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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 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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Dealer to Dealer: February 2020

Posted By Mickaela Hilleren, Wednesday, February 12, 2020
Updated: Wednesday, February 12, 2020
How do you and your team inspire prospects and customers to trust you?

“Lasting trust is accomplished over time. If you view your walk ins and leads like “just a number” you are going in the wrong direction. Helping a client find what truly fits their needs and not trying to cram them into your oldest non-current is a good start. My take on trust comes down to this, ‘if you wouldn’t treat your mother that way, don’t treat your client that way.’” - Greg Harvey, Tobler Marina

“At the risk of using some overused expressions, we are basically honest to a fault. We believe in complete transparency and treat customers with the utmost integrity. We under-promise but over-deliver. Procedurally, our sales process is pain free - from sea trials to closing to service after the sale – our customer are made to feel at ease and treated like friends. We’re always accessible, we carry reliable products, and we maintain consistency throughout our six locations.” - Frank Ferraro, Nautical Ventures Group

“By assimilating my life and experiences to theirs. By demonstrating that I am a professional boat dealer and I give them answers that are correct and make sense to them. I ask questions and use their answers to "fit" the boat to their needs in a transparent and entertaining way.” - Jim Sabia, Top Notch Marine

“We have always taken the approach that we are to guide and educate them on the journey to boat ownership- not sell them.” - David deAndrade, White Lake Marina

“Tell the customer the truth […] and you will earn the respect and a good customer. I have been doing this for the past 57 years.” - Anthony Cavallo, Hi-Tide Boat Sales & Service

“Review reputation with Google and Facebook. Prior customers provides that first line advantage.” - David Nichols, Eric's Outboard Marine Sevice, Inc.

“Become an advocate / educator for your customers. Work hard to communicate with your customers on a regular basis. For example, email / post tips and articles for your customers and prospects to see. Offer to take existing customers on test runs of new models as they arrive at dealership. Both of you will experience a new model together with no expectation to purchase. You never know where the experience will lead to!  Hopefully an upgrade and trade of their existing boat or potentially a referral to a friend looking for a similar boat!” - Kim Sweers, FB Marine Group

"At the conference this year I heard the statement that sales sell the first boat at a dealership and service sells the rest. We fully believe in that statement. Many of our customers do business with us because of the service they received from us before the made any purchases from us. Those same customers are our best promoters. It always seems to come back to quality service in a timely manner. Customers for life or even customers for generations." - Jeff Sanborn, Handberg's Marine

“Integrity and  backing of the product you sell, strong follow through, open communication which includes “listening” to the customer.  What tops the list for me is reassurance of how we will take care of them “after” the sale.” - Shauna Reetz, Tracker Marine Boat Center - Sidney, Nebraska

“Attitude, kindness, and holding ourselves to a higher standard, use our mistakes as wisdom and correct our shortcomings and successes, and use examples to others in our communications to teach, inspire, and build truth into the relationship. Lead by example.” - Ed Brailsford, Charlotte Ski Boats

“We get told over and over again from prospective customers, recent new customers and ones who are on their 4th+ round with Rinker’s; why they not only chose us but keep coming back … and it’s not a surprise if sometimes they pop-in to say “Hi” and/or for a visit to catch-up. It’s simple … we are genuine in showing we really do care! Our always friendly atmosphere, personalized service and amazing, timely follow-ups makes all of our customers feel special and like they have become an extension of our family, not just a ’one-and-done’ experience/relationship just to get another boat out the door. At Rinker’s Boat World we strive to provide the most comprehensive and enjoyable experience overall for the customer as our major, #1 objective. We listen to what their needs are, develop great communication with them and show empathy. Empathy matters in sales, leading with empathy can mean the difference between a good salesperson and a great salesperson. When you're able to connect with a customer on a higher emotional level, the more likely they are to trust and believe in your ability to help. When salespeople understand and feel what the customer feels, they gain deeper insight into the emotional foundations of the customer's needs. This enables them in turn to define and articulate the best solution in terms that resonate with the customer.” - Carrie Ranney, Rinker’s Boat World

What do you and your team do to inspire trust? Tell us below in the comment section.

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

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A Peek Behind the Curtain

Posted By Nikki Duffney, Thursday, July 25, 2019
Do you know about the people who show up every day to do work on your behalf – advocating for the marine industry and the talented people who work the front lines? We are your marine trades associations and collectively we are the National Marine Trades Council.

Last week, around 30 marine trades association professionals, gathered in Anacortes, Washington to continue to push the industry forward with our pooled expertise. We touched on important topics like workforce & talent management, sharing resources to support our members, continuing education and association best practices. We welcomed back Canadian associations to the council this year, which was a great addition. Having insight from the community with the shortest boating season in North America was insightful.

Building a community of trusted friends that understand the challenges and rewards that come out of your daily activity is rich with benefits. We share similar pains, we celebrate aligned victories and we keep showing up to support each other to achieve the best results we can.

Who is your community? Is it your 20 Group, local area dealers, MRAA members or your local MTA members… whoever you build community with, I encourage you to show up and share your expertise with others. You never know when you might be offered a nugget of valuable information in casual conversation that could change the way you operate.

Tags:  continuous improvement  dealer development  dealer focused  discussions  marine industry  networking  NMTA  relationships  workforce issues 

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Multiplying Success Through “Interdependence”

Posted By Liz Walz, Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Sometimes, though you can’t take any credit for it, you find yourself doing the right thing at the right time.
That was the case this past week. The “right thing” was reading a classic book: “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey. And the right time was rocketing through the air on a flight to join MRAA’s Dealer Development Manager Nikki Duffney at the National Marine Trades Council meeting in Anacortes, Washington.
The part of the book I was reading was on what Covey calls “the maturity continuum” – one in which we start life with physical, emotional, mental and financial dependence, then move to independence, and eventually – on a quest to achieve our greatest success – may reach the pinnacle of maturity, interdependence.
The way Covey explains it, “interdependence is the paradigm of we – we can cooperate; we can combine our talents and abilities and create something greater together.” In our society, we often put independence on a pedestal as the ultimate goal – but the author does an excellent job of reminding us that idea is misplaced.
“Interdependent people combine their own efforts with the efforts of other to achieve their greatest success,” he writes.  
I’m not telling you anything new. Most of you actively practice interdependence. For one, you experience the benefits of collaborating with your team to strengthen your business. You also might be a member of a 20 Group. And if you’re reading this, chances are you’re a member of a marine trade association. Or two. Or three. Take, for instance, the marine dealer with a marina who was a member of three of the associations in attendance at the meeting. He belongs to his state association, the MRAA and the Association of Marina Industries – each of which offers unique education and benefits to fuel success for that business owner and his team. Talk about 1 + 1 + 1 = 5!
It doesn’t hurt to be reminded of how much more we can achieve together than alone. The book was my first reminder this week, but it came to life again and again working alongside the brilliant and dedicated people who run the industry’s marine trade associations.
There are many ways in which we were already collaborating with the national, state and regional association professionals in the room. For example, we partner with the National Marine Manufacturers Association by sharing a political action committee, called BoatPAC. Many of us at the NMTC event co-host the American Boating Congress, which is produced by NMMA. MRAA collaborated with Wendy Mackie, her team at the Rhode Island Marine Trades Association and others to launch the Strategy 10 + 1 publication, a Guide to Growing the Workforce, and the MRAA Guide to Apprenticeship. And on a personal level, I’m deeply grateful for the opportunity to work with Barb Caster of the Boating Industries Association of Upstate New York to serve those marine businesses in my local community.
One final example, inspired by the value of working alongside our marine trade association peers to serve you, is a co-host program at the Dealer Week event this December in Tampa. Five associations have already signed on as Dealer Week Co-Hosts, and after meeting with our peers to explore the value of this opportunity to our organizations and you, several more have expressed interest in co-hosting.

Thanks to NMTC leadership, there were lots of seeds planted that will sprout new opportunities for all of us who participated to practice interdependence this week, which multiply our ability to fuel your success.

To learn more about co-hosting at Dealer Week, MRAA's annual conference and expo, reach out to Allison Gruhn or visit our partner page.

Tags:  communication  dealer focused  discussions  guide to growing the workforce  marine industry  MRAA member  networking  NMTA  technician shortage  workforce 

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Dealer to Dealer: June 2019

Posted By Mickaela Hilleren, Tuesday, July 9, 2019
Updated: Wednesday, July 10, 2019
In regards to sales, how did the weather impact your
first and second quarter?

I’m sure that the weather impacted sales because we have experienced record rains over the first half of 2019, however, the strong economy has countered the negative effects of the weather and dealership is up 30% in boat sales to last year.  Hard to say what could have been. - Michael Brown, Cabela’s Louisville KY

[The weather] has affected May/June sales by 25% - Rob Rule, Maple City Marine

The weather has caused sales to be completely stalled out in April through June.  Inventory is at record levels because of it. - Jerry Brouwer, Action Water Sports

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

We had record breaking sales, both in units and volume, during our first two quarters. We reside in South Florida where these quarters are the best seasons for our local weather. This year was exceptionally temperate with an abundance of Chamber of Commerce days. We also attend the Miami and Palm Beach International Boat Shows during these quarters.  Seasonal residents, along with good weather, contributed to sales. Very active boating occurs here in winter and spring spread out between seasonal residents, fishing enthusiasts, and the large yachts that berth here for repairs, maintenance, and in need of new tenders. - Frank Ferraro, Nautical Ventures

Yes, the weather effected us. Because the lakes stayed frozen longer, we couldn’t get boats on the water. This backed up, both, service and sales. - Patrick Green, Tobler Marina

The weather has been good to us in Alabama even though we had a little above average rainfall. We had our In-Water Boat Show at the end of April and the weather was almost perfect for this type of show. Due to these conditions, we had our best show ever. The weather this year has helped us very favorably. - Dave Commander, Russell Marine

Being that we're in FL, the weather certainly didn't affect our sales like it did for other areas.  BUT we did have a much later start to the selling season, I'd say about 45 days later than normal.  We had some late season cold fronts that kept our fishing and boating seasons pent up.  And because the season was late, we didn't get that early season urgency/spree.  So I feel that the overall calendar year for sales will be down by about 15% as a result of missing out on a month and a half of sales. - Greg Knop, Family Boating Centers

Sales are off by 15% from a year ago. Store traffic is down as is the service. We need the lakes to get back to normal. People want to go because of the heat but can't go because they are limited to where  you can go. People don't want travel 3-4 hours to play for the day. We are in northeastern Oklahoma. - Alan Atkins, Sundown Marine

Cold and Snowy Q1, Cold and Rainy Q2. We're experiencing fantastic water levels, but the surfers, tubers and riders are running 30 days behind because it was so cold and rainy in May and first part of June. Numbers were a little off, but catching up quickly. - Brian Ulrich, Fred's Marine

How did the weather impact you? Tell us below in the comment section!

Tags:  boat sales  dealer development  dealer to dealer  discussions  growth  weather 

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Dealer to Dealer: March 2019

Posted By Mickaela Hilleren, Tuesday, March 26, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dealer to Dealer: February 2019

Posted By Mickaela Hilleren, Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Did you do something different at your boat show(s) this year? How did it turn out?

We created a different layout from our normal. We brought more pleasure boats and less fishing boats. We also put are higher dollar boats out front and center. Not toward the back. This seem to get more traction than normal on these boats.  What I would change is moving are center console out of the corner and putting that more out front.  All an all it was a great show! - Leo Lach, TMBC- Grandville

We expanded our footprint throughout the shows, which allowed us to invite more brands to participate and gave us a better visual presentation by spreading boat models further apart.  Also, we took advantage of in-water boat demo areas, partnering with engine brands, to take customers out on boat rides.  Lastly, we excluded under-performing brands so we could focus staff resources where it mattered most – at the booths where customers wanted to be.  As a result, this year’s sales, from the same shows as last year, are up 30% to 45%. - Frank Ferraro, Nautical Ventures

We added several kiosks with iPads which were locked to the respective boat manufacture “build a boat” pages- was received quite well with both buyers and their children! - David deAndrade, White Lake Marine

We did things much differently this year than previous years. We started out by purchasing a lot more booth space which allowed us to display more inventory. It also allowed for more space for customers to maneuver and get a better look at our boats. We received many compliments not only from prospects and buyers, but from all our manufacturers who worked our booth with us.

We also had a lot of the inventory built with more boat options as well as a larger selection of different engine brands. We allowed our normal boat show discount percentages. We normally give each boat buyer a free gift which has generally been a Yeti Tundra ice chest, but this year we allowed the buyers to choose from 3 free gifts, one of which was a free year of maintenance, hoping that will allow them to experience our awesome service and parts department and hopefully continue to come back. 95% of buyers chose the maintenance.

We brought in our parts manager and service coordinator to work the floor with us because many times we have customers who only have parts and/or service questions and our salesman get tied up with them. This was extremely successful because they were instrumental in getting 3 customers to trade their units in for new units – MAJOR WIN! - Christi Romero, The Sportsman

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

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Busting a Few Myths

Posted By Liz Walz, Tuesday, January 22, 2019
In my last blog, I wrote about the premise of Brad Staat’s book, Never Stop Learning. Because the knowledge we need to successfully run our businesses keeps changing, he argues, we need to keep learning. We now operate in a learning economy, not a knowledge economy.

If we need to be continuously learning, then it’s critical for us to know how we and our teams can best learn. As it turns out, much of what we think we know about education is wrong. Here are a few of the many myths about learning:

LEARNING IS AN EVENT. We often schedule education as if learning is an event – a conference, a workshop or a training day – with a beginning and end, something we can check off the list. The research suggests that’s not true. Learning is a four-step process that begins when you’re exposed to new information, like when a speaker gives an educational presentation or when you watch an online course. But don’t stop there. We need to consistently re-expose ourselves and the people we’re training to the new information after we first hear it. When we only take in the information once, chances are it will quickly fade out of our short-term memory before we store it as knowledge and before we have the opportunity to apply it. Our brain is like a video tape that quickly gets recorded over if we don’t proactively work to hold onto new information through repetition.

LEARNING DOESN’T DRIVE RESULTS. The most common reason for this myth is simply that what most people call learning is only the first step of the learning process: Being exposed to new information. If you skip the other three steps, you’ll never truly learn something new, apply it to your business or experience the results.

LEARNING BELONGS IN THE CLASSROOM (NOT THE DEALERSHIP). Research shows us that people typically forget 90 percent of the information they are exposed to in a class within 30 days. The majority of this forgetting occurs within the first few hours after class. That’s because learning is a four-step process, and the classroom is just step one. And of course, the classroom is not the only place you can turn for new information. There are digital publications, books, podcasts, workshops, online courses, conferences and more. The real work involved in learning – and the real rewards – come when you take the information you’ve been exposed to, hold it up against what you’ve experienced in the past (step two), consider how it might apply to your day-to-day responsibilities in the future (step three), and then experiment with it in the dealership (step four).

NO TALKING IN SCHOOL. The truth is the exact opposite. When we discuss what we’re learning with others, not only do we create repetition, which helps us hold onto that information in our memory, but we have the opportunity to reflect out loud on how it applies to what we already know and have experienced, and how we might apply it moving forward. Those are critical steps in the learning process. BONUS: When you as a leader in your dealership talk about what you’re learning and how you might use it to improve and grow, you inspire and encourage others to consider their own learning opportunities.

CRAM FOR THE TEST. Cramming works great if it’s only important that you remember something for a short period of time. But if you want to hold onto it for the long haul (and maybe even USE what you’re learning at work), space out your repetition. Schedule a once a week practice of a key new process or strategy. Research shows that such repetition is needed even years after you’ve supposedly learned something “for good.” Even your most experienced team members can gain huge benefit from refresher classes.

TAKE YOUR SEAT, OPEN YOUR EARS. In reality, the more senses involved in your dealership education – such as seeing, hearing and touching – the more likely you and your team will remember it when it comes time to use what you’re learning. That’s why an audio recording is good, but a video is even better. And a course that involves not just video, but also activities, tests and homework is even more effective. Research suggests that if information is presented orally, people remember about 10 percent 72 hours after exposure. Add a picture and that percentage goes up to 65 percent. As a human, our vision is our most powerful sense. The more your training is a multi-sensory experience, the higher the chances you will retain it.

MRAA takes all of this to heart. We work with the experts to design in-person and online education, resources and tools available to you and your employees all year long. They are designed specifically to achieve REAL learning and drive REAL results. And we’re here whenever you need us to guide you along the way.

Tags:  continuous improvement  cram  discussions  event  learning economy  myths  real-life application 

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Dealer to Dealer: January

Posted By Mickaela Hilleren, Tuesday, January 8, 2019

What did your dealership accomplish in 2018 that you're most proud of?

In light of a record sales year, receiving several top industry awards, and signing on a variety of marquis brands, I think I’m most proud of the strides we made with our personnel. We’re now over 100 employees strong and in 2018 we implemented new policies, procedures and benefit programs to insure a harmonious work place with a work environment that offers an atmosphere of growth, stability and teamwork. - Roger Moore, Nautical Ventures

The 2018 year was a huge challenge for our team. We ended 2017 by losing two key long term managers and our top sales guy. During our busy spring, our service writer quit without warning leaving us with two technicians instead of our typical three.  At the end of 2018, our sales office administrator left with our gel coat technician soon to follow. Needless to say, we were short handed with the workforce being more difficult to obtain the correct team members. We got through the year though and ended up very successful with serving our customers with the high standards we hold ourselves to and even being profitable. I am very proud of our other employees that took the initiative to step up and get the tasks done to provide our customers with stellar service and products. - Marc Shallcross, Reed’s Marine

Staff Development.  We filled open positions with great people and provided resources to help them grow in their roles. - Joe Lewis, Mount Dora Boating Center

The biggest achievement/accomplishment we made in the last year was to hire a General Manager for the store and to start a training process for him. During this last 7 months, a milestone was taking him to his first 20 group meeting this fall. Additionally, in terms of curiosity, we added a ninja course and redemption games to our showroom for the winter. It is based primarily on a shoppertainment retail business model. We had over 500 paying ninjas over the Christmas break. - Adrian Spiker, Deep Creek Marina

Each month, MRAA connects with dealership management on a timely and relevant topic and publishing their insights at Tell us what you have to say about this month’s question by commenting below and participating in the conversation. Also, watch for next month’s question.

Tags:  continuous improvement  dealer development  dealer to dealer  discussions  growth 

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Dealer to Dealer: September

Posted By Mickaela Hilleren, Tuesday, September 25, 2018

What do you do to foster teamwork between dealership departments?

"We provide lunch for our entire crew, every day, 12 months a year. When we are extremely busy, the crew will eat on the run and not leave the dealership. When things are little slower we gather around while eating and have a daily meeting from all departments in order to address problems and listen to suggestions. We work with a local restaurant to provide lunch daily for $60.00. Granted it’s close to $20k a year, but all it takes is a couple missed boat sales or infuriated customers because of the lack of staff over the lunch hour to cost us even more!" - Dennis Robbins, Robbins Marine



Each month, MRAA connects with dealership management on a timely and relevant topic and publishing their insights at Tell us what you have to say about this month’s question by commenting below and participating in the conversation. Also, watch for next month’s question.

Tags:  continuous improvement  dealer development  dealer to dealer  discussions  growth 

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