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The drive to continuously grow and improve is at the heart of the MRAA, our members and our staff. That’s why we’re launching this blog: to share what we’re learning in our work and in our lives with you – and in hopes you’ll share what you’re learning too.


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Member Spotlight: Roxanne Rockvam

Posted By Mickaela Hilleren, Monday, June 17, 2019

Roxanne Rockvam, of Rockvam Boat Yards, located in Spring Park, Minn., continues to be a strong advocate for boating and water preservation. We had the chance to ask her a few questions about working in her family’s business and her new initiatives, and the Clean Boater Pledge.

Q: First of all, tell us a little about yourself and how you got your start in the boating industry.

Rockvam: I’m told my first boat ride was at 6 days old. But as a 3rd generation in the boating industry, I’ve been told “the water is in my veins”. We have a family marina and with a family business I’ve always been around it. In fact, I started on payroll at age 7 and I remember having to stand on the edge of the showcase to reach the cash register.

Although I’ve had other jobs including College Admissions, I worked holiday retail, I was the Easter Bunny at the local mall, and we can safely say after working at a family restaurant… you don’t want me as your table server, haha. The nice thing is the experience gained at these jobs has helped me with our marina, which I joined full time in 1999.

Q: Your parents, Jerry and Joyce, opened the marina over 50 years ago. Do you have certain family values you carry over into your business?

Rockvam: Absolutely. Work hard! My parents started the marina and carefully grew the business. The story is quite inspiring. Looking back at what they developed from our house with the store in the lower level, one dock, and a warehouse, to the four warehouses, repair shop, fifteen pontoons, a boat club, dry stack for 120, two docks, and three forklifts and a full time crew of 6 and part time crew of over 30! That’s your work hard inspiration story that transcends all generations. Every day when you come to the marina you get to experience it, first hand. That’s a great motivator.

Q: Rockvam Boat Yards is one of the founding “First Five” of the Minnesota Clean Marina program. Explain what it means to be a Certified Clean Marina in the state of Minnesota. What has the certification means for the team at Rockvam Boat Yards?

Rockvam: The Minnesota Clean Marina Program was a journey.  It took a working committee of about 18 business and agencies to formulate and launch. Without the help of the DNR, MN-Tap, and founding partners, it would have stayed a great idea. The idea came to life when Jerry was at CMM training in 2001 and learned about the Florida program from another classmate. That’s when Jerry pitched the idea to his MInnesota colleagues, but it wasn’t until 2008 when Sunnyside, Afton, Windmill, Bayport and Rockvam’s got together and started the plan. The collective collaboration and industry contacts brought the team to 18. The “other team” includes the Clean Marina Programs before us and their ability to guide and advise us, which greatly reduced our launch time to success. That happened when we were able to certify the first five marinas in 2010! It’s a fantastic program where each marina need to meet criteria concerning 300 Best Management Practices, things from proper hazardous waste disposal, environmental spill equipment, and the education of boating public. Next is a visit from the certification committee. We are now over 20 marina’s that fly our Minnesota Clean Marina flag. Our goal is to continue to grow our certified marinas and achieve a revenue source to help us move forward!

Q: You are involved in many initiatives that focus on educating boaters on the importance of protecting our waters. Recently, you launched and the Clean Boater Pledge. Tell us about the programs and how they came to be.

Rockvam: Pontoon Girl focuses on the boating lifestyle for women… the “Water, Sun, Friends” aspect.

For the past 30 years I’ve watched people rent our pontoon boats. Paying attention to why they’re taking a cruise, what they bring, and how much fun they have.

Pontoon Girl captures the essence of how to enjoy your boat. The things “they” don’t tell you… such as appetizers that are boat friendly, festive drinks including non-alcohol ideas, super cute boat clothes. There’s a weekly theme in the free ToonDay Tuesday newsletter and even more ideas in our members VIP Pontoon Girl group.

Here’s the cool thing, the success of Pontoon Girl has given way to an amazing platform called and over 500 boaters in one month have taken the pledge! Get your customers to take the pledge, it’s super easy and it’s a wonderful way to engage the boaters across the country to be involved in clean habits. ALL boaters are welcome! In fact, I want them ALL to take the pledge and start practicing simple things, like using a mineral based sunscreen. Really, if you change one thing… this is it. The “footprint” of sunscreen in the water is devastating and it is HUGE. Research it, use mineral based sunscreen.

Q: Lastly, what are 5 things that people may not know about you?

  1. I’m a former national champion at baton twirling, I can twirl fire baton, and I performed at the Super Bowl.
  2. I can solve a Rubik’s cube, nerd alert… I have over 100 different types.
  3. I speak Japanese and I lived in Japan.
  4. Diet Pepsi and Chocolate Chip Cookies are one of the four food groups!
  5. My dog is big, fluffy, white, and his name is Mr. Pancake – but not because he’s big, fluffy, and white… he was actually named after the restaurant in the Wisconsin Dells (long story).

Tags:  certified clean marina  family business  member spotlight  MRAA member 

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9 Highlights from a Podcast on Dealer Week

Posted By Katie Eichelberger, Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Mike Davin, MRAA’s Director of Education, was recently featured on the Boat Dealer Profits Podcast talking about our reimagined conference experience, Dealer Week. We’ve summarized the 30-minute podcast into nine key highlights listed below (with timestamps). You can listen to the whole interview here.

  1. Dealer Week is built for dealers, by dealers. (1:50) We sat down with leading manufacturers, suppliers, and most importantly dealers and asked them, “What would make Dealer Week most valuable for you?” The collaboration was amazing, and we are excited to share the many things we are implementing this year according to their feedback.

  2. We did something dorky … we studied how people learn. (2:18) A conference is more than just sitting in the room and listening to the speaker. With Dealer Week, there will be opportunities to reflect on what you learn.

  3. NEW! Mike explains Education Hosts. (3:09) Sam Dantzler, Jim Million and David Spader will serve as your guides through the education at Dealer Week. (More about Education Hosts at the 13:00 mark)

  4. Extended educational session times with built-in dealer-to-dealer learning. (5:20) Through our research as well as experience from past conferences, we know the value that comes when dealers learn from each other. These conversations about challenges and opportunities will be integrated into our Education Pathways.

  5. What will be familiar? (7:34) Our mission and focus on education, industry connections and celebrating the accomplishments of dealers in 2019.

  6. What’s a Pathway? (9:00) Previously known as “tracks,” our breakout education sessions have transformed into Educational Pathways. Rather than being focused on specific areas of the dealership, they cut across various departments and will attract a cross-section of attendees. The Pathways are: the Dealership, the Customer and the Employee. We believe if you’re successful in those three areas, you’ll be successful as a business.

  7. Sneak peek into the education! (11:47) AKA the pain points you have in your dealership.

  8. NEW! 10x10 Sessions. (16:46) 10 industry leaders will spend 10 minutes discussing their take on the hottest topics in the marine world today.

  9. The goal of Dealer Week. (20:36) Dealer success always has and always will be the MRAA’s goal. At Dealer Week, we’ve brought together partners who believe in that mission as well. You can meet them in the Expo Hall!
Be the first to know when the Educational Pathway schedules are released as well as other fun Dealer Week news by following us on Facebook. Click here to see who’s already coming!

Tags:  Annual conference  conference experience  dealer education  Dealer Week  Education  pathways  podcast 

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Dealers Climb Capitol Hill at American Boating Conference

Posted By Mickaela Hilleren, Wednesday, May 22, 2019
Updated: Thursday, May 23, 2019
Last week, MRAA and other representatives of the recreational boating industry convened in Washington, D.C. for the annual American Boating Congress. ABC is the industry’s primary political and legislative gathering, where all sectors of recreational boating work for three full days to present a unified front to Congress on the critical issues impacting our industry. 2019 was the largest ABC on record, with more than 350 attendees gathering to discuss important topics such as trade, recreation, conservation, and blue-green infrastructure. Industry representatives held more than 200 meetings with congressional offices. MRAA staff and members were there to learn, engage and meet with their individual members of Congress as constituents. Here’s what they had to say about their ABC experience:

Chris Butler, Butler Marine
“This was my first year at ABC and discovered the importance of letting our elected officials know how important the boating and recreational fishing industries are to our economy.  I will definitely be back next year.”

Joe Lewis, Mount Dora Boating Center & Marina

“This past ABC was a brilliant example of persistence paying off.  The people I met with on Capitol Hill were informed and understood our issues. In years past meetings were a monologue. We explained who we were, what we faced and how they could help. Fast forward to 2019, legislators knew us, our issues and asking us how they could help. Night and day difference after years of work. Finally recreational boating can play a little offense and we did just that in December of 2018 with passage of the Modern Fish Act. We still have many challenges but at least today we have people who are really listening.”

Matt Gruhn, MRAA President
“ABC, with its focus on meeting with Congress Members, can feel like an intimidating process. But the Members and their teams are incredibly engaged in listening to the issues, particularly when we have such a large contingent of industry participating in the dialog, and particularly when they get the chance to talk to one of their own constituents. This year, after meeting with Rep. Jim Hagedorn, along with Alumacraft Boats President James Irwin, we actually received a follow-up phone call from the Representative himself, which we took as a nod to the positive reception we received when presenting our issues. We make a real impact when we participate in this event.”

Liz Walz, MRAA Vice President
"One of the highlights of my experience at ABC this year was the opportunity to meet with Congressman John Katko, who represents New York’s 24th District, where I live. We spoke about the workforce challenges that so many MRAA members face – and particularly the opportunity to reauthorize the Higher Education Act with a provision that reduces the classroom hours necessary for Pell Grants, so that more of those training for careers as marine technicians would be eligible. I was impressed that he knew of many of our marine dealer members based in the district. And he even offered to put me in touch with someone in his office who could help us determine whether there was federal grant money available to support the development of local marine technician education programs.”

Mike Davin, MRAA Director of Education

“It’s easy to feel like casting a ballot on Election Day is the only chance you have to make your voice heard in Washington. Visiting Capitol Hill is a good reminder that Congress is there to represent us, and the Senate and House buildings are both open for visitors. The Hill visits during ABC were a highlight, and all the Members of Congress and staff who met with us seemed engaged and eager to listen."

Tags:  advocacy  American Boating Congress  conservation  D.C.  industry  members involvement  partners  policy  recreation  representatives  trade  voices  Washington 

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MRAA Partner Interview: Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation

Posted By Mickaela Hilleren, Wednesday, May 22, 2019
Updated: Friday, May 24, 2019

We had the chance to ask Stephanie Vatalaro, of the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation, a few questions about their newest campaign and the other efforts RBFF is taking in order to increase the number of people getting out on the water and participating in outdoor recreation.

To get started, we would love to hear about you and what you do at the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation.

I am the Senior Vice President of Marketing & Communications at the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation (RBFF), where I lead the organization’s outreach strategy to recruit new participants to fishing and boating through our Take Me Fishing™ and Vamos A Pescar™ brand campaigns.

The RBFF is currently working to increase the number of fishing participants from the existing 49.1 million to 60 million by 2021. What efforts are you taking in order to reach the goal in the next two years?

We’re working to achieve 60 in 60 using a three-pronged approach - recruitment, retention and reactivation (R3). The main focus for RBFF is on recruitment, but we also work with industry and state agencies on retention and reactivation. We offer many tools and programs for our stakeholders to get involved. The latest - our Fishing License & Boat Registration Website Plugin - connects your customers with fishing license and boat registration information in just one click. With the plugin on your website, you’ll lower the barriers to participation by facilitating license sales, increasing the number of fishing trips and anglers, and positioning your business as a trusted resource for the items needed to fish.

Not only is RBFF focusing on increasing the number of anglers in general, but also it is working to increase the number of women who participate in the sport. Tell us about the Women’s Initiative and how MRAA readers can get involved.

Nearly half of all newcomers to fishing last year were female, and today, Moms are fishing with their kids more than Dads. But only 19% of women see themselves in the sport, and women drop out of fishing at really high rates. That’s why we launched the #WomenMakingWaves campaign last year to empower women in fishing and boating. We are encouraging all women to go out and create unforgettable memories on the water. If you’re a beginner, we’ve got everything you need to get started. If you’re an avid participant, you can help us spread the word. The marine industry can do its part to support Women Making Waves by featuring women in their advertisements and social media campaigns, learning how to better engage women in the sales process and hosting female-focused events.

Access to water is an issue that affects all aspects of the marine industry. In addition to the License + Registration PlugIn, RBFF offers other plugins that help lessen the hurdles to boating. How can the Places to Boat & Fish embeddable map help retailers get people out on the water?

Having easy access to the water is critical for a successful day of fishing. Our embeddable Places to Boat & Fish Map is a free, interactive tool that makes it easy for boaters, anglers and outdoor enthusiasts to find bodies of water, specific types of fish and various destinations including camp sites, restaurants, picnic areas and other outdoor retailers.

Thank you, Stephanie, for all of your time and talking us through the offerings that RBFF is delivering to the marine industry.

The Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation continues to create resources that support the growth and participation in boating and fishing. Click to access free resources to help grow boating and fishing on from the RBFF Resource Center.

Tags:  #WomentMakingWaves  fishing  partners  partnership  plugins  RBFF  website 

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Be, Do, Get

Posted By Nikki Duffney, Wednesday, May 22, 2019
Updated: Wednesday, May 22, 2019

I recently completed Skills for Success, a Dale Carnegie course, and one of the many things that I learned was the “Be, Do, Get” concept. The idea is to craft a short statement that outlines the growth you are interested in achieving. I thought this was pretty cool, and could be applied to all areas of my life. My “Be, Do, Get” statement is, “Be authentic, Do the work, Get continual improvement.”

I purposely left mine to be vague as I wanted to be able to apply it to several facets of my life. Here is an example of how I am applying my statement:

I want to show up to work every day with my true self, and be able to treat others with humility and respect. I want to do the work, which can take a different shape depending on the day and needs of the members and organization. Continual improvement, if we are not working on something to develop our tools as professionals, we are complacent with change and not able to move with new opportunity.

I would like to challenge you to think of a “Be, Do, Get” statement that you can apply to yourself or your dealership. Staying focused on how you need to show up, what needs to be done and focus on the outcomes desired will help shape the future you want.

Share your statement in the comments. We would love to see what is fueling your personal growth!

Tags:  authenticity  Carnegie  continuous improvement  growth  personal development  work 

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5 Tips To Grow Your Own Technicians

Posted By Mike Davin, Wednesday, May 8, 2019
At the MRAA, our job is to help our members become more successful, so we’re constantly trying to better understand their pain points. In recent years, we frequently hear from dealers that their biggest struggles are “workforce challenges” – often in the form of a lack of qualified technicians.

With a shortage of readily available help in the existing workforce, many successful dealerships have focused their attention on developing talent internally. Here are some tips for growing your own technicians:
  • Create a roadmap. Outline the progression of what it takes to become a master technician. This doesn’t just benefit incoming trainees; it will help all service department employees to understand what their career journey will look like.

  • Set competency benchmarks. Make a list of the training, skills and certifications trainees will require to graduate to technician status. The qualifications in your current technician job descriptions are a good starting point.

  • Develop a timeline. People need to understand how long it will take to move through your program. Estimate the time it will take to acquire the necessary skills.

  • Structure your compensation. If you don’t have one already, you’ll need to develop an incentive-based compensation plan. (To begin, a starting apprentice with entry-level skills should receive about 50 percent of a standard “journeyperson” wage.)

  • Get buy-in. For your trainees to become successful, you’ll need internal champions who believe in the program. The good news is that, if used correctly, an apprentice can increase billed labor for a lead technician — and cover their cost for the first year.

Want more? These tips are all taken from our latest white paper, available online now. MRAA members can download it today for a step-by-step manual on how to design, recruit and evaluate an apprenticeship program. Download the “The Guide to Apprenticeship.”

Not a member? We have a free resource available that covers the first six steps in the planning and design of your apprenticeship program. Download now.

Tags:  guide to apprenticeship  guides  Industry Guide  service department  technician  technician shortage 

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Step One: Evalute Your Website

Posted By Mickaela Hilleren, Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Step One: Evalute

As a marine retailer, you know that digital marketing is one of the fastest changing areas of your business. You have heard that your website is now your business’ “virtual storefront.” So with that understanding, it is key that your website not only provides its users with great content, BUT it also needs to provide them with a stellar user experience.

As discussed as part of the digital publication, "Evaluate Your Website’s Domain, Design and Digital Content", the first (and arguably the most important) purpose of a website’s design is to prevent a bounce. If you can convince your users to stay on your page for 30 seconds, you have a solid chance that they will stay much longer.

Use the following checklist, that is presented and explained in the whitepaper, to evaluate the USABILITY of your website:

How much time does it take to load the homepage? _________________

Can a visitor find information easily?  YES or NO

Is there a search button for visitors? YES or NO

Do all the links work? YES or NO

Is my site mobile friendly? YES or NO

Is my site compatible with multiple browsers? YES or NO

Are visitors able to navigate between different webpages in a simple an hassle-free manner?

Are all clickable items and navigation buttons clearly marked and easy to identify?

Are all the images clear and easy to see? YES or NO

Are there options for providing me feedback? YES or NO

Is the overall performance of my site acceptable?

Now that you made it through the checklist, what are you doing well? And what did you identify as an opportunity to better your website’s usability? Even one small change can dramatically advance the user experience of your website.

For two more guided checklists and additional guidance on auditing your website’s domain, design, and digital content, MRAA members can login and download the full white paper here.

The digital publication, "Evaluate Your Website’s Domain, Design and Digital Content” is the first in a three-part series, “The 3Ds of Effective Website Marketing,” created through a partnership between MRAA and Dominion Domains.

Tags:  best practices  continuous improvement  customer experience  dealer focused  growth  guides  Industry Guide  online retailers  usability  website 

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Dealer to Dealer: March 2019

Posted By Mickaela Hilleren, Tuesday, March 26, 2019

How has boat show season impacted your outlook for the prime selling season and remainder of the year ahead?

I found the show season to be good, but not stellar. The major price increase due to tariffs in Canada has caused sticker shock to potential boat buyers. High end product is selling, whereas mid-range product is struggling. Also, we are finding it hard to create a sense of urgency. - Robert Rule, Maple City Marine

The boat selling season is starting off RED HOT in Vermont! - Mark Saba, Saba Marine, LLC.

Boat show season told me, although we are okay now, the season ahead will be shaky, retail-wise. The boat tarriffs, currency and a slowing global economy are definitely having a negative impact on the the consumer and sales opportunities. - Andy Blenkarn, Desmasdon’s Boat Works

We had a good start considering the weather has been terrible, however, I am seeing head winds building from interest rates, price increases and the up coming election year.  It think it will slow significantly as we enter the fall season. - John Ladner, Breath’s Boats & Motors

Tags:  best practices  boat show  continuous improvement  dealer development  dealer to dealer  discussions  growth 

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It's Time To Starting Preparing For Your New Hires

Posted By Mickaela Hilleren, Wednesday, March 13, 2019

If you are north of the Mason Dixon, like the MRAA headquarters, it is hard to imagine a day that the sun is shining and you can be outdoors with out navigating piles (and piles) of snow. But, as it does each year, winter leaves and springtime starts.

For many of you, springtime is hectic. You start prepping for boating season by following up with boat show leads, prepping boats, AND hiring new teams members. All at the same time.

Did you know that MRAA membership includes access to the MRAA Career Center that holds resources to help simplify the hiring process? Check out the following links as you prepare to grow you team.

  1. Marine Job Database. Use this database to find qualified job seekers or upload your job posting for professionals in the marine industry to view.

  2. Job Descriptions. Nearly 50 job descriptions for common positions around the typical dealership are available for MRAA members. Use these temples as they are or use the documents to help craft your own job description.

  3. Employee Handbook. Download the MRAA Employee Handbook sample to offer guidance to your current staff and new hires.

  4. General HR Resources. MRAA designed to help you work through the processes associated with human resources administration within your dealership, such as interviewing, hiring, and on-boarding.

For more information on MRAA membership or the benefits listed above, contact MRAA Member Development Manager, Nikki Duffney.

Tags:  career center  employee handbook  hiring  HR resources  job descriptions  jobs  prepping boats  springtime 

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50 Reasons to Attend Dealer Week by our 100th Registrant

Posted By Mickaela Hilleren, Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Bob Bense, of Superior Boat Repair & Sales, was the 100th individual to register for Dealer Week! With the help of his wife, Kathy, the couple compiled a list of 50 reasons why they continue to support the MRAA and, now, Dealer Week.

We signed up for the Dealer Week because the MRAA team continues to deliver information and resources that help us to prosper and grow as a marine dealer. Here are half of one-hundred reasons why we love attending and how participating has been a really good thing for us as the owners of Superior Boat Repair & Sales, Inc.

    1. We get excited about the coming year and helping our boating community.

    2. We share quality time with other dealers.

    3. We enjoy time spent meeting dealers from all over the country and the world.

    4. We get ideas, fresh ideas, to implement at the dealership.

    5. We find solutions to problems we are facing at the office.

    6. We really enjoy being with so many other people that do the same thing for a living.

    7. We get to hear really entertaining and thought provoking speakers that inspire us to be better and do better.

    8. We are taught by marine industry experts in the educational work-shops.

    9. We get to get away and get a break from the dealership, which helps us to relax and unwind with our  staff.

    10. We bond with our employees and get quality time to talk to each other.

    11. We have the opportunity to win scholarships, which our dealership has won.

    12. We keep up with up marine industry news.

    13. We are able to meet with new vendors and learn about new products that we can purchase to help our business grow, like software.

    14. We rekindle relationships with old friends that work at the boat manufacturers’, some that are decades old.

    15. We get a chance to stop and think about our dealership, what we have done right and where we can improve.

    16. We learn from dealers that have been doing this so much longer than we have.

    17. We learn how to ride the wave through the good years and how to hold on to what we have created, during the bad.

    18. We pick up great ideas from new dealers that we meet over lunch.

    19. We get to see sunny Florida and get some vitamin D.

    20. We break out and each person from our dealership goes to a different workshops so we come back with so much more useful information to help us prosper.

    21. We make new contacts and network.

    22. We get the opportunity to enjoy our success with others.

    23. We get to hear what  the financial experts at the lending institutions predict the economy will do in the coming year(s), which helps us when ordering our inventory for the coming year.

    24. We get to visit the manufacturers for the boat lines that we carry, when we’re there in Florida.

    25. We get the opportunity to visit with our dear friends in our Parker Twenty Group.

    26. We get the privilege of meeting other husband and wife dealership owners and we share what makes it all work.                                                                            

    27. We can win prizes.

    28. We are given delicious food, like key lime pie, which we don’t get in California.

    29. We get SO excited again about owning a dealership and providing families with the joy that boat ownership brings.

    30. We learn tricks of the trade, like how to bring up and train your own mechanics, since there is such a huge shortage of technicians across the country.

    31. We get to wear shorts during the winter.

    32. We build up our sales-team and motivate them to sell more.

    33. We learn strategies on how to sell our business to others and market our business wisely.

    34. We can ask so many questions, questions regarding all aspects of owning a dealership.

    35. We hear how other dealers found solutions and what those solutions were, regarding the same problems we are facing at our boat dealership.

    36. We are reminded of important practices we must have in place to have a secure and healthy dealership... like having at least two lines of credit to get through the downturns.

    37. We learn vital lessons on how to make more money and get higher margins.

    38. We hear how to sell smarter and to close faster.

    39. We were able to get expert advice and helpful guidance when we were a brand new dealer, especially during a severe drought and terrible recession.

    40. We learned so much, all the while earning the respect of other dealers, because after implementing what we learned we grew by leaps and bounds.

    41. We are reminded that we sell JOY, memories and a great quality of life.

    42. We hear about other dealers that have gone out of business, why they closed shop and how we can learn from their mistakes, if we can.

    43. We are able to take a much needed cruise vacation, before we get slammed in the busy months, by taking a short drive to the Atlantic and hoping on one of many ships.

    44. We are challenged to think and grow in our roles at the dealership, through the many workshops.

    45. We are given the opportunity to purchase things, like insurance and flooring, at a much better rate, which saves us money and helps us stay in business.

    46. We really enjoy the whole experience.

    47. We are proud to be a dealer, when we realize there aren’t very many people selling boats across the country.

    48. We hear in the seminars what we are doing right and that is uplifting.

    49. We exchange contact information with other dealers selling the same lines, which helps us to be able to call them in the future, if we can ever sell each other inventory.

    50. We really, truly see the value of all that encompasses attending the Dealer Week and what we take away from that experience.

Take advantage of the lowest prices of the year by registering for Dealer Week before March 31, 2019.

Tags:  dealer development  dealer education  dealer focused  Education  experience  supporters  testimonials 

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