2017 Top 100 Dealer of the year: OneWater Marine Holdings

After capturing Dealer of the Year honors last year, OneWater Marine Holdings has hardly rested on its laurels.

In 2016 alone, OneWater added five new dealerships – and 10 locations – to its holdings: SunDance Marine, Lookout Marine, Texas Sport, Sunrise Marine and Marina Mike’s. Acquisitions continued in 2017, including long-time Top 100 dealer South Shore Marine, the 2016 Best Service Department winner.

But more importantly, the company has not only continued to get bigger, they’ve gotten better as well. Profits, revenue and efficiency all grew in 2016 as OneWater continued to integrate its recent acquisitions and put more systems in place across the organization.

The goal is to share best practices, but keep the bureaucracy to a minimum, says Scott Cunningham, executive vice president of retail operations.

“Our company’s a little bit different than some of the other larger companies in that we don’t have a lot of different levels,” he says. “Our focus from our level is to provide the processes and the education at the store level, for them to be able to push down through their store.”

Finding quality dealers is an important part of making that integration go more smoothly.

“We are still learning with every deal that we do how to integrate better, not only for us in a more efficient way, but also integrating better so that the process is flawless,” says CEO Austin Singleton. “We’re not there, and we’re learning every single time we do one how to improve that and make it better. When you’re doing it with a quality dealer, it just kind of works itself out, or you move past the mistakes or the issues a lot faster because you’ve got two smart minds working together, and it just kind of takes care of itself.”

Through its various acquisitions and mergers, OneWater has focused on keeping the former owners on the team whenever possible.

“That’s why you haven’t seen us do a lot of organic start-ups, like going into a market and starting a dealership, even as the brands are made available to us,” Singleton says. “The purchasing of a dealership with quality people is very important to us, and it’s really probably the strongest barometer on whether or not we’re going to do a deal.”

With most of those proprietors staying on in management roles, a large “corporate” presence isn’t necessary.

“The flatter you can keep it, the more fun everybody has, and the closer you remain to the customer, the closer you remain to the true operations of what we do,” says David Witty, vice president of retail operations. “Our role is to do everything we can to make it easier for the store managers and teams out in the field to do their jobs. We look for ways to make things easier, to set up systems, and to avoid duplication.”

To further that goal in 2016, OneWater created an operations playbook for its local managers that brings together basic operational processes. Through online portals, local managers can find everything from HR forms to boat show templates to marketing information. The less time local managers have to spend on developing processes, the more time they can spend developing their people and supporting the customer.

“If we take care of our people, they’ll take care of the customers, and profits will follow,” Witty says.

An online training portal allows OneWater’s local team members to take sales certification courses for its various boat brands.

“We’re very committed to it, to the point that if you’re not certified, you can’t work the boat show for that brand, and so our team is going in and doing that,” Witty says. “They get a certificate at the end, they get signed by their manager, framed and put on their wall. That’s not something that exists out there for most people.”

With so many different dealerships coming under the OneWater umbrella, it’s natural that great ideas are coming not only from the existing structure but also from the new acquisitions.

Every Tuesday morning, OneWater has a video conference for store and department managers. On Friday mornings, the company hosts a weekly video call for its sales team.

“These guys look forward to these Friday morning sales meetings,” Cunningham says. “They’re sitting there, and the majority of them will come to the meeting with a notepad, and we asked them to make sure that they write down five ideas before they leave the meeting, so the next time they come to share something. We’ve got a lot of smart people out there.”

The size of OneWater – with 54 locations – has allowed it to essentially create its own 20 groups that meet on a quarterly basis. These store manager summits bring all store managers from throughout the organization to a central location, to share best practices, learn about new initiatives coming from the support team, and discuss challenges they may be facing with their peers.

“It’s basically four 20 groups that we have put together of like-sized stores,” Cunningham says. “It gets everybody together and sharing those best practices.”

More growth ahead

The OneWater team continues to look for good acquisition targets as well, taking a slow but steady approach.

“As big as our team is, and as fast as we’d like to move, you’ve still got to be very diligent in the pace that you move,” says CEO Austin Singleton. “I think getting outside of four deals a year would probably be a mistake.”

And sometimes deals present themselves without much warning. A good example was the 2017 deal with South Shore Marine.

“To do a deal with Tom Mack and his team at South Shore was something that candidly wasn’t on our radar, and when the opportunity came up, it became a top priority,” Singleton says. “I mean, just a fantastic dealership, a fantastic owner principle, and him wanting to stay involved is a true value add to our company. It was a no-brainer.“

While much of the company’s growth has been in the Southern United States, that’s been more by happenstance than design. With an eye toward market leaders, OneWater is looking for good dealers throughout the United States.

“We’re really concentrating on those dealers that are top-market, from a standpoint of customer service and market share, that are entrenched in their markets and have been there for a while and carry a good name in that market, that have a good management team,” Singleton says.


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