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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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Dramatic increase in temporarily closed dealerships

Posted By Matt Gruhn, Thursday, April 2, 2020

Over the course of the last three weeks, your MRAA team has been in contact with thousands of dealerships, including hundreds of one-to-one phone conversations and hundreds more email conversations. Additionally, we’ve been keeping a pulse on dealership operations as the government imposes more and more “shelter-at-home” orders and businesses scramble for “essential” status to remain open.

MRAA has conducted two surveys to date to understand how many of our dealerships are open for business, how many are closed and how many find themselves somewhere in between. There has been a dramatic shift, as you might imagine, in the operating status of our dealerships, as shown in these two images:


Combined, MRAA’s survey garnered over 1,160 responses (with some still trickling in from this week’s survey) and the results are eye-opening.

Two weeks ago, more than 47 percent were open with a business as normal status, and only 8 percent were temporarily closed. This week, the results have flipped: Less than 15 percent of dealerships were still open, while nearly 30 percent had closed.

The “open for business with modifications” status, which makes up nearly 60 percent of our dealerships today, primarily represents the businesses in various “shelter at home” states that are typically allowing dealership service facilities and marinas to remain open for specific purposes. The battle over earning “essential business” status has been the No. 1 legislative effort MRAA has worked over the last three weeks. You can find insights on that topic in these Frequently Asked Questions.

Those businesses seeking answers on how to conduct business when many team members are working from home should access the resources found on Your Action Guide for Responding to the COVID-19 Crisis.

Tags:  COVID 

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Take Control of Your Future

Posted By Matt Gruhn, Thursday, April 2, 2020
Remember The Great Recession? How out of control things felt at that time?

Can we agree that nothing has ever felt as out of control for our businesses as things do today? Forced shutdowns. Unfathomable spike in unemployment filings. The tenuous outlook of cash flow projections. It’s crazy. And that’s to speak nothing about the virus, its catastrophic impact on our society, how long it will stick around, or if it will reside and then come back again. In some ways, it feels like the Great Recession all over again, but in others, it’s very, very different.

So that’s out on the table, and it’s time for us to move on. It’s time for us to focus on what we CAN control.

Let’s start with this great video that boils down what I believe is all of our first priority in dealing with today’s uncertainty. Thank you for the clear, concise advice, John Spence! And when you’re done watching it, please add to your list of things that you can’t control, items like, whether your business is classified as essential or not; whether boating is allowed in your state or not; whether we’ll be able to reopen before Memorial Day; and so forth.

Now, here are three great tips from Gary Vaynerchuck on where your mind should be today. These are the things you CAN control: Your perspective, your response to uncertain times (he calls it innovation), your brand’s story, and your patience.

This is likely going to be a long road. You should align your mentality with that expectation and the opportunities that are within your control.

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Now’s the Time to Communicate with Your Customers Via Video

Posted By Liz Keener, Tuesday, March 31, 2020
There’s a lot of confusion in the marketplace right now. Is your dealership open? What are you doing to keep me, as a buyer, safe? Should I buy a boat, book a service appointment, or buy parts or accessories from you right now?

The easiest — and most sincere — way to communicate messages to your customer is through video, and we’re seeing more and more dealers take advantage of this outlet as COVID-19 has impacted the entire world, including here in North America.

If you’re no Brad Pitt or Steven Spielberg, that’s OK. Authentic, raw videos work great. They demonstrate your humanity and your realness. And they can show your customers that you’re empathetic to their needs and showing compassion toward your employees, as long as you’re being honest. Check out my video I created in just minutes here.

There are several platforms to use. Facebook is big — you can go live or upload pre-recorded videos. You can do the same with Instagram. You can also send links to videos from Vidyard, Vimeo, YouTube or other services. No matter which format you use, we recommend you at least think about your messaging before you hit the record button, and if you’re not live, don’t be afraid to record a few takes before picking the video you’ll post.

Quite a few dealers have gone to social media as of late to communicate with their customers:
  • Deb Dusenka and Frankie Howerton of Frankie’s Live Bait and Marine in Chisago City, Minnesota, went live with an update on Facebook on March 19.
  • Bob Petzold of Petzold’s Marine Center in Portland, Connecticut, shared alternative ways to buy a boat with their annual open house and boat show being canceled.
  • Rod Bensz of B&E Marine in Michigan City, Indiana, shot video while he was out practicing social distancing during a walk with his dog.
  • Mark Dougherty of N3 Boatworks in Indianapolis, Indiana, has been keeping his customers updated from before they closed their showroom until after they closed.
  • Lake Cumberland Marine in Kentucky has filled its YouTube channel with overhead video of individual boats.
These are just some examples. Send us yours, too! We’d love to see them all! And let Certification Manager Liz Keener (, 763-333-2417) or Member Development Manager Nikki Duffney (, 763-333-2420) know if you could use some additional tips on creating videos.

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Time to Reduce Your Repair Cycle Time

Posted By Liz Keener, Tuesday, March 31, 2020
As people start practicing social distancing by getting out on their boats, they’re going to need service.

I talked to one dealer in Florida yesterday who said her service business is booming because people want their boats prepped; they need their 100-hour service; and they’re using their boats enough to need some other repairs and maintenance already.

But customers, especially those self-quarantining, are going to want their boats back quickly, and they’re going to expect you to offer that. If you can promise and deliver upon quick turnarounds, customers are going to turn to your dealership, and your service department will prosper, even if unit sales are down. However, if you can’t get their boat back quickly, they’ll take it elsewhere.

That’s why Valerie Ziebron and Carrie Stacey’s course “Reduce Repair Cycle Time” is a timely one to watch right now. Presented at Dealer Week 2019, this session teaches you how to look at your service department’s management efficiency to improve the time boats are stuck in your shop.

The duo define management efficiency as how much of the available tech time is used. They give a great example of a fictional tech, Mike Fast, who in a 40-hour workweek bills 25 hours and spends 18 hours working on a R.O. He’s 140 percent efficient, which is almost unheard of. BUT his management efficiency is only 45 percent, meaning 55 percent of the time he’s at the dealership, he’s not turning a wrench.

It sounds crazy, but it happens. And improving that management efficiency is the “secret sauce that makes dealers successful,” Carrie Stacey says.

In the course, you’ll learn how to determine your current repair cycle time. You’ll learn that by reducing your repair time, you’ll increase your revenue and create happier customers. And Valerie and Carrie will teach you how to reduce your repair cycle time without cutting corners.

“Customers want their boats done fast,” Carrie said “but they want them done right the first time.”

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Now is the Time to Promote Boating as a Getaway

Posted By Liz Keener, Tuesday, March 31, 2020
People are stressed. People are worried. People are concerned.

Now is a great time to showcase the benefits that come with boating. It might be hard to remember this, as we’re all just as stressed as everyone else. But think about all of the ways boating can cure those quarantine ills.

Boating is a stress reliever. Boating can be a distraction from all of the negative news. Boating brings your family together somewhere other than your living room. Boating will get you in some fresh air, and if you’re wake surfing, wake boarding or skiing, boating can contribute to some great exercise.

We’ve seen several dealerships these past couple of weeks leaning on the message of boating as a positive place to quarantine in their social media posts. Here are some great ones:
  • Castaway Marina of Queensbury, New York, posted this adorable photo of a kid relaxing on a boat.
  • Grande Yachts posted on its Chesapeake Boats and Boating Facebook page that people could “Leave Your Worries at the Dock.
  • With a slow-mo video from the back of a Chris Craft, Harborside Marina & Yacht of Clinton, Connecticut posted: “Cruising away from Corona like … (All joking aside, we hope everyone stays healthy and safe).”
  • Port Harbor Marine posted a photo of a woman and a dog on a boat with the message: “Research has confirmed: being on, in, or near the water benefits your brain in ways that don't exist in everyday life. Double tap if boating is your favorite way to reset & unwind!”
  • River Valley Power & Sport of Red Wing, Minnesota, posted a photo of a family on a boat with the message, “With a boat, you don’t need a week or even a weekend to escape. Vacation on demand all summer long.”
If you feel like you don’t have the creativity, mindset or time to create your own lifestyle posts right now, visit your manufacturers’ and suppliers’ pages and share their content. Here are some good ones we’ve run across:
  • Alumacraft recently posted: “We’re ready for days cruising around the open water. Who’s with us?”
  • Boston Whaler said on Facebook, “Family time is the best time.”
  • Centurion Boats asked, “Is there any place you’d rather be?” alongside photos of one of their boats and the hashtag #socialdistancing.
  • Cobalt Boats shared an image of a boat in the middle of the water with the caption: “Try to maintain social distancing whenever possible, they said. Deal, we said.”
  • Engineered Marine Products posted: “Boating and fishing are 2 great ways to stay safe from COVID-19 while making lasting memories with family and close friends.”
  • Regal Boats encouraged their followers to “Find Your Escape.”
Remember, be mindful of any current laws in your area. Note if the beaches or boat ramps are closed. And remind people to practice social distancing (be mindful of raft-ups and island meetings that don’t follow CDC guidelines).

And have fun with it. Remind people that boating is the great getaway!

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What Kinds of Messaging Should I Be Sharing During this Pandemic?

Posted By Mickaela Hilleren, Tuesday, March 31, 2020
Communicating with customers right now is complicated. From your end, you want to sell more boats, book more service appointments and increase revenue (or at least stop it from slipping too low), so you can pay your staff and keep the lights on.

But it’s a sensitive and confusing time in the world, so any communication you send must be carefully vetted.

If you’re going to address COVID-19, also known as coronavirus, you must do so while taking the seriousness of the disease into account.

If you’re going to talk about the services you’re still offering, you should do so with the mindset that you’re doing all of this to help your customers have fun, relax and social distance somewhere other than home. You can also share the message that you’re supporting your employees, who are members of your community as well.

The following are a few messages we’ve seen from dealers that we think express the right messaging:
  • Action Watersports, in Commerce City, Colorado, opens its website scroll bar with this message: “Your safety and that of our staff is our main priority at Action Watersports. We are committed to stopping the spread of this COVID-19 virus.” The screen then goes on to show what temporary policies the dealership has adopted, including free concierge services, changes in service and changes in sales.
  • Frank Bongiorno of Staten Island Yacht Sales in New York and Rhode Island wrote a letter about the closing of two of his locations. He updated customers on deliveries and offered ways for customers to stay in touch. He opens the letter, “I hope this note finds you and your family in good health. As of Monday, March 23rd, our facilities will be closed in Staten Island and Freeport, New York. In addition to complying with all government mandates, our goal is to ensure the safety and well-being of our valued employees, of our customers, and our community.”
  • Baert Marine of Middleton, Massachusetts, shared this note in its customer email and Facebook post about its government-required closing: “Together if all work together and practice social distancing we know that as a Nation we will get through this crisis. We look forward to opening soon and continue ‘Making Fun on the Water’ as we have for the past 47 years!”
  • Nauset Marine of Orleans, Massachusetts, said in its mandatory-closure Facebook post: “Our most important focus is the health and safety of our employees, customers, friends and family.”
  • AMC Marine Sales & Service in Hamilton, Indiana, posted a COVID-19 statement on its website, that pops up when logging on to the dealership’s site. It starts, “With the emergence of COVID-19 in the U.S., we wanted to personally reach out to provide an update to the actions that AMC Marine Sales & Service is taking to address the Coronavirus pandemic. AMC considers the health and safety of our employees, their families, and our customers as our number one priority.”
There are a lot of other examples of how dealers are sharing COVID-19 news and plans with their customers, and we at the MRAA would love to see yours, if you could pass your communications along.

Video is another option that I discussed in an MRAA blog, and Sam Dantzler of Garage Composites suggested overcommunicating in his recent MRAA Ask the Expert webinar. Both are great resources when considering what you’ll communicate with your customers next.

What’s important is to communicate frequently, share your dealership’s current status, show the community how you can help them and your employees and be thoughtful with your words. If you do these things, you’ll offer the right types of messages for your area, and your customers will hopefully respond positively, when they’re ready to buy.

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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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