The Marine Retailers Association of the Americas has made significant progress in reinventing itself over the last year or so. With a re-focused effort on contributing to the success of the marine retailer, the MRAA has marked a series of milestones and has set a path for great success moving forward. The following is an overview of the significant updates MRAA has made.
Young Leaders Advisory Council
No review of the MRAA's recent path would be complete without going back to November of 2009 when the organization's board of directors formed the Young Leaders Advisory Council. A group of 20- and 30-somethings, YLAC was formed to provide guidance and a next-generation perspective to the board, and it has played an integral part in the formation of new committees and new endeavors launched by the MRAA.
Under new leadership, the MRAA has set its focus on helping dealer succeed. President Matt Gruhn brings more than 16 years of marine industry experience with him to his post, along with a background rich in marketing and product development — most of which focused on boat dealers. Additionally, Liz Walz joined the team in August of 2012 as director of membership and marketing. She, too, has nearly 16 years of experience in the industry, in addition to a history of working closely with marine dealers through programs like the Top 100 and the Marine Dealer Conference & Expo.
New Membership Structure
For the better part of MRAA's history, the association's membership structure was a tiered system, requiring dues based on annual revenues. The system proved to be confusing and cumbersome for MRAA's partners and members to understand. In 2011, the MRAA eliminated that program and went to a flat-rate dues program. For $300 any dealer can join MRAA, and it's no coincidence that the average dealer who uses MRAA's shipping benefit program saves more than $400.
Triple the Benefits
Since the third quarter of 2011, the MRAA has tripled the number of benefits available to its members. Ineffective programs were re-envisioned or eliminated and fresh, relevant programs put in their place. Today, the MRAA offers more than 20 member benefits, and we guarantee that if our members use them, they will realize an ROI greater than their membership investment.
MRAA Rewards Program
With all of those new benefits, MRAA needed a clear manner for communicating them, so the association created the MRAA Rewards Program. Under this banner, all of MRAA's benefits — from cost savings to revenue generators and educational opportunities to performance-enhancers — are housed and marketed. Upon joining the association, every member is automatically enrolled in the MRAA Rewards Program.
Marine Retail University
Our members have told us that the Marine Dealer Conference & Expo is the most valuable benefit the MRAA provides. Yet, the MDCE attracts only a fraction of the total number of dealers in today's market. So MRAA takes the MDCE concept of dealer education to the dealer through a regional conference program called Marine Retail University. MRAA partners with Dominion Marine Media and a number of regional marine trades associations to deliver top-notch educational sessions in a low-cost, one-day format.
All-New Website and Management System
In early 2011, the MRAA invested in an all-new website and association management system. In and of itself, a new website could be mistaken as a redesign. However, this site now offers the full functionality that MRAA needs, including content and newsletter management, community networking functionality, association calendars, event coordination and registration tools, members-only content, e-commerce capabilities, renewal notifications and dues processing, and most importantly, a database management system that can identify quickly and easily who is an MRAA member and who is not. This has helped to define the re-invented MRAA.
American Boating Congress
For the first time ever, the MRAA became a co-sponsor of and held a full board meeting at the 2012 American Boating Congress. The association's participation in this legislative event not only proved to be extremely valuable from an educational and lobbying standpoint, but it also signaled a new approach to industry involvement for the MRAA. This became the first of many instances where MRAA collaborated with other groups to further the interests of the marine industry.
Long-Range Strategic Planning
For the first time in MRAA's history, the staff and board of directors (along with YLAC) sat down and created a long-term strategic plan. With a hired facilitator to guide the group, the MRAA set a focus on five primary areas to make progress on over the next three-to-five years and now has a detailed plan for how that will come to life.
Model Year Conversation
In the past, controversial topics such as new boat model year have proven to be divisive and detrimental to the health of the marine industry. With a new approach to industry collaboration, the MRAA and its board worked closely with the National Marine Manufacturers Association and its board to hammer out an acceptable definition and recommendation on how the U.S. Coast Guard should approach model year. This, too, signaled a new era of collaborative effort that the MRAA is proud to have embarked on.
In cooperation with a Partner Member, the MRAA published a Federal Regulatory Compliance Manual in late August. This 44-page book outlines the potentially steep fines and penalties that marine retailers face if they are not compliant with federal regulations, in addition to a detailed "how to" for gaining and maintaining compliance. It includes case studies, Q&As, and many forms that retailers need to maintain compliance, in addition to a checklist for ensuring they've taken all the steps. This is the first of a number of such publications MRAA has planned.
MRAA Rewards Resource Center
At MRAA.com, members of the association can access a growing number of free resources through the MRAA Rewards Resource Center. This area of the website includes numerous forms and documents that our members can use to help them in their dealerships, in addition to variety of how-to information, expert advice and best practices sampled from around the industry. Formally launched on January 1, this is a growing section of the MRAA website and an increasingly valuable benefit of MRAA membership.
Young Professionals Community
The brainchild of the YLAC group, MRAA launched a Young Professionals Community in the coming weeks. More than 100 people attended the first Young Professionals event which was held at the 2012 Marine Dealer Conference & Expo. The community itself features professional development seminars in addition to a full-fledged online community at MRAA.com — all with the mission of helping to develop the future leaders of the marine industry. MRAA Members can join in the conversation, participate in forums and network with other young professionals.
Retail Member Growth
MRAA's efforts are working. In the last 10 months of 2012, MRAA Retail Membership grew by more than 180 percent, and that participation is coming from all corners of the industry. MRAA now counts among its members some of the largest marine and big box retailers — MarineMax, West Marine, Skipper Bud's, Cabela's, and Bass Pro Shops — and nearly 50 new members joined MRAA in just the month of September alone.
Partner Member Growth
MRAA is seeing a great deal of growth from supplier community memberships, as well. More than 15 companies have stepped up to support the MRAA at the Partner Level or higher in 2012, noting significant growth over 2011. Much of this can be attributed to MRAA's new direction, but much of it is also due to the recently created Partner Member benefit program. We invite you to join them in supporting MRAA and the marine dealer body.