The 2018 Top 100: Best Practices

After 14 years, the Boating Industry Top 100 continues to grow, with the dealers setting new records that outpace the market.

The Top 100 and Hall of Fame dealers achieved revenue of nearly $3.6 billion in 2017 – half a billion more than in 2016. With growth of more than 16 percent, this elite group more than doubled the growth rate of the industry as a whole.

They sold more boats, sold more engines and grew other revenue. At the same time, net profits, margins, CSI scores and service efficiency all improved.

These dealers also faced stiff competition to make the list. From the thousands of dealers in North America – and hundreds of nominations – these 100 dealers are the best of the best.

Below you’ll find key stats and benchmarks from the Top 100, along with some of the best practices from these elite dealers.

Following that, you can read about The Sail & Ski Center of Austin, Texas, which won its second Dealer of the Year award in 2018. Plus, you’ll find more best practices from our Best in Class winners that stand out in marketing, service and more. We also have insights from our Editor’s Choice dealerships (The Boat House, Sea Ray of Cincinnati/Louisville, and Nautical Ventures) and the six Hall of Fame companies. Finally, you can also see the full list of the Top 100, with the Top 20 ranked, and the rest appearing in alphabetical order.


Best Practices of the Top 100

Lessons from other industries

The best dealers know they can learn a lot from companies outside the boating industry.

At M&P Mercury Sales, that has been accomplished in several ways.

“This search for innovation outside our industry lead us to the Canadian “Growth Driver Program” (GDP), a prestigious three-year intensive program that seeks to assist small to medium companies in achieving huge growth in a condensed period of time run by BDC (Business Development Bank of Canada),” says company President Bob Pappajohn. “In 2017 we applied for, were accepted into and began the initial phase of this incredible program.” 

The GDP is a guided journey through leadership and business transformation and is designed for mid-sized businesses with growth potential and ambition that prepares the company for the next phase of growth. As a requirement for the program Pappajohn is required to work closely, for a period of three years, with an Executive Advisor who will challenge many areas of the existing strategy or tactical plan. The Executive Advisor is backed by other advisers and experts.

In 2017, Pappajohn also became a member of MacKay CEO Forums. MacKay CEO Forums are designed to accelerate the performance of CEOs, executives and business owners by leveraging the experience of hundreds of top executives from across the country through participation in professionally led, least time-intensive and highest impact peer groups. 

Through the GDP program, M&P also began working with Highbridge Human Capital, to address one of the top challenges of M&P and the industry as a whole: attracting and keeping great employees.

“In 2017, we started down this road of staff attraction and retention and have come to understand several key factors: First, to attract excellent people to our business, we need to be able to recruit with the best of the best and, second, in order to retain excellent people, we need to build the experience within the organization so that employee satisfaction is so high that the people that we recruit will never want to leave,” Pappajohn says. 

The Disney way

Another company that’s working to learn from the best companies in the world is Spicer’s Boat City.

“Our management team attended Disney Institute training to learn and apply the tools Disney uses to provide excellent customer service,” says President Phillip Spicer. “We learned their four ‘keys’ and how to develop our own appropriate service standards and how to implement them.” 

The Spicer Standards of Excellence focus on four service standards in its training: Friendliness, Skillfulness, Cleanliness and Speed. 

“We train regularly on these standards and incorporate them throughout the facility where we have posted large banners with the quality standards,” Spicer says. “New hires receive this and a booklet explaining it. We train how meeting these standards is everyone’s responsibility and to hold each other accountable.” 

The dealership also trains on Disney concepts, such as that you can be “off task” but “on purpose.” 

“This is a Disney concept that allows people to depart from their task at hand if it will allow them to better serve the customer with the company’s ‘purpose’ in mind.,” Spicer says. “We have noticed a significant improvement in communication and teamwork since implementing these quality standards. Many of our CSI scores have shown solid growth since implementing these standards as well.”

Incentivizing technicians

In 2017, Marine Connection launched two new incentive programs for its service technicians. 

The first program rewards technicians for efficiency. On a weekly basis, the tech with the highest efficiency percentage at each of the dealership locations is recognized with a $100 Snap-on Tools gift card bonus. In addition, any technician who posts an efficiency rating of 100 percent or more for four consecutive weeks earns a $500 Snap-on tools gift card. 

“This program has motivated and inspired our technicians to better manage their time, focus their energies and thereby ultimately improve their efficiencies,” says President John Kutuk. 

Marine Connection launched a second program related to customer satisfaction. 

“Our goal with this program is to make sure technicians understand their direct impact to CSI beyond just ‘Fixed Right First Visit’ on survey results,” Kutuk says. 

The dealership’s service managers evaluate the average score of each mechanic every six months, covering the January through June, and the July to December timeframe. Mechanics with the highest CSI scores are rewarded with two extra days off with pay. 

“It serves to reinforce and elevate the message that customers come first, and customer satisfaction is a high priority at Marine Connection,” Kutuk says. “It also serves as a great tool to communicate to our team that their outstanding efforts are prized and rewarded.”

The two programs helped drive a service efficiency increase of 2.8 percent in 2017.

Rewarding CSI

Consumers today expect better customer service than ever. The sales team plays an outsized role in maintaining great service.

“We have a CSI program in place to reward our sales representatives for 100 percent CSI scores or to penalize them for less than 100 percent CSI scores,” says Quality Boats of Tampa Bay CEO Dan Bair. “Additionally, we withhold 10 percent of the sales commission per new boat sale until the salesperson has provided proof of proper and thorough follow-up to ensure complete satisfaction and absolute response to each customer’s needs.”

After a CSI survey is received back at the dealership, the scores are recorded and posted at both of the company’s location.

“Large charts are posted in the employee break rooms for all employees to view and chart the progress,” Bair says. “We have programs in place that reward not only for reaching set goals by ownership but also bonuses if our cumulative CSI score improves over the previous quarter. This program has been a resounding success, as our CSI scores have improved to levels that place us in the top tier of dealer CSI for each of our boat and engine suppliers.” 

The company paid out more than $10,000 in CSI bonuses to employees in 2017. 

“The program has allowed us to drive home the point that CSI is a team effort and all team members have a direct impact on the team’s overall success,” Bair says. 

The Quality Boats team educates customers on the importance of CSI at the time of delivery by reviewing what the survey looks like and introducing the new boaters to the service department.

“We follow up with the customer within two days of delivery to ensure satisfaction, to address any questions or problems, and to remind them of the upcoming initial survey,” Bair says. “The sales representative emails the customer several pictures of them and their new boat that were taken at the time of their delivery from which the customer is to choose his/her favorites. We then send the customer their choice of a personalized calendar which pictures their family on their new boat each month or a personalized photograph of their family on the new boat.”

To ensure customer satisfaction after the sale and exemplary follow-up CSI surveys, the sales department contacts customers throughout the year to confirm satisfaction and to alert them of upcoming annual surveys. The program is updated and reviewed on an annual basis to make sure it is still meeting the company’s goals.

Out with the old

Managing inventory and turn rate is important for any dealer, but especially those dealing with shorter seasons in the Northeast, such as Maine’s Clark Marine.

“This is a tricky question in that this may be the hardest of all adjustments to make in season without giving up the farm in your sales department,” says Owner Rob Brown. “A successful sales year has to start with smart purchasing. We are a dealer that is not on the way to anywhere and we are not the largest of volume dealers in the world so most of our purchasing has to be committed to seven to eight months in advance.” 

Clark Marine uses feedback from employees and customers, as well as market data to try to predict inventory needs.

“I listen to my customers who have purchased not just from me but also those who own competitive products and I document their comments on what their likes and dislike are,” Brown says. “One of the best questions you can ask a boat owner is, ‘If you could change something about your boat what would it be?’ We included his question on our Orange 90-120-day sales follow up survey and we have received a myriad of comments in return.”

Once Clark commits to its purchases, the company puts a marketing plan in place that includes boat shows, community events, open houses and advertising.

“I set floor plans at our shows to highlight models that I have invested more heavily in,” Brown says. “We make sure we are very educated in our own products and promotions and we educate somewhat on competitive differences in our products.” 

The company prices seasonally, becoming more aggressive as the year goes on, working to get the boats out the door in the fall with any reasonable offer and communicating that information to the sales team.

“At day 260 of a boat being on my lot it develops a big target on it,” Brown says. “The longer it is here the bigger the target grows. We talk about our leftover or near leftover inventory all the time. … Generally, we run special sales targeted at leftover boats. We offer free benefits and reduced pricing to entice buyers.

“One of our most used ploys is to place a slow-moving boat on the front lawn, high visibility from the road and attach a big price on it,” Brown adds. “Each week it does not sell we will lower the price just a little bit more. More times than not someone will stop in and throw us an offer within range and the boat goes away.”

Family Fun

To commemorate the opening of its new headquarters campus, Legend Boats hosted Grand Opening festivities in May 2017.

At the same time, Legend also wanted to recognize the hard work of its employees and their families. To celebrate the grand opening of the new facility with the public, Legend Boats hosted its first Family Fun Day. The Family Fun Day consisted of a free community event including a free BBQ, facility tours, a boat sale promotion, parts & accessories sale, a photo booth, local radio stations, free fishing lessons, and free kids games all related to boating and fishing. 

“A crowd of over 900 people showed up to the event on Saturday to participate in the games and to enjoy the BBQ, the largest turnout to a single event in company history by far,” says co-CEO Jamie Dewar. “The parking lot was so full that patrons had to park along the highway. It was also one of the strongest sales weekends by a single location in company history with over 25 boats sold.”

After the rush of the spring season, Legend believed its employees needed to let loose as well. Legend invited all employees to come to the headquarters in Sudbury to participate in the Employee Fun Day. The headquarters closed for the day midweek and the employees were treated to a catered BBQ lunch to start the festivities, and then listened to updates on the company’s performance, wins, losses, and future plans. The day ended with a variety of outdoor games and a lake lounge party.

“Team members got to know other team members they may not see or work with on a daily basis, they also got up to speed on the current position of the company and the future aspirations,” Dewar says. “Team members had to work as a team to accomplish the tasks. The team got to relax and lounge and enjoy our own backyard of the lake and nature. The recharged team went back to work excited, were more productive, and with better understanding of their fellow team members and the company.”

Embracing the boat show

While some dealers have found boat shows to be less valuable in recent years, Buckeye Sports Center continues to grow its investment in the events.

“Customers continue to do more and more research and shopping on the Internet and videos can help a customer see himself in the boat but most people still want to see the actual boat, get in it, check out the features and talk with a knowledgeable, sincere salesperson to make sure they are choosing the right boat,” says Jim Armington. “Add the excitement and feel for the boating lifestyle and shows are still the best place to sell boats for us.”

In 2017 Buckeye continued to increase its commitment to boat shows by adding three new shows in addition to the Cleveland Boat Show. 

“We also continue to sponsor the Fishing College at the Cleveland Show with several fishing seminars each day,” Armington says. “Customers want knowledgeable, friendly, passionate sales people that have all the information needed at their fingertips.” 

All salespeople go through more than 50 hours of product and sales training in December before the show season to make sure they have all the info and customer skills to create the best possible experience for the best chance of closing deals at the show. This year’s Cleveland Boat Show was the best in the company’s history, showing the importance of the strategy. 

“We still use ‘Water Ready’ pricing on all of our boats so customers can see the total price and payment on the boat including freight, prep, trailer, safety equipment and displayed options,” he says. “Although we make a significant effort to close deals at the show, we also focus on gathering leads that we can follow up with after the show and at our in-store Spring Open Houses.”   


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