Tim Sather and Jake Jostand, co-owners of Oak Hill Marina in Arnolds Park, Iowa, are two of the newest — and youngest — marine dealership principals in the U.S.
Jake says working at Oak Hill has been the only job he’s ever really known, advancing his way from teenaged gas dock attendant to showroom sales manager and finally the dealership’s captain chair.
Tim returned to Iowa after completing vocational school in Florida and launching successful business endeavors in Kentucky as both a lead service writer and independent shop owner.
Both quickly point out they are friends as well as business partners and say they will never tire of coming to their home lake each morning to “work.”
Tim and Jake succeeded previous Oak Hill owners Phil and Teresa Miklo in early 2015. Much like an elite track star handing off a baton at the end of a relay leg, Jake says the transfer of ownership was, due in large part to planning completed during the Certification process, a smooth one.
“Phil and Teresa started this dealership and left it in a really good place when we purchased it,” Jake, who will begin his 25th summer at Oak Hill Marina in 2016, said. “A lot of the things we do now, we’ve been doing for a long time, and Phil and Teresa began the Certification process years ago — when the program first started. It’s something we continue to do, and it makes us better.”
All dealerships enrolled in the Marine Industry Certified Dealership Program sketch a succession plan for their dealership as part of the Certification journey, and an emphasis on flexibility has been intentionally built into the process to ensure customized plans that fit specific needs.
In Oak Hill’s case, for example, ownership was transferring to a newly formed business partnership comprised of principals outside the immediate family.
Thanks to tasks completed as part of the dealership’s Five Star Certification, Jake and Tim — as well as the Oak Hill Marina’s nearly two-dozen employees — were ready.
Jake was identified as a likely ownership successor during his tenure as sales manager and says he was indoctrinated into the MICD Program “ways” early during his Oak Hill employment. He played pivotal roles in guiding the sales team through their regular re-Certification tasks and continuously refined Oak Hill's playbook to maximize efficiency and team morale.
“I was being groomed to manage the dealership in case something happened to Phil — he didn’t want to burden Teresa with having to run the dealership if something happened to him,” Jake said. “Certification was an important part in that process."
Interestingly, one of the pre-requisites attached to Jake’s succession plan was completing the first phase of courses in the Spader Leadership Development — one of the marine industry’s flag bearers in business education and a close partner of both the MICD Program and MRAA.
“One of Phil’s stipulations when these conversations started was that I attend Spader Leadership Development,” Jake said. “At that time Phil was giving up a lot of his decision making, and I came back ready to implement new processes, core values and dealership standards.”
Training he received at the Spader compound in South Dakota was the salt to Certification’s pepper, and Jake says lessons learned during both programs gave him an early boost of confidence.
Mission No. 1: changing the culture at Oak Hill Marina.
“It wasn’t that we had a bad culture, I want to make that clear,” Jake said. “There were a few things that just needed to be changed, and when I came back from Spader I wanted to take it to another level.”
Certification’s Influence on Service Dept.
Tim’s background as a marine technician has been one of the most valuable assets for the pair of newly minted owners of Oak Hill Marina. While garden variety “head butting” flares up from time to time, Jake and Tim say involving their entire team in the Certification process has resulted in what the men describe as “low walls” between the sales and service departments.
“When we talk to other dealers, it’s almost comical how smooth things run here,” Tim said. “It works very, very well. We don’t have those issues. On the flipside, whenever people ask me about an in-depth sales question on volume or this or that, I can say, ‘hey Jake, what are we doing in sales again?’ I don’t have to worry about it. Jake has everything covered over there and vice versa.”
Thanks in large part to processes and practices woven into the MICD Program, each member of the service department team recognizes the importance of mapping departmental improvements.
“As part of the Five Star Certification process, if you’re assessing yourself year after year and providing that level of accountability, those things become habit,” Tim said. “Those habits can help you become successful — and maintain that success.”
Tim went on to say Certification has provided a vehicle for employees to both feel comfortable suggesting changes to routine and, perhaps more importantly, a map to recognize positive contributions.
“When we change things sometimes on the fly, and it’s a change for the better and it’s a change in the process, we fill out a process improvement for Certification and we look at the root cause,” Tim said.
“It makes you take pause, it makes the whole team pause, and say, ‘hey Jake or Ty or Ryan or Collin or Jason: that was a good job — that was a nice change and thanks for bringing it to the table. Here’s what we’ve changed, this is the outline of it. It’s improved, the person is recognized and there are a lot of good things that come out of it.”
Old Friends, New Partnership
Tim began working at Oak Hill Marina as a service writer in 2013 and by last winter was ready to pursue a joint ownership agreement.
The non-traditional business partnership has so far been a boom for the entire dealership, and both men think the team’s brightest days are still ahead.
“For anyone out there wondering whether a partnership like this can work in a small business, I’ll say it’s probably the most beneficial thing for us,” Jake said. “We’ve got both big sides of the house covered in sales and service. You have owners who care.”
Maintaining their status as a Five Star MICD Dealership will, both say, continue to be a top priority for both sales and service.
As for future Oak Hill success platforms?
Well, neither new owner is bashful about sharing expectations.
“We want to be one of the top dealers in the country every single year, that’s our standard,” Tim said. “Certification is really an accountability factor and allows us to step back and say, ‘are we doing everything we can to be the best in the country? Are we providing all the services we should be and constantly looking at our processes and mapping our improvements? Are we doing the little things that really do matter?’"
Once again included on Boating Industry magazine’s annual Top 100 list (No. 19 to be specific) and enjoying a “perfect” growth pace, Jake and Tim say they have essentially given everyone at Oak Hill Marina a chance to “run their own business within the business.” Employees understand their individual and team’s role in successfully navigating the MICD Program.
“You have to set your employees up for success,” Jake said. “We feel we’re doing that here, and Certification provides the accountability. That, for us, would be the biggest word: ‘accountability.’”
Visitors approaching the oversized double glass doors at the entrance of Oak Hill Marina are immediately greeted by a pair of large MICD logos. Prominently displaying the Certification seal in multiple locations around the dealership, a seemingly simple but incredibly powerful marketing tactic, helps ensure all customers know they are entering someplace “different” than the rest.
Executing successful marketing campaigns traditionally represents one of the areas of difficultly reported by marine retailers. Dealerships engaged in Certification, however, have access to a modern playbook containing strategies ranging from basic to advanced.
Jake thinks successful marketing of the MICD Program is critical when evaluating value.
“That’s the hard part,” Jake said. “If you don’t market it, consumers won’t know about it. Some of us are better at marketing things than others. You have to market it.”
Letter of Recommendation
Ask Tim and Jake if they would feel comfortable recommending the MICD Program to fellow marine retailers, and both will enthusiastically begin listing ways Certification has benefitted Oak Hill Marina.
Marine dealerships not enrolled in the MICD Program are, they say, missing a potential opportunity to standardize their processes, create accountability mechanisms and modernize their sales departments.
“The Certification process gives us a basis point to judge ourselves against — and it keeps us on the right track,” Jake said.