joined forces in 1995.
In 1997, a new showroom was built to exclusively display the Chris Craft product line. This facility became known as Minnetonka Marine, and it contributed to several company awards, including designation as “The Marine Retailer of the Year,” by a national publication in 1997, and recognition as the nation’s largest Chris Craft dealer for the third consecutive year in 1999.
In 2000, the current home of Wayzata Marine was acquired on Lake Minnetonka. The start of 2001 brought an ownership change to the company. Dave and his wife, Dava, bought the company from Gary.
Also in 2001, the Four Winns product line was brought in. During the summer of 2010, Wayzata Marine partnered with Regal boats, and was honored as the No. 10 Chaparral dealer in the world at the dealer meeting.
“When it comes to peaks and valleys, sometimes, our industry can be staggering,” Briggs said, looking back at five decades of marine dealer ownership. “When there’s a downturn, you can’t do much and you are really kind of locked in. Now that the industry has finally turned and the guys are doing so well, it’s time for me to disappear.”
Briggs said joining the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas started Wayzata Marine on a journey that lead directly to decades of in-depth Spader 20 Group participation.
“We got into the 20 groups in 1981. I came to believe that being a member of a 20 group is the absolute best business management tool that we have available to us from all business standpoints,” Briggs said. “You are obtain an immense amount of detail relative to business management from the 19 other persons in your group. That’s just staggering. I think it also helps teach the intricacies of leadership. You are able to run a much stronger and tighter, better managed organization as a dealer after each 20 group meeting.”
Involvement in the North Central Marine Association, Metro Marine Dealers Association and Marine Industry Certification Board were additional career highlights for Briggs.
“I think the bottom line is giving back,” Briggs said. “Doing that is very gratifying. Being committed to the certification board helped get manufacturers behind their products regarding warranties. Through some diligent efforts, we were able to get boat builders to see how a change in their philosophy would eventually create better results for the consumer.”
Overcoming and learning from industry downturns over a 50-year period were another challenge, Briggs said.
“First there was the oil embargo in 1973, and then we got to a point in 1978 where the Federal Reserve Board said lending institutions could not extend lines to recreation. Consumers could not get loans to buy boats. This was followed by an enormous downturn in 1981. In our industry, the prime rate was 21 percent, and our little company, Wayzata Marine, was not creditworthy enough to get a prime rate,” Briggs said.
Industry and economic downturns in 1989, 1990 and 1991 were also difficult, and slightly less painful than the recently completed Great Recession, he added.
“If you can manage a downturn, you are going to make it. If you can’t do that, you’re gone,” Briggs said. “You have to have good banking relationships. One the ways to do that is to supply the banks with good and timely data about your business. That’s a direct result of having a 20 group membership. You learn how to resize your business and make your management plan work.”
Industry events are staggeringly profitable and important, Briggs added. “You can pick up one little idea or tidbit from somebody else, and you can see how it all works,” he said, referring to the Marine Dealer Conference & Expo, which will be held Dec. 10-13 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando.
The event is co-produced by MRAA and Boating Industry. Briggs also recalled when he initially met with former Boating Industry publisher Charles A. Jones to establish the Darlene Briggs Marine Woman of the Year Award.
“MRAA had a meeting in Washington and I asked if Mr. Jones if would be interested,” Briggs said.
Darlene was admired for her tireless dedication to the marine industry. MRAA and Boating Industry magazine together present the Darlene Briggs Woman of the Year Award to honor her memory.
It is presented annually to an outstanding woman who is actively involved in the marine industry at any level. It recognizes long and devoted service, untiring commitment, and the advancement of women in the marine business.
The recipient also receives an award that’s furnished by Boating Industry magazine. The Darlene Briggs Woman of the Year Award is presented annually during the Marine Dealer Conference & Expo.