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How MICD Program Helps Gordy's Marine Set the Standard
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Rallee Chupich navigates a pristine entrance to Cobalt Farms. There’s a manicured roundabout, adorned with signage and landscaping fit for a palatial estate. The presentation of the property belies the approach most boat dealers take for their service departments and storage facilities.

Around the bend, a small city of warehouses and office sheds spring up — each a hive all its own. Rallee, director of service for Gordy’s Lakefront Marine and the manager of this impressive complex, parks her car and walks toward the largest, central structure. En route, her team members wave, heckle and occasionally salute.

And everywhere you look: Boats. Are. Moving. Forklifts whir. The boating season is underway at its hurried pace. 

Rallee passes through the public entrance of the service facility and makes a brief, humble motion at the prominent shelf of hardware displaying Top 100 Dealer trophies and local Chamber of Commerce awards.

As one of three principals of Gordy’s Lakefront Marine, Rallee is no stranger to accolades. Awards are ingrained in the heritage of this third-generation boat dealership and marina.

Take for instance, 2014 and 2015, when Gordy’s earned back-to-back Dealer of the Year recognitions through the Boating Industry Top 100 Dealers Program. Rallee herself was honored as the Darlene Briggs Marine Industry Woman of the Year in 2013. The company’s customer service awards have become commonplace, and the dealership’s website lists no fewer than 70 awards it has been recognized with.

Behind it all, however, Rallee and her brothers Tom and Steele will tell you that the tenets of the Marine Industry Certified Dealership Program play a significant role in the success of Gordy’s Lakefront Marine. The program has provided a road map and a template on which the dealership has strengthened its already solid foundation.

 And helped them reach an even higher echelon of success.

“It starts with some of the philosophies handed down from our father and how we were brought up to be lifelong learners,” Rallee explains. “Certification, as well as being part of a 20 Group, has really helped us, as a company, share ideas, brainstorm ideas and figure out what’s working for other marinas.”

 

The Magic Bullet

Named the No. 1 boat dealership in North America two years running by the Top 100, Gordy’s Lakefront Marine sets the modern day standard for premier marine retailers. 

Founded in 1953 by Gordy Whowell, who jumped at the commercial opportunity and chance for a more fulfilling lifestyle, Gordy’s is now operated by third-generation family principals Tom, Steele, and Rallee. Together, and under the guidance of their father Tom, Sr., the siblings have evolved and strengthened Gordy’s Marine by incorporating the structural components and best practices found within the Marine Industry Certified Dealership Program.”

Dealer Certification, they say, has been a key ingredient in both maximizing profit and steering clear of resting on past success. And it allows the entire Gordy’s team to constantly assess how they can provide better customer service, keep people boating and ensure customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction and profitability all happen simultaneously.

“Year after year Certification keeps everything we’re doing, and the entire industry, fresh for our employees and ourselves,” Rallee says. “It keeps us motivated.”

Tom agreed, saying there is no singular item in a lone boating season that has blessed Gordy’s with prosperity and achievement; rather, he stresses a long-term commitment on the part of an entire business to continuously improve and adapt to changing climates. That, Tom explains, represents the single-greatest asset to a marine dealership — and it's an ethos Tom says starts with the Dealer Certification process.

“We’ve been part of Certification since the beginning, and I think it’s a great exercise to keep having that pattern over multiple years,” he says. “It isn’t one thing, there is no ‘magic bullet,’ it’s just the repetition of forcing you to do that process that really makes you better over a long period of time.” 

 

The Certification Playbook

Keeping staff at the marina, restaurant, retail store, Cobalt Farms and showroom all on the same page takes both practice and teamwork. So, much like a powerhouse football team, Gordy's has — over time — developed and refined what Steele calls a playbook heavily influenced by the MICD Program.

Dealers operating without formal processes are like an offense at the line of scrimmage without a play, he says; dealers equipped with a playbook can add valuable additional wrinkles.

“I think what the Five Star Certification process does,” Steele explains, “is force dealers to put that playbook together if they don’t have one — or if they do have one, to add more detail.”

Steele went on to say that staying current with Certification tasks allows Gordy’s to create and maintain the core processes that have helped Gordy's form a reliable profit engine.

“Those processes help determine the direction we want to go and areas of the business we want to focus on,” he said. “We get the whole team on board and then watch the business grow.”

Part of that growth has come because the trio have learned how to effectively market their Certification status in Gordy's marketing campaigns. They point to the Certified Dealership seal appearing on all of the company's marketing materials and the signs sprinkled throughout the dealership's various outlets as illustrations of ongoing efforts to promote their Certified status.

“The Top 100 and MDCE, in combination with the Five Star Certification process, is something we really push from a marketing standpoint,” Steele said. “Being dealer of the year, as well as being Five Star Certified, are things that separate us from other dealers and is something we definitely promote. We’re proud to do that. Going through the Five Star Certification process takes some work. But what it does is improve your business, and it’s great to have that as a marketing tool."

 

Real World Application

Much of the recent growth at Gordy’s hasn’t taken place alongside the water, where their showroom, restaurant and marina can be found. About two miles away, tucked neatly off a country road, you’ll find a campus that could double as an Amazon distribution center. The folks at Gordy's affectionately call it Cobalt Farms. 

There, fingerprints from the Dealership Certification appear quickly in the structure and order of Gordy’s systems and processes.

A dedicated wing of the complex houses Gordy's entire service department, and every bay is occupied on this particular day. The sheer number of boats moving in and out, not to mention the system of cataloging the massive parts inventory on hand, requires a complex tracking process.

Rallee credits Certification for playing a pivotal role in crafting operating procedures and ensuring boats are where they should be at the appropriate time and date. She reaches over and pulls a neatly completed (and bilingual) work order mirroring a template in the Certified Dealership toolbox. 

"Everyone is on the same page here," she says. "We have a certain way of doing things, and the only thing we take more pride in than organization, is safety. Certification plays an important part in how we train new employees, keep all of these moving parts running smoothly and the way we track our work.

"Our entire team knows that Certification is something we are proud of and that we're committed to maintaining."

Some 50-plus years since its inception, Gordy’s Lakefront Marine is operating at the pinnacle of the industry. For years, boat builders, local organizations and numerous marine industry entities have recognized them as among the best.

In their never-ending pursuit of continuous improvement and operational excellence, Gordy’s just keeps getting better. They’re stronger and smarter than ever before, something they attribute to their foundation, to the best practices they pattern after what they’ve learned from their colleagues, and from the principles of the Marine Industry Certified Dealership Program.

When you boil it all down, however, Steele isolates performance and profit as the reasons he continues participating in the Certification Program.

Certification “is going to make you more profitable and help your employees and teammates,” he says. "I think if you're serious about making your dealership better, then you want to be Five Star Certified.”

Tom echoes Steele’s thoughts.

"Sometimes I think we get kind of caught up in not attempting Certification because it's too overwhelming or too big to handle or because dealers aren't sure how to go about it," Tom suggests. "But I think one of the biggest things is to just start. Years ago we didn't have it all figured out. We still don't, and there's always more learning. But if you start and, over time, repeat the process, over the long haul — it will make you better."

 

Gordy Whowell fell in love with Lake Geneva as a young man and often traveled from his home in Illinois to enjoy the fishing, food and water sports. It was during one such trip in the mid 1950s that Gordy decided he wasn’t leaving.

“Gordy came up here to, like a lot of people, enjoy the lake life,” Tom said. “He ended up telling our grandmother that he wasn’t coming back to Illinois. When she asked what he was going to do, Gordy told her the first thing was going to be buying a boat.”

Gordy used that boat to give visitors guided boat tours of Lake Geneva. He called the trips “A Millionaire’s Thrill for One Thin Bill.” The phrase stuck, and it’s still recited regularly today.

That first boat purchase launched what would eventually become a multi-million dollar dealership that today has grown to include a restaurant, retail store, gas dock, gleaming showroom and massive off-site storage/service facility.