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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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How to Market During the Coronavirus Pandemic Recap

Posted By Mickaela Hilleren, Sunday, March 29, 2020

Marketing (and frankly, everything else) during a pandemic is something that businesses have never had to navigate before. A million questions run through my mind when I think about what could be and should be said in times like now.

In MRAA’s recent Ask the Expert webinar “How to Marketing During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” Danny Decker of Marketing Simplified answered the question, “What types of content should people be sharing on social media right now?”

Danny’s main point was that the messages that worked for you and your business four weeks ago are NOT the messages that work now, in the time of COVID-19. It isn’t the time to sell, sell, sell. It is the time to provide reassurance, build brand equity and help your customers to dream.

The two types of “message buckets” that dealerships should be working from include:

1. The “immediate short-term crisis” message bucket

It is VERY important to let your customers know what is going on within your business and then share this message over and over (and over). Now is the time to let your customers know if you are open. Are you open, but with modifications? Have you put new procedures in place to protect your staff and customers? Your customers need to know this.

2. The “diversion” message bucket

This is the time to understand that everyone is looking for and needing a diversion. How can you help people start dreaming about boating again? Maybe it is as simple as re-sharing pictures from last boating season and then asking your customers to respond with photos and memories. This not only gives people a break from their reality, but it may help your customers prepare to get back to boating once everything “goes back to normal.”

Overall, Decker encouraged dealers to remember that now is the time just to be a good person and to make sure your messages are genuine and focus on building relationships. If you can do this, the sales will return.

Did you miss the webinar the first time or are looking to view it again? Click here to access the webinars and other resources the MRAA has compiled in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Concentrating on What You Can Control: Managing Your Own Time

Posted By Mike Davin, Sunday, March 29, 2020

Note: In response to the COVID-19 crisis, all standard MRAA educational courses found at will be available free of charge to any dealer who wants to use the content from now through May 31st. Between now and then, we will be posting regularly to highlight courses that may be useful during this time.

During the current pandemic, one piece of advice we've heard from several experts is to focus on what you can control. At its most basic, one of those things is how we chose to manage our own time. Of course, this is frustratingly something that most of us struggle with even in the best circumstances.

At Dealer Week, Professor Art Hill of the University of Minnesota delivered a session focused on how we can all learn to better use our time. "The Managing Me Workshop" helped attendees evaluate their personal productivity in six key areas, identify principles to increase productivity and reduce stress, and improve productivity within their teams.

I would encourage you to take time to watch the session, which is available via to all dealers through May 31. It's tempting to continue to barrel forward in a crisis, putting out fires. But if you have a moment to step back and watch, you may pick up some tips that will help you be more productive as we move through a challenging period for businesses and our personal lives.

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How to Adjust Your Service Business Webinar Recap

Posted By Mike Davin, Sunday, March 29, 2020
Expert trainer Valerie Ziebron joined MRAA for a special service-focused webinar in response to the COVID-19 virus. During the webinar, Ziebron offered advice on how to adapt to the coronavirus pandemic as a dealership and as a service business.

Ziebron noted that we are operating in a stressful environment and we need to both be aware of that and prepare for it. Right now, businesses should be looking for ways to adjust and adapt to our "new normal."

These changes need to start at the top. Leaders should be asking themselves how they can best serve their customers and best serve their teams in the current environment. According to Ziebron, that means focusing on what you can control and letting the rest go.

Some of the things that are in your control include new social distancing policies. These can be applied to pick up and delivery of boats, online scheduling, texting or emailing communications, and implementing staggered shifts for the team (possibly with fewer hours). Another thing that can be controlled is your new cleaning and disinfecting processes. Ziebron encourages dealers to adjust their boat detailing processes and then market them.

Also in your control is how you adjust your business. That means focusing on revenue generating tasks and revenue generating positions. You don't want to make "knee-jerk" reactions and cut positions that are making the dealership money. However, if people are not focused on activities that generate revenue, you should adjust your job descriptions so that more positions are revenue generating. Unfortunately, Ziebron notes that some positions that are not generating revenue - up to and including management positions - may need to be furloughed.

Additionally, you need to look at your pay plans and incentives. Right now is not business as normal, and it is an important time to communicate with the team what needs to happen to keep your doors open and how they will be paid as we are getting through the current crisis. Pay plans should be adjusted so that as much of the essential team can be retained as possible so that when businesses come out on the other side, they are positioned to take advantage of pent up demand.

One lesson from the last recession that Ziebron noted was the need to strengthen your cash position. She told dealers to focus on getting paid now and going after receivables.

Ziebron also stressed the importance of communication, both internally and externally. Things are changing so quickly that it is crucial for dealers to stay in contact with their teams and their customers. That means sharing both what you are offering and how best to do business with you.

The entire webinar is available to view here. To download the slide presentation from the webinar, click here.

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How to Sell in Today’s Environment Webinar Recap ​

Posted By Liz Keener, Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Selling right now isn’t easy. People are scared to go out in public. Some have lost their jobs or have lost money tied up in investments. Others are just nervous, unsure of what’s next. And some dealerships are being forced to shut down by the government.

But that doesn’t mean it’s time to throw in the towel. In fact, it’s time to demonstrate your leadership, rally your team and cause door swings (even if people aren’t physically walking into your building). That was the message behind MRAA’s Ask the Expert Webinar: How to Sell in Today’s Environment by Sam Dantzler of Garage Composites.

In the webinar, which ran long due to a productive question and answer segment, Dantzler breaks down how to sell right now into four steps.

Step 1: Tell them you’re open. If your physical dealership is open, let customers know. You can do this via social media, email or other forms of communication. Dantzler recommends using video on Facebook Live because the sincerity you can express about staying open to serve their needs and continue to employ your staff will ring through via video. If your doors aren’t open, but your website is, or your service department is, or your marina is, let people know. Continue to let customers know your status, so they’re aware.

Step 2: Reassure them: We’re being socially responsible. Follow all Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization guidelines and share with your community that you’re doing so. Some dealers are being harassed by the public for staying open. Inform your customers that you’re staying open, so your staff can continue to receive an income, and so your business can survive.

Step 3: Explain how you can safely serve them right now. Offer alternatives to walking into your building. Provide curbside pickup for boats coming in for service. Offer one-on-one appointments for those looking to buy. Perform live video walkthroughs for customers interested in your boats or accessories. Prep as much paperwork as you can in advance to make the buying process quick, easy and contact-free, while staying within legal compliance.

Step 4: Overcommunicate. This goes along with Steps 1-3. Frequency sells, Dantzler explained. Keep your messages positive and upbeat, and share often and through any and all of your communication methods. As things change, communicate that as well. A little bit of levity, when appropriate, also goes a long way in your message being seen and heard, such as using toilet paper as a door prize giveaway. Liz Walz of the MRAA offered a lot of dealers’ communication examples within the webinar. These efforts will “cause the door to swing” and get customers interested in buying from you now and in the future.

In addition to these four steps, Dantzler covered tips for your Customer Relationship Management, dealing with employee relations, creating an opening and closing checklist and more. To watch the full webinar for free, click here.

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Supercharge Your Customer Experience, with all customers, all of the time

Posted By Liz Keener, Monday, March 23, 2020

Note: In response to the COVID-19 crisis, all standard MRAA educational courses found at will be available free of charge to any dealer who wants to use the content from now through May 31st. Between now and then, we will be posting regularly to highlight courses that may be useful during this time.


Have you ever looked at your online reviews or your CSI results and noticed they’re sometimes lopsided? Maybe some customers had a great experience, especially as they interacted with a specific employee. But maybe another customer had a horrible experience because they worked with someone who was not focused on the customer experience.


It’s mind-boggling and frustrating.


What if you could work toward a more seamless customer experience at your dealership? What if your porters knew how to greet customers when they walked in? What if that customer gets the same treatment from the receptionist, their salesperson, their service advisor, the tech that walks by and management?


Now that would be great! But building such a culture takes a little work and a lot of practice. In this unique workshop, originally created as an e-learning course for Continuous Certification, and then presented live at the 2019 Dealer Week, hospitality expert Theresa Syer gives you a plan for creating that consistent customer experience throughout your dealership.


Two key points Theresa focuses on are Emotional Motivators and Key Emotional Drivers (KEDs). The Emotional Motivators are what drive customers to take action, such as making a purchase, and the KEDs are how you can influence those Emotional Motivators to get customers to close on the sale. Theresa will show you how to create your own KEDs, and she’ll give you a set of KEDs that she’s developed, if you’d rather implement those instead.


She also offers a plan for rolling out the KEDs in your dealership, with constant reminders and practice, so you can get your whole team rowing in the same direction and remembering to stay the course. 


I had the opportunity to attend this workshop in person at Dealer Week, and I can tell you people were excited and energized to make changes to the customer experience at their dealership as they walked out. And, this workshop was one of the most highly-rated courses at the 2019 conference.


Now — pre-season for much of North America — is the time to start thinking about how you can amplify your customer experience and create an environment where people will want to buy.

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Intrapreneurship: Now is the Time for Innovation

Posted By Mike Davin, Friday, March 20, 2020

Note: In response to the COVID-19 crisis, all standard MRAA educational courses found at will be available free of charge to any dealer who wants to use the content from now through May 31st. Between now and then, we will be posting regularly to highlight courses that may be useful during this time.

Innovation is always important, but during times like these it becomes absolutely essential.

At Dealer Week in December, Samantha Cunningham Zawilinski presented a course titled "Intrapreneurship: Developing Early Adopters & Harnessing Innovation in Your Company." The point of the session was to create a culture that empowers innovative thinkers to apply their smarts to making your business stronger.

Right now, business as usual isn't possible, whether we like it or not. But that hasn't stopped some retailers from getting creative. We saw one dealership - Norris Lake Boat Center - offering a "Canceled Vacation Sale." The deal is, anyone who brings a receipt from a canceled vacation can get that amount off any new boat. I doubt you've seen that offer before, and I'm sure two weeks ago they had never considered having a sale like that. But they're adapting to these strange times.

In her presentation, Samantha lists a number of ways that cultivating intrapreneurs (i.e. people who bring an entrepreneurial spirit to your internal operations) can benefit you in the long term.

If you've got some employees who might benefit from that kind of attitude, or you want to instill that type of culture in your business, I'd encourage you to watch the course while it's available free to the industry.

Just log in or create an account here on Instructions for adding staff to your account are here. Instructions for creating a free non-member account to access are here (creating) and here (accessing).

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It’s Time to Text Your Customers, but You Have to Do It Right

Posted By Liz Keener, Thursday, March 19, 2020
Note: In response to the COVID-19 crisis, all standard MRAA educational courses found at will be available free of charge to any dealer who wants to use the content from now through May 31st. Between now and then, we will be posting regularly to highlight courses that may be useful during this time.

Are you open? Are you closed? Are you providing video walkthroughs of your boats? Are you offering early delivery of stored boats? Customers want to know this information, and by providing it to them, you can probably sell more boats and get more of your customers out on the water using them.

But how do you share this message in our current COVID-19 world?

Text messaging may be the easiest way to get a hold of customers. Even in times of crisis, we all have our phones on us 24/7.

But there are a lot of considerations.

First, do you have the technology to text? This may be through a service that provides texting from a computer or mobile device, or it could be your staff using their dealership-provided or personal cell phones. You have to work that out.

Second, are you prepared with messaging? You need to make sure you have people on staff who have the spelling and grammar skills to text with customers. And it helps to have some planned responses to common questions ready to go.

Third, you need to be prepared to respond. We know from 2018’s online mystery shop that follow-up isn’t always frequent or well-planned out. If you’re going to start texting, customers are going to text back, and they’re going to want a quick response. Make sure that once you send a text, you’re ready to reply in a timely manner.

Fourth, have you asked permission to text your customers? This is extremely important. Before you start sending a barrage of texts to your customers, you need to ask them if you can text them and only text them if they say yes.

Just the other day, I was looking for an electrician, and as it was off-hours on a Sunday evening, I saw there was a text option, so I thought I’d use it. The whole experience was awkward. The person texted back, but nothing was in complete sentences, and the person didn’t even introduce him or herself. It was uncomfortable, so I didn’t book with that electrician.

There are so many ways texting can go right or wrong. If you do it right, the service can be extremely beneficial, and you can communicate with customers, even when they’re quarantined at home.

To get the most out of texting, I suggest you watch “Texting Customers: Do’s, Don’ts and How to Make It a Win-Win,” in which Bob McCann of the MRAA and Graham Anderson of KENECT, discuss texting tips, best practices and more. Bob even shows you how to create a text signature, so everyone you text with will know who you are and which company you represent.

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Responding to the Coronavirus: A Place to Start

Posted By Liz Walz, Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Let’s face it: There’s no one here on Earth who is an expert on how to adjust your marine business for success in the face of this Coronavirus Pandemic. Frankly, none of us have been through this before – the “experts” included.

But we all need to begin adapting to the changes taking place, whether we feel perfectly prepared for it or not. Whether we have all the answers or not.

We’ve gathered together some COVID-19 resources for businesses that we hope will help, and we keep adding more. You can check them out here.

But where to start? We like the guidance provided by business thought leader, educator and speaker John Spence in his video, Leading Thoughtfully and Effectively in a Crisis, available here.

In it, John shared the four lessons on where to focus during challenging times that he learned from the best, most successful leaders during the last recession:

  • Priority #1: Take amazing care of your employees, especially your top talent:
    • Provide:
      • Training
      • Support
      • Resources
      • Help
      • Coaching
      • Mentoring
      • Give them as much safety, trust and stability as possible
      • Communicate courageously and transparently about problems
  • Priority #2: Take incredible care of your customers

  • Priority #3: Keep your eyes on the financials

  • Priority #4: Find someone outside of your business to talk to


Here at MRAA, we can help with all four of these. And we’re going to continue to develop new resources in these areas and others. Here’s what we can provide today.

  • Priority #1: Take amazing care of your employees, especially your top talent:
  • Priority #2: Take incredible care of your customers
    • This starts with having a plan for communicating with current and prospective customers about what you can do to serve them safety and securely – and what you’re doing to protect them. For example, if you have customer boats in storage or in the service department, you may be getting questions like: Can I pick up my boat? If so, when and how? How can I pay for it?
    • It’s okay to not have all the answers right away. But that shouldn’t stop you from communicating. At a minimum, let them know that you care about their situation, and you’re working on a plan as you and your team adapt to a fast-moving situation. More about communicating in a crisis is available here:
  • Priority #3: Keep your eyes on the financials
    • Three key areas you will want to watch closely are your budget, the aging of your inventory, and your cash flow. Need help tracking these? Our friends at Parker Business Planning have made templates available to you here:
  • Priority #4: Find someone outside of your business to talk to
    • If you belong to a 20 Group or you’ve participated in Roundtable Discussions at MRAA’s annual conference, you know the power of this first-hand.
    • But what if you could plug into an even larger segment of the dealer community 24/7/365? That’s the goal of the platform MRAA is about to launch on its website, which you can access by logging in to If you don’t have an account, you can create one (even if you aren’t a member).

Just like you, the team at MRAA is adapting to a fast-changing situation, developing new tools, resources and education to serve you and your team. As you navigate the uncertainty and challenges that come up, our goal is to meet you where you are with as much of what you want and need to be successful as possible. Please contact us to let us know how we can help.

Matt Gruhn, President

Liz Walz, Vice President

Allison Gruhn, Director of Business Development

Mike Davin, Brand Director

Liz Keener, Certification Manager

Nikki Duffney, Member Development Manager

Mickaela Hilleren, Program Marketing Coordinator

Katie Eichelberger, Marketing Specialist

Sarah Korbel, Events & Operations Specialist

Adam Fortier-Brown, Government Relations Manager

Michele Rosacker, Administrative Manager

Bob McCann, Lead MICD Program Consultant

Jim Million, Certification Consultant

Rallee Chupich, Certification Consultant

Zane Stevenson, Certification Consultant

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Dealer to Dealer: March 2020

Posted By Mickaela Hilleren, Wednesday, March 11, 2020
If you were to start a brand new dealership today, what would be your first priority for establishing a foundation for success?

“The key to starting and maintaining any business begins with your people and their culture.  You can be the best at what you do but without a strong team behind you, the long term successes will be short lived.  A formal plan to educate and maintain your team allows them to grow within your business.  Your people are the face of your business and who form the relationships with your customers.  As a business owner you can only wear so many hats and be successful.  Hire and take care of your staff and they will look out for you.” - Jeff Siems, Blue Springs Marine

“Creating an internal company culture which promotes and fosters individual growth through collaborative, team centric and employee focused programs. Build the company around building up your team. That foundation is unshakeable. Businesses should promote human flourishing, both inside and outside of the company. But we have to start with allowing our people to flourish.” - David deAndrade, White Lake Marine

“To make sure the team is clear on the mission of the organization. This goes for President to the lot person. This needs to be put in a handbook. That is used and not stored away.” - Ken Toby, Marine Sales

“The first priority must be hiring the best people for where you want the company to go.  Sometimes that means paying up for a better person, but in the long run it's worth it.” - Jeremy Anderson, Big Thunder Marine

“Putting a good business plan together would be the first thing I would do. You need to know the area and the opportunities that exist. Establishing relationships with banks and vendors, what products you would like to sell and what lines are available for that area are key. Specialize in something! Have a product or service that no one else has or can provide. Although location is always important if you specialize in something I believe it is not as important as it used to be.” - Lou Cecchini,  Off Shore Marine, Inc.

“One of my first priorities would be to have a well laid out plan for departments which would include clearly documented processes along with properly educated employees with clear job descriptions and proper training.  This has been one of our biggest challenges to implement after being in business for 30 years and allowing the business to grow without these items in place.” - David Muirhead, Willey’s Marine

“Purchase a on-water location so storage and rental could be included as revenue contributors.” - Joe Lewis, Mount Dora Boating Center

“Products are an important piece that can attract a new customer. Many products are available online, but a store that carries quality merchandise can give consumers their first chance to experience a feel/smell/touch of something that makes them decide whether or not it is the right choice and why it is important to carry a wide variety of different items when trying to see what your new area is in need of.” - Dave Larrison, Waterfront Marine

“[When you first start a dealership], you have nothing… and nobody knows who you are. My first priority would be to create vision, mission and value statements. As you go out into the world to create your dream business, people need to know who you are and what you stand for. Having these statements will inform and impress prospective lenders, vendors, employees and customers that you have a direction, how you intend to get there, and that you are someone that can be trusted.” - Larry Russo, Sr., MarineMax Russo

“My first priority would be finding the right people to help me run it. I truly believe that The Sportsman is very successful because of our staff. You have to have the right people in the right places to do the right things!” - Christi Romero, The Sportsman

“It would be the location! We’ve all heard the saying “location, location, location”  Where are your competitors located? How close are you to water for demoing? How many people drive by your location each day? Freeway visibility is a huge way to get your name out in the local community.” - Bob Bense, Superior Boats

“With experienced personnel at a premium, finding the best Dealer Management System has become more important than ever. Picking the product that has a foundation of managing the day to day business and not just an accounting system with management tools added, is critical. The time spent learning the pros and cons of the many DMS that exist will pay dividends for years to come.  The DMS will be the very foundation that the business will be built upon and will play a pivotal role  in achieving success.” - Frank Sublette, Marine Sales

What would be your first priority? Tell us below in the comment section.

Tags:  best practices  business advice  continuous improvement  culture  customer experience  dealer  dealer development  dealer to dealer  discussions  employee satisfaction  growth  industry insight  marine industry  member spotlight  MRAA member  relationships 

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Customer Relationship Management

Posted By Mickaela Hilleren, Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Intent: We need to see that the dealer is promoting boating and the boating lifestyle in their market. In doing this, they should also be getting their name out in front of prospects.

It’s true … everyone loves a good party, especially when boats and water are involved. We are sure you had a great turnout for you latest event. Did you get contact information from those in attendance? And the most recent mail campaign, how was the response rate? Did people respond to your strong call-to-action and contact the dealership?

After the fun is had and the calls come in, how are you reporting, tracking and following up with these potential new boat buyers? Do you have a system that your entire staff has bought in to and utilizes consistently?

This is what the intent of the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Process of the Marine Industry Certified Dealership program. The program wants to make sure that not only are you spreading the word about boating, but actually following up with your leads in order to sell more boats and getting more people out on the water.

Tags:  best practices  continuous improvement  dealer development  intent  intentions  marine industry  Marine Industry Certified Dealership  MICD  resources 

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