At the Helm: Through hell and beyond

“Top 100 season” is my favorite time of year. The hundreds of stories of growth and improvement within the Top 100 Dealer applications fill our team with enough inspiration and education to fuel our work for at least the next 12 months.

But 2009 was a year unlike any other. The recession’s impact on the boating business was nothing less than devastating, and so it was fitting that the theme for the industry seemed to be survival. As Winston Churchill once advised, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

We knew the Top 100 Dealers had taken this advice. They didn’t let the recession stop them in their tracks. But when I sat down to read this year’s Top 100 Dealer applications, I wondered whether their stories would be more about endurance than improvement. After a year like 2009, no one would blame them.

Soon after I started reading, the answer became clear. If anything, these leading dealers’ commitment to continuous improvement was strengthened by adversity. The 2010 Top 100 Dealers took a year in which many of their peers were focused purely on survival and squeezed it for all it was worth. They explored new profit centers and expanded old ones. They found creative ways to reduce their inventory and increase their revenues. They reached out to new and old customers and pulled their employees closer together. They became smarter, swifter and stronger.

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty,” adds Churchill.

That optimism was what ultimately allowed them to set themselves apart from their peers. Just take a look at this year’s Most Improved Dealer, South Shore Marine. This dealer had the most impressive list of improvements of any Top 100 Application that was submitted this year – and perhaps in the history of the program.

“South Shore Marine exudes excitement about the industry and the future,” says President Tom Mack. “We clearly stand out in the crowd of dealers as the most optimistic. Not that the past few years did not come with stress, but we saw this tough recession as one of the best opportunities to stand out and widen the gap between us and our competitors.”

That attitude drives the results that separate the Top 100 Dealers from their peers. And it’s an attitude that our team tries to emulate. As part of our path to continuous improvement, we are launching a campaign to continue to improve and grow the Top 100 Program. Our aim is to earn your satisfaction with, and loyalty to, the program so that it best serves its mission: raising the bar of excellence within the marine retail community. The first piece of that campaign is a survey of all Top 100 Dealers. If you haven’t taken it yet and would like to, please e-mail me at

But we aren’t just talking to Top 100 Dealers. We’re also calling and visiting those dealers who we believe would benefit from the Top 100 Program to invite them to participate. If you’re interested in becoming a Top 100 Dealer – or simply sharing your opinion about the program – we’d like to hear from you as well.

Ultimately, all of you reading this column are our customers. And as we’ve learned from the Top 100 Dealers, exceeding your expectations and earning your loyalty is the key to long-term success. So, please, take us up on this opportunity to help us serve you better. I look forward to hearing from you.

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