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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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Dealer loan applicants in holding pattern

Posted By Matt Gruhn, Friday, April 10, 2020

Nearly 80 percent of boat dealers have applied for a loan from the Small Business Administration as part of the federal stimulus programs, but the vast majority of those who responded to a survey conducted by the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas report a lack of clarity on where things stand.


“I have applied, and according to my banker, our funds have been 'reserved' with the SBA,” commented one dealer. “Still waiting to hear on what the next steps will be, and I have been given no indication as to when I might receive the funds.”


Responses to the question: What is your intention related to loans
made available through the stimulus programs for your dealership?



In a survey fielded by the MRAA from April 7 through April 9, a total of 78 percent of dealers reported that they had already applied for a loan and another 10 percent indicated that they plan to apply. There were 453 dealers that responded to the survey, including 213 written comments.


Generally, the open-ended comments outline a lack of clarity on when the loans will be funded and what, if any, next steps will be necessary. Individual dealers report filing for loans as far back as March 19th. At the time, the Economic Injury Disaster Loan process was open for applications. Those EIDL loans were intended to help cover six months’ worth of operational expenses and promised an advance of $10,000 within three days of application.


“It has been slow and not much information or update on where I stand on the loans,” wrote one dealer. “It says 3 days. It now has been 14 days. Also did the PPP on Friday and have not heard anything back on that also.”


“I have not heard back on my SBA loan request or the payroll request yet,” commented another. “It has been more than three days, and I have not received the $10,000 grant.”


“I applied for the EIDL loan on March 19th and the $10K advance on March 30th, but have not seen any funds as yet,” said another.


While the survey did not specifically ask whether or not any loans had been funded, no dealer’s open-ended comments indicated anyone had received their loan.


Survey comments seemed to suggest a general understanding that the loan programs were instituted quickly and both the SBA and their local banks were still trying to figure out the details.


“My local lender says it will be another week or two before they can get to my application,” explained one dealer. “They received so many they had to place a hold on accepting any further.”


“It took a week and a half for all the communication to get ironed out regarding how to calculate, what documents were required and creating an online app,” outlined another dealer. “I know that the banks had a lot of concerns that took time to resolve with the government. The app finally got into the bank yesterday, so we'll see how smooth it goes from here.”


“The process was slow, as the administrators of the stimulus programs are trying to figure it all out too,” another dealer reported. “They are making it up as they go along. Let’s hope it all comes together soon.”


“I am in the queue, and they say someone will contact me to complete the forms,” wrote another dealer, “but I'm concerned by the time they get to us, funds may be gone to others.”


“It’s not good,” summarized one dealer. “Had to update our app six times because the process keeps changing.”


And there has been a clear lack of follow up from the banks on the status of loans.


“On Friday last week, I applied for the PPP through my bank as well as a local credit union,” noted one dealer. “Both have allowed me to make the initial online request, but neither is ready to complete the process or willing to let me know if I will be accepted.”


“I applied with my local credit union who is SBA affiliated,” commented another dealer. “Haven't heard back from them nor will they return my emails or phone calls.”


But for the most part, the dealer respondents held out hope that the system would get ironed out sooner rather than later.


“So far, so good,” noted one dealer. “It's a complicated and time-consuming bureaucratic process. The forms changed midway in the process, so at that point we had to start over. It should be worth the effort, especially in support of our employees. We're expecting the money to be in sometime next week.”


“We have the approval,” said another. “Just waiting to find out when and how we will be funded.”

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The Training Path

Posted By Patrick Green, Thursday, April 9, 2020

We were classified into the “non-essential” category, by the State of Idaho. So we met just after the state shut everything down, to discuss options for our employees. Our leadership team came to the decision that the “right thing to do” was to retain our team and have them be paid for the two weeks of the shutdown. We would still have limited staff available to maintain inventory and functional business operations. Obviously with total uncertainty of how all the stimulus stuff would play out, this was a tough decision. We looked at how other projects would have to be put on hold, and how it would effect our cash position in the long run.

While initially we planned just to pay everyone, looking at the impacts how that culturally effected the folks that were still coming into the store and putting themselves at risk, we decided to design a work from home program. The initial vision for certain employees was not easy, specifically with employees who couldn’t understand how they could do their job from home. The vision had to be assigned in the direction that even though they weren’t productive in the normal sense, they were contributing to a greater good of making Tobler a better place to work, after the virus shutdowns had ended. Continuous improvement is really what we tried to lay the groundwork for. And in essence, it has been extremely valuable to see which employees are willing to put in the time and effort, versus the employees that are just collecting a paycheck.

Through this program, everyone who was at home getting paid, was assigned courses through, CDK Global Training, OEM webinars, Yamaha, Honda, etc. Along with other process/administrative-related tasks to help improve the everyday life at Tobler. Currently we have 18 employees working from home, and our hope is that when they are able to return to the store, they will be ready for whatever comes at them.

We have been calling employees twice a day to check in on their progress, and also in some cases, their wellbeing.

We have implemented a weekly email updating the entire store on progress for each department. This is an email that I think we will continue to do outside of the shutdown. It’s a great way to keep everyone informed and remind them of the big picture. Overcommunication in times like these, I think, is vital for everyone. The media and uncertainty that we face on a daily basis is ultimately negative. To see people around you making strides forward is positive.

I’ve included some notes from Tobler Team members that we have received on our daily updates from employees:

“I enjoyed the Service Scheduling and How to Create Harmony class; it showed how important the service schedule is and how it effects parts. Also showed me how much the service writer has to follow up with the customer.” — From one of our shop technicians

“I just completed the Service CSI & Upselling class. Certainly some useful information in there for our department and what we can do to increase customer ROs.” — from one of our Canvas Technicians.

While the uncertainty of where we will go if the lockdown continues in the State of Idaho past the two weeks originally designated, we will have some even harder decisions to make for the livelihood of our employees. We applied for the PPP and have yet to hear back and are averaging somewhere around 30 phone calls a day of customers wanting their boats for summer. Interesting times indeed, but important to focus on what we can do with our time.

— Patrick Green, General Manager, Tobler Marina, Hayden, Idaho

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Sharpen your team’s phone skills today

Posted By Nikki Duffney, Thursday, April 9, 2020

When we operate out of our normal businesses, dedicated staff typically receive all inbound calls. We train them how to transfer calls, how to answer customer questions and how we represent our brand over the phone.


 Download this FREE guide to mastering your team's phone skills.



Today’s work-from-home business reality demands that everyone on our team becomes even better communicators over the phone. And with a slower business environment, there’s no better time to have your team work on it than right now.


The MRAA published a Guide to Phone Skills that you and your team can download for free (in addition to offering several courses on that incorporate phone skills). I went through and pulled out some highlights to whet your appetite or maybe as a replace for those of you who are members of the #tldr club. 


  • Page 4 - Tip sheet outlines the do’s and don’ts of scripted calls. While scripted calls can be great for training and helping people get comfortable with delivering answers on calls – be careful to not have the scripts drafted in a way that doesn’t allow for natural flexibility in the conversation. They called you because they wanted to talk with a human, otherwise they would have emailed or used a chat.
  • Pages 6 & 7 – These are packed full of gems, read it and re-read it and then have staff read it. While we working remotely, this could be a great time to do phone trainings with role play. Have an experienced person call the staff with less phone experience to ask common questions and allow for time to work through the responses.
  • Page 8 – Texting, are you set up to send and receive texts with customers? If not, this is the time to figure out how you can bring text to life in your operations. (NOTE: There is a great and very timely course on Texting found at
  • All the courses listed in the Guide are phenomenal recommendations, check them out.


I spend a lot of my time at MRAA calling dealer members to talk with them about their business. Somedays, calls go off perfectly with connections made, resources delivered, new members joining and giving back to the industry. Other days, I don’t know if it is me or the people I am calling, but nothing clicks. I sit on hold for several minutes; listen to advertisements from years gone by; get hung up on; am transferred to the wrong department; or have frustrated people not representing your brand the way you’d hope … In those moments, I wonder if customers have the same experience.


Now’s the time to sharpen your team’s skills.

Tags:  customer experience  marine industry  phone skills  Training 

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Moving Beyond 'The Way We’ve Always Done It'

Posted By Liz Keener, Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Innovation is the creation of something new. And I have been extremely impressed with the innovation I’ve seen from dealers lately.


A few weeks ago, early in North America’s COVID-19 crisis, I read a blog. I wish I could remember which blog it was, but the point is it mentioned innovation, and how in times of crisis the companies that innovate find the most success.


I wanted to share it at the time, but I’ll admit that in crisis fog, I couldn’t make the dealer connection. When I thought of innovation in crisis, I thought of product innovation. I thought about what manufacturers could do to innovate.


But then I realized, innovation isn’t always about a new product but often about a new way of thinking, a new method of doing something.


I’ve started to see innovation from dealers in remarkable ways. There are dealers who have never tried video before shooting Facebook Live updates about their business and offering walkarounds to customers who are uncomfortable coming into the store.


Dealers are trying virtual boat shows, or exhibiting at NMMA virtual boat shows. They’re experimenting with all sorts of new methods to sell from a distance.


Dealers are allowing their staff to work from home, focusing on relationship development with customers and prospects.


Dealers are working on their long-term plans, tackling those projects that were deep down on their to-do lists, the important but not urgent.


Dealers are partnering with each other, working with their marine trades associations and working with the MRAA to get essential business status and fight for their place within new laws.


Dealers are reaching out to boaters, encouraging social distancing on the water, to prevent waterway shutdowns in their area.  


Dealers are enrolling their staff in training, making sure everyone is sharper when business gets moving again.


Sometimes we all get stuck in “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” Well, the way we’ve always done most things aren’t feasible or aren’t allowed right now. So we’ve had to innovate. And, dealers, you have answered that call.


You are resilient. You are showing adaptability and flexibility. And you’re innovating. And with that push, we hope you will all succeed, drive forward and come out of this crisis stronger than before. As an industry, we’re in this together, and we’re all rooting for each other. Let’s keep that momentum going.

Tags:  innovation 

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Dealers on a ‘giant ticking clock’ amid shutdown

Posted By Matt Gruhn, Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Boat dealers remain on shaky ground at the beginning of April as the nationwide shutdown of non-essential businesses forces them to consider cash position and expense structure, according to the monthly Pulse Report, published by the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas, Soundings Trade Only and Robert W. Baird.

The report, which was published today, shows that nearly a quarter of marine industry dealers have less than a month’s worth of cash on hand to help them navigate today’s economic challenges. Twenty-one percent of the 120 respondents suggested they had one to three weeks’ worth of cash, while three percent suggested they had less than one week’s cash. Forty-four percent noted they had enough cash for 1 to 2 months, while 32 percent said they had enough cash for 3 or more months. The insight came from their responses to the question of “Given your cash position, how long could your dealership/retail location afford to shut down amid the coronavirus outbreak?”

Dealer Cash Position

Nearly a quarter of boat dealers report having less than a month's worth of cash on hand.


“We are on a giant, ticking clock, waiting to see how long we can all hang on to current employees with COVID conditions,” wrote one respondent.

“We are hopeful that the Paycheck Protection Program will get us through without having to lay off about 10 staff,” wrote another.

The survey also asked dealers to characterize their expense structure at this time, noting how much of their cost base they would still incur if their dealership was forced to close for a period of time. More than 50 percent of the survey’s respondents suggested that the majority of their monthly expenses were fixed expenses – mortgages, floor plan loan payments, insurance, etc. In all, 33 percent said that 50-75 percent of their expenses were fixed, while 20 percent of the respondents noted that more than 75 percent of their expenses were fixed.

“The relief act is a help, but nothing the government does will make up for the loss of two of the largest [boat sales] months of the year,” wrote on of the respondents. “Gross profit will be off and when it does open up, manufacturers will not be able to reload inventories quickly enough. Hopefully dealers have enough cash to make it a year without any income. If not, it should be their goal.”

An MRAA Ask The Expert Webinar held today noted that dealers need six to 12 months of cash on hand in order to have the best chance of surviving the current economic environment. The program, which will be available here later today, featured noted industry expert John Spader and offered a series of cash flow resources for dealers to tap into. The webinar series continues tomorrow and Thursday with more insights for dealers to use.

During the month of March Marine Retailer Sentiment, which is measured via the Pulse Report, plummeted to levels not seen since the report was created in December of 2013. The report outlines the steep drop in boat sales retail trends and corresponding increases in discomfort with inventory levels, the net effect of which caused short-term marine retailer sentiment to fall sharply on current conditions (4 vs. 47 in February and 70 in January). The respondents’ 3- to 5-year outlook remained neutral (50 vs. 56 in February).

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Guest Blog: The Impact of the COVID-19 Crisis on Anticipated Boating and Fishing Activity in 2020

Posted By Matt Gruhn, Monday, April 6, 2020

This Guest Blog was authored by Jerry Mona of Left Brain Marketing

The emergence of the COVID-19 crisis has severely impacted nearly every aspect of society. And, while there are more important concerns than going boating or fishing, these activities remain important to the lifestyle of many. In this article, we discuss the findings from a recent survey regarding how boat owners anticipate the current crisis will affect their on-water activity and how dealers and marinas can support them at this time.

An online survey was conducted with members of the BoaterInput online community (developed by Left Brain Marketing, Inc). The survey was conducted between March 22nd and March 31st, 2020. A total of 151 responses were received from boat owners across the country.


While the COVID-19 crisis will curtail boating for some, many boaters intend to remain active.

In our survey, over half (60%) indicated that they plan on boating as much (no impact) or more as a result of the crisis. Nearly one-third (30%) will likely boat less.

Sixty percent of boaters report they anticipate the coronavirus situation will have
no impact on their boating activity or they will go boating more often.

Of those who intend to go at least as much as before, key reasons were that they already boat/fish by themselves or with close family members only, they have more time, or it is a good way to practice “social distancing." However, many acknowledged that the closing of lakes or parks could impact their plans and, when they do go, they would be less likely to visit marinas and other on-water establishments.

 “For me, it’s a good way to social distance. I fish by myself.”
 “COVID-19 should have NO impact on myself or fellow boaters if we all agree to work diligently with public health officials, CDC, etc. It is my, and my fellow boating Americans, responsibility to make sure we are not spreading the virus. I cannot speak for everyone but I typically boat/fish alone or with a close friend, and never in a large group. Mostly recreational. I feel that it’s a great time to continue to participate in outdoor activities and boating/fishing just so happens to be one of a few activities to allow us to distance ourselves socially while keeping up our spirits at a time when the world seems to be under a massive amount of pressure. It’s an ideal stress reliever and as long as there is no evidence to suggest being out on the water is dangerous, I will be there.”

But for the nearly one-third (30%) of boaters who will likely boat less, lake/park closures, travel restrictions and the need to limit who and how many can boat with them were the key reasons.

“Because we usually go camping when we go fishing and all the places we go camping are closed because of the virus. So not sure if we will even buy a fishing license to go this year.”
“During the state of emergency in Michigan, we are required to shelter in place. We are only allowed to leave our home for necessities like groceries or a medical emergency.”
“I will be reluctant to invite other than immediate family on my boat until while social distancing recommendations are effective.”

Concerns regarding the virus will impact WHO people go boating with.

Half of the boaters surveyed indicated that the current crisis will change who gets to go on their boat. For many, this means that only their spouse/significant other or close family members (i.e., children) will be able to participate.

However, approximately only a quarter indicated that the current situation will alter where they go boating or what they do when taking their boat out.

Many would like to see dealers and marinas remain open and accessible for service or maintenance items during this time.

When boaters were asked how the industry could support them during the crisis, the most common response was that they did not need support. This was especially true among those who don’t plan to use their boat or will use it less often.

However, others felt it was important for dealers and marinas to keep their doors open (even if for a limited time), practice safe habits (e.g., keep facilities clean, wear gloves/protective gear, disinfect surfaces, schedule appointments to minimize congestion, etc.) and offering alternative ways to purchase parts/maintenance items or receive service.

The following are some of the specific suggestions offered:

“In my area, we need the marinas to stay in operation.”
“Just have someone available to either repair or contact for problems.”
“Just staying open for parts and repairs.”
“Be available to service and repair my boat when needed.”
“I would love to have my local service center come pick up my boat for service and then return it when done.”
“Simple drop off and then pay online then pick up for any needed services.”
“Provide ways to pay online for service, and maintain social distancing in the shop.”
“Keep facilities clean.”
“Servicemen and maintenance individuals providing sanitization after handling controls or any door access points.”



In normal times, boating and fishing is an important recreational activity for millions of families in the US. However, during the current COVID-19 crisis, it can also provide a much-needed distraction from the chaos going on in our world.

Because many intend to continue to boat and fish this season, dealers and marinas need to find ways to support them as best as possible. Some actions to consider are as follows:

  • Communicate with your customers regularly. Boaters have questions regarding how to get supplies or service, which lakes or ramps are closed in the area, and what precautions have been taken at your business to protect their safety. A weekly newsletter along with more frequent social media posts would go a long way in alleviating these anxieties.
  • Offer pick-up and/or delivery service. Like restaurants and “big box” retailers, find a way to allow your customers to order products or schedule service without having to physically enter your place of business.
  • Offer phone or chat support for questions or technical issues. Some issues can simply be handled over the phone or via a video call without having to visit the dealer. One way to manage this is to use an online calendar tool such as Calendly, Doodle, or ScheduleOnce that enables your customers to book an appointment with a service technician. You could even have a virtual “tip jar” via Pay Pal for customers to thank technicians as they see fit.
  • Implement safe practices. As noted earlier, it is important for dealers and marinas that remain open to take steps to protect the health of their employees and customers. Check out the CDC website for the latest guidelines for businesses. And you need to let your customers know that you have taken these steps for their protection.

For more suggestions for how to serve your customers during these times, see the MRAA publication on 29 Tips to Sell and Service Boats Safely.

Undoubtedly, the ongoing pandemic will have a severe impact on companies that are part of, or support, the boating industry – including my own. But the good news is this crisis is an opportunity to develop new ways to serve your customers and implement procedures to engage them long after the sale that should pay dividends after this storm is over.

Jerry Mona is President of Left Brain Marketing, Inc. and is often considered the leading research expert in boating. You can download a copy of the report with the included graphics and tables here. The original blog post was published here. You can contact Jerry Mona at jerrym (at)

A printer-friendly copy of the report is available for download by clicking here.

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The Dilemma on the Frontlines for Boat Dealerships

Posted By Matt Gruhn, Sunday, April 5, 2020



Along with the health battles, the economic battles and the ensuing emotional battles our society is faced with today, a new frontline battle has emerged for our dealerships: A philosophical battle.


For the past two weeks, there has been a frenzy of activity here at the MRAA and at our sister associations at the state level, as we have fought to earn “essential business” status that would allow our dealerships to remain open, at least in part. Some states have denied the requests; some have granted such status, allowing the dealership to operate as normal (with social distancing measures, or course); and others have fallen somewhere in between by allowing some combination of the service shop, parts department or marina to remain open. (You can find some FAQs on this topic here).


So, you gained essential status. Now what?


Although we may not see it or feel it at the moment, your answer to that question presents a philosophical dilemma you should think through. It boils down to the risk of potentially exposing your family, your employees and your customers and unknowingly spreading the virus. If you haven’t stopped to think about that yet, you need to.


Around North America, dealers are faced with this dilemma. Some are choosing to conduct business under their “essential” umbrella. Others are choosing not to. They’re choosing not to because, in some cases, the public perception has been too difficult to overcome, and in other cases, they have decided the risk is too great.


Everyone’s situation is unique, and the factors being considered in this decision-making process are cloudy at best. But when dealers ARE open, these are the steps that they are taking to do their best to keep everyone safe (and here’s a sample document you can craft for your dealership, courtesy of a few MRAA members). Some of our members have also consulted with a lawyer, as well, and we suggest you do that before tapping into any resources available to you.


  1. Create strict guidelines and processes for how you will sell and service boats. See this handy guide MRAA created for you.
  2. Rotate staff members so only 50 percent of your team is on-site on a given day. This prevents the entire team from being exposed and needing to be quarantined if someone becomes ill.
  3. Lock the doors to the public. Use technology.
  4. Remain a minimum of 6 feet apart – from other employees and customers. No exceptions.
  5. Create an environment where in-person team meetings are not necessary.
  6. And by all means, make coming to work optional.


This is not an easy decision, nor is it an easy environment to navigate. We need to find the right balance between keeping our businesses running, paying employees and limiting the risk during this health concern. If you’ve got tips on how you’re creating a safe environment, we’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

Tags:  best practices  COVID  processes 

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The new world of dealership risk

Posted By Craig Le Blanc, Allen Harbor Marine Service, Sunday, April 5, 2020
Use my team’s COVID-19 tragedy to help you make decisions for your business.

Craig LeBlanc is the Owner and GM of Allen Harbor Marine Service in Harwich Port, Mass.

Like many of you, I suppose, the coronavirus seemed like it was a million miles away. It was on the news but surely would soon be replaced by some other headlines. There were cruise ships quarantined in Japan, but that was halfway around the world. Then there were a few cases in Washington state, but, despite the fact that my brother and nephew live there, that still seemed a world away from my home and dealership here in Massachusetts.

The roller coaster ride we’ve all experienced with the rapid evolution of today’s circumstances have turned into a ride that’s heading down an increasingly steeper hill, gaining speed quickly and showing no signs of slowing down. Let me tell you our story.

Concerns about the spread of the virus at my dealership arose around the end of the first week of March. Casual and very general staff discussions preceded the e-mails from vendors and other businesses that were starting to modify their procedures in response to the virus. Our colleagues on Cape Cod began calling, emailing and texting to see if we were doing anything differently yet. I must admit that at that time I was still not overly concerned. 

The State of Massachusetts announced that schools would close for two weeks on March 13th. My second-grade son would be thrilled, but this was when the concern really began to sink in for me, and we chose not to send our four-year-old to pre-school that next week. 

Like in many states and provinces across North America, our state government then ordered all bars and restaurants to be closed. The e-mails, texts and calls kept coming in, and the headlines were getting worse. 

Internally, we learned that an employee’s spouse, a nurse, was treating someone who had tested positive for the virus at our local hospital. Word spread through the company quickly, and you could feel the growing tension and concern among our employees. 

The roller coaster was definitely heading down hill and picking up speed by the day. 

Three customers stopped in on the 20th of March — one who was simply out for a walk and another who stopped to say “thank you” for selling his boat. The third was the son of a customer who had passed away over the winter, and while I distinctly remember wanting to shake his hand and pass along my condolences, the building anxiety over the virus caused me to stop a few steps away. I waved and said I was sorry about his father’s passing. 

As a business owner, all I could think was that I wanted to keep our doors open. As a retail business owner, how could I survive otherwise? I just didn’t know what that could look like at that point. We held a company meeting at the end of the day, to let the team know that I was monitoring the situation, and for the time being, we would proceed “business as usual.”

As various states issued shelter-in-place orders for their citizens, we speculated that Massachusetts would soon follow suit. Our team conversation remained on my mind all weekend as the virus spread, the news worsened and the number of confirmed cases increased. Then, my 87-year-old father, who is my facility manager, run-around driver and babysitter amongst other duties, called me Sunday night to let me know he felt a fever coming on and probably wouldn’t be in on Monday. 

I arrived at the office extra-early Monday morning, placing a note on the time clock and sending an email to our salaried employees, announcing a follow-up meeting first thing that morning. I made some notes of what I wanted to cover, knowing that by this time, several states had issued shelter-in-place orders for their citizens. 

I told my staff I had made the decision to close to the public and that all deliveries should now be dropped off outside. Sub-contractors would be allowed in to the shops, as needed, and that everyone needed to practice proper social distancing, maintaining the recommended six-foot distance between each other. If they needed to work closer for a brief time, they were instructed to wear a respirator or N95 mask. They were also told to let me know immediately if they, or anyone in their household, was showing any symptoms of the virus. All were instructed to stay home if they had signs of any illness. 

The mood was somber. There wasn’t any response to speak of. Other than my father, all 20 of my employees were there for the meeting within a 40-foot radius of each other.

Around mid-day, the governor of Massachusetts announced that as of noon the next day all “non-essential” businesses would be ordered to close for two weeks. I quickly found guidance on “essential businesses” online and noted three or four categories we fit into. In another team meeting at the end of the day, we discussed that we, like other marinas on Cape Cod, would remain open. Despite support from employees on the decision, I gave it a great deal of thought on the drive home that evening. 

At 6:30 the next morning, Tuesday, one of my employees texted me to let me know that they and a friend she had recently spent time with had both developed a fever. I recommended she call her doctor right away, and because she had asthma, was able to get tested that afternoon. 

I consulted with my controller and called an employment law firm I had worked with in the past. I wanted sound advice on how to proceed, as it seemed like things were changing minute-to-minute. We talked briefly and I learned the basics of the laws that would impact a situation like this from an employer’s perspective. 

Around 9 a.m., a couple key employees came to me separately to let me know that they’d be going home at noon. They felt they needed to limit their families to potential exposure from being in public. My thoughts were extremely conflicted between the jobs we had underway and how I should respond. 

I gave everyone Wednesday off, with pay, and I went into the office by myself. I reviewed notes from the call with the attorney and sent out a text to all of my employees: I was closing the business for the rest of the week, out of an abundance of caution, and they all would be paid from their PTO on the books.

I let them know that there was an employee who was showing symptoms of the virus and had been tested on Tuesday afternoon. The results would be known by Friday. It made me feel very uneasy to not be able to say who it was, as I knew they’d all be scared and wondering. 

I remained in touch with her and my father over the next couple days. My father battled an up-and-down fever but no other issues. She, on the other hand, had lost her sense of taste and smell, was experiencing headaches and feeling lousy in general. She didn’t own a thermometer — and all the stores were out of stock — so there was nothing solid to go on there. I stayed in touch with both of them over the next couple of days. My father’s condition was relatively stable, while my employee’s was worsening.

I texted with her throughout the day on Friday. I offered to bring her groceries or supplies, but she said she was good. I made her promise she would call her doctor or 911 if she felt her condition begin to deteriorate. She agreed. The last text was around 6 p.m. I would never communicate with her again. 

I sent her a text late Saturday afternoon to ask how she was feeling. Simultaneously, a friend of hers that knew she was ill hadn’t been able to reach her all day, so she went to her house. With no response to her knocking at the door, she called the local police to request a wellness check. They went into the house and found Julie Bradley deceased. 

I was in disbelief and shock at the same time. What had happened? How could things have progressed so quickly? There were no answers to be had. I called all of my employees separately to give them this tragic news.

The next afternoon I was contacted by a health official to let me know that Julie had tested positive. I learned that Julie had Face-Timed with her doctor at 8 p.m. Friday and had been told she tested positive. I still don’t know what kept her from calling or texting me to let me know. I can only assume that something happened to her not long after that call ended. 

The health official asked who had been in close contact with Julie at the marina between Thursday the 19th and Monday the 23rd. I couldn’t say for certain, so the decision was made that all employees would be quarantined at home until Monday, April 6th. The health official called each of them, talked about the situation and answered any questions. 

Even though my father is 87, he had been unable to get tested, as he had no underlying medical condition. Because of Julie’s positive test, having been exposed to her, and because he was showing symptoms, he was now able to get tested. 

Dad’s breathing became difficult Wednesday afternoon, and after consulting with his doctor he was admitted to the hospital. His oxygen level was very low, so he was given oxygen through both a mask and tubes right away. By the next morning, his oxygen levels had come back up, but later that day the decision was made to put him on a ventilator. X-rays show that there are patches of pneumonia in his lungs. I, along with my brothers and sisters, were able to speak with him on the phone for a short time before the ventilator was put in place. The ventilator is working well at this point but we have no idea what is going to happen. All we can do is pray at this point.

Julie Bradley was that invaluable, key employee we all long for. She’s the type of employee who is impossible to replace, even on a single day off. I can’t imagine what it will be like to operate without her, and by telling this story, I hope she can have an equally powerful impact on your business by helping you react wisely and confidently to this virus. She would want that. 

I can’t give you advice. We all need to navigate this unprecedented situation the best way we know how. What I can tell you is that if you’re not taking this virus seriously, you need to. Yes, it’s going to hurt my business – and your business, too. That’s nearly inevitable. I don’t know what the future will hold for my business next year, next month, or even this week now that our team members finish their required quarantine and are allowed to return to our “essential business.” But at the end of the day, running a business is about taking care of our employees, our families, our customers and our communities. Particularly during this health crisis, as you consider each of those, the question I recommend you ask is: At what risk?

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6 Key Steps to Making Video Sales

Posted By Bob McCann, Friday, April 3, 2020

For the past decade, salespeople have typically relegated video to the “nice-to-have” category. It’s something they know has potential, but many still haven’t taken the time to invest in it as a legitimate channel to sell a boat. After all, with phone, email, and now texting available to help bridge the communication divide between buyer and seller, is there really a need for salespeople to add video to that list as well? The short answer: Heck yes!

We’ve introduced video to dealers as a tool to market and sell boats over the past few years at MRAA’s annual conference, Dealer Week. However, this current interruption in our sales process is the push needed to make the dealer use it and make them more comfortable with this tool. I’m certain that when things get back to normal, lessons learned during the COVID-19 crisis will change the way we sell boats.

Even though texting has impacted the way we sell by making it possible to better connect with boat buyers, there’s still no replacing a face-to-face — especially when a salesperson is trying to get a deal over the finish line. Text messages and emails are time-efficient communication methods but are inefficient persuasion methods. Video chat can help you re-create product presentations and therefore make it easier to gain your customers’ trust, tap into their emotions, and help create mental ownership.
One of the main reasons customers still hesitate to buy online is because they can’t always see the product they will get. Your online photos will make for good lead generation, but people have learned to be suspicious of good-looking photos. There is nothing more powerful than a face-to-face conversation when it comes to building trust. And one of the big advantages of video chat is that you can showcase your boats live. It requires preparation beforehand, but it can go a long way.

So, I have prepared for you some best practices for using FaceTime or similar apps for boat sales. This and our “Lights, Camera, ACTION PLAN” will help you make sure you look professional and not like an amateur when on a video call.

1. The Equipment
I’ve heard and I’ve experienced first-hand that an iPad might be the tool of choice to make your video call, if you have one on-hand. That being said, go with the device in your collection that has the newer, faster processor and the better camera. While the iPad is nice for its larger screen and is easier to keep stationary, a device with a better picture that focuses faster and allows for lower lighting will be your best device for the job.

2. The Lighting
Speaking of lighting, pay attention to the basic rules of photography/videography. They are:

  • Check your lighting and your background.
  • Always try to show the boat on a neutral one-color background so it instantly pops and grabs their attention. Lighting is always really important and will be your friend.
  • If you are inside, turn ALL the lights on.
  • If you’re outside and if practical, move the boat into the sun. Remember, we said, if practical — not “if you’re not feeling lazy!”

3. The Background
Consider the background and tidiness of the boat.

  • Ideally, the boat should be isolated, in the water, by itself without other boats in the background to distract your customer’s attention.
  • After years of coaching dealers on taking pictures of boats for their web listings, we’ve seen all the background blunders including, dumpsters, rusty chain-link fences, and poorly maintained marina equipment in the shot.
  • Not to mention staging a smaller boat beside a larger boat that immediately dwarfs the customer’s dream boat!
    These points are important when you’re selling high-end products. People expect the boat that they are considering to look better than average, and they won’t take into consideration the fact that lighting or location might be the reason it doesn’t look as good as it should.
  • Run some tests beforehand to see how your boat looks on another team member’s phone before it’s show time.

4. Prepare
You also need to think about how you will present your boat.

  • Remember, these video calls are not product walkthrough videos and shouldn’t be organized the same way.
  • Determine what kind of buyer you have and customize your presentation accordingly.
  • Chances are, before a prospect will commit to a FaceTime call with you, you’ve already connected via email or phone. Hopefully if the connection began via email or chat, the conversation was moved to the phone so important information could be shared, like:
    • What’s important to them about the boat they are considering?
    • Do they have a boat now?
    • What they like about their boat or other boats they are considering.
    • Or, what they don’t like about their boat or other boats of consideration.
    • Not to mention the important relationship things like, family, occupation, how they would use the boat, their pets, and favorite teams!
    • The more you know about your customer and their reasons for buying a boat the better you video call will go.
  • So, before you open your app and dial up the customer, you might want to jot down some notes on what you want to cover, based on what you know and practice doing so before the call.

5. Practice

  • When you have your notes prepared, practice your presentation with a co-worker to make certain that the message is coming across the video call well.
  • Make sure you don’t stumble into bad lighting! Avoid spotlights, backlighting and other concentrated light sources which can throw off the exposure with overexposed hotspots or underexposed shadows.
  • Consider getting a stand for your phone. This is a good idea for a few reasons:
    • It frees up your hands so you can demonstrate some of the features on the boat.
    • It prevents you from creating a lot of motion for the viewer, which can lead to sea sickness!
    • It prevents the phone from moving around and creating a lot of handling noise that gets picked up in the audio mic.
    • Speaking of mics, consider using earbuds to hear and speak during your call. This will keep the audio level consistent for when you are moving around.
6. Look Your Best
  • Lastly, check the mirror! Even though this is a video call make sure to look polished and professional, you don’t want to start that call with cappuccino foam on your face! FaceTime isn’t the most flattering thing in the world, you MUST make sure you look as together as possible before you initiate a video conversation.
  • So, wear your branded polo, nametag, touch up the cosmetics, smooth down that cowlick, clean the spinach from your teeth, etc.

These might seem like details for you right now but going the extra mile here can make a big difference. Remember that when you sell boats you are often selling a lifestyle, a dream that is as important as the boat in itself. Look at Apple for example and how the Apple stores look. The design is built to create a modern, high-end atmosphere around the products. You can replicate the same on a video chat and sell the ING in BOATING.

What are YOU doing to win the virtual video sales game?

Tags:  best practices  business advice  continuous improvement  dealer development  online sales  video 

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How are you doing? Really?

Posted By Nikki Duffney, Thursday, April 2, 2020

With everything in the world changing faster than we can wrap our brains around, just as I start to feel like I understand what’s going on – it changes. Keeping up morale and managing stress at a time when we are all maxed out on stress and worry is hard, and here are a few ideas to help manage.


Important to note, I am not a health expert or certified in any wellness related field(s). My experience comes from a decade of managing a differently-abled body from a spinal cord injury, and focus on my mental health has shown me that my physical health benefits.


1. Give people space, not only the physical space required for social distancing, but rather the emotional space for them to be distracted. We are all going through this uncertain situation together, and it is distracting. Yes, you can absolutely expect your staff to still produce, work hard and deliver on their jobs. Also realize many of us are figuring out how to work from home … with kids, animals and a spouse pulling at our attention. Compassion for the new world we live in will take time to adjust to, let everyone make that adjustment as they need.


2. If you are able to have staff in the dealership working, allow for extra breaks to go outside to take deep breaths. The power of breath is amazing, and many of us take advantage of the power in breath. One easy-to-do, breathing activity is to take 3-5 minutes to go somewhere you will have minimal distractions (leave your phone behind) and take slow, deep inhales through your nose (2- to 4-second inhale) and slowly out through pursed lips as if you were breathing out though a straw (6- to 8-second exhale) until all the air is out. Doing this can leave you feeling calmer and more grounded – maybe even in less discomfort than before, as breath work can release tension and pain you didn’t know you were carrying.


3. Going back to the basics of caring for yourself is critically important right now. Eat well, avoid overly processed foods if you can, drink lots of water, and commit to a sleep schedule that will allow for the productivity you need and give you the most rest possible. Exercise if you can, or simply find ways to move your body with purpose. Finding 10 minutes a day to move in a way that feels good for your body can help you sleep better and have more energy.

4. Safety is the No. 1 concern for most of us right now. The best way you can empower your customers and staff is to communicate that they need to make the choices that feel best to them. Give your staff the power to decide if they can or cannot work. We are all powerless in much of this pandemic, and giving people power back where, we can, will have rewards in the future.


Really, I want to know – how are you? Give me a call (763-333-2420) or send me an email if I can help. You are not alone, we are in this together. 

Tags:  compassion  COVID  empathy  stress management 

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