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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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50 Reasons to Attend Dealer Week by our 100th Registrant

Posted By Mickaela Hilleren, Wednesday, March 13, 2019

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

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

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

    2. We share quality time with other dealers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    12. We keep up with up marine industry news.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    21. We make new contacts and network.

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

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

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

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

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

    27. We can win prizes.

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

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

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

    31. We get to wear shorts during the winter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    46. We really enjoy the whole experience.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Communication Is Key, Right?

Posted By Allison Gruhn, Monday, September 24, 2018

How many times have we heard the cliché that “communication is key”? Or, that it’s better to over-communicate to avoid misunderstandings?

In customer relationships, it is not enough to merely communicate.  Here’s a recent experience of mine that I believe proves that how often you are communicating with your customers and what you are actually saying, is even more important. Is your message sincere? Or is it just lip service?   

Last summer, a storm rolled through Minneapolis and caused damage to our siding and roof. After many “storm chasers” knocked on our door to offer services, my husband and I decided to go with a contractor who was recommended from a friend, and who lived in our area. We had an initial meeting to discuss the work that was needed, and decided to add-on some additional home improvement items. Our contract was signed and we were excited to have the work begin.

And then we waited. And waited. And waited.

Just waiting for the work to begin was agonizing. We signed our contract in August, with the promise that the work would be completed in time for Thanksgiving. But we waited. Waited for materials to be delivered, for a dumpster to be delivered, for any communication of a timeline. Anything.

We finally reached out to our contractor, who instead of taking a proactive approach and communicating with us a plan about the work schedule, left us hanging with multiple excuses of “I haven’t heard from the siders yet” or “I’m waiting for the shingles to be delivered” or “the materials were delayed from the factory” or “I ordered the wrong garage door,” or … or … or. At one point, we actually received a message that said: “We haven’t forgotten about you. Sorry about my crummy communication skills. I’ll let you know as soon as I know a better timeline.”

After every excuse, we waited days to weeks with no communication or updates, which caused us to become upset and frustrated. It seemed as if we were always the ones to be reaching out to him, instead of him contacting us first. But more importantly, when he did finally respond to us, he’d make promises he wouldn’t deliver on. So we lost faith in his words.

So the question here is, how do you stay in touch with your customers? When their boat is in for service, do you wait hours, days, a week or even a month before providing an update? When that part finally shows up, do you let the customer know, or do you just let the technician know? When your customer’s new boat is on order, are you diligent about communicating updates from the factory with them?

It is not enough to just communicate. That is the basic expectation. What you say and how you say it is just the first step. If you wait until the customer asks, you’re not meeting expectations. You need to be proactive with your communication. Think through what it’s like to be the customer and how you can exceed expectations and deliver an incredible buying and ownership experience. And never forget that your follow-through -- what you do after you make the promises – is what truly defines the quality of the customer experience.

Tags:  communication  continuous improvement  customer experience  expectations  experience  Experiences  misunderstandings  relationships 

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Hi, I Have Tattoos

Posted By Nikki Duffney, Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Hello, my name is Nikki and I have tattoos. As an elder millennial, it was almost a rite of passage to get my first tattoo in 2002 at 18 years old and I have clear memories from each experience that has left permanent ink on my skin.

In my most recent tattoo experience, I was visiting friends in California and decided to get tattoos at the same shop for a Flash Friday event. My friend recommended a shop she knew and trusted that has almost perfect reviews and a beautiful space. I was in!

We arrived, picked out our designs and my friend saw the artist she typically sees. Since I wanted to try to get tattooed at the same time, I went with the next available artist. This was my mistake, big mistake. The artist I chose to work with brought with him a heavy emotional life story, that he chose to share very intimate details with us about. I was uncomfortable to say the least, and it was more from his attempts at conversation than it was about the needles in my skin.

Today, I have a beautiful tattoo that reminds me of this man’s emotional life story rather than the wonderful memory I had hoped to create with my friend. I feel, in this case, my customer experience was tainted by one bad employee that didn’t understand his negativity was impacting my experience. Think about it – if your employee is having a bad day and working with a customer, what kind of story are they telling?

Tags:  customer experience  emotional  employees  experience  millennial  story 

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Take the time to understand your customers

Posted By Liz Keener, Thursday, August 16, 2018

A couple months ago I bought my first brand-new motorcycle. In the process, I visited five different dealerships and had five vastly different experiences. The reason I bought from the fifth? The salesperson got me.

My first interaction with Bryce was through a quote request form on the dealership’s website. He responded quickly, giving me an out-the-door price down to the penny, and he asked where I’d be coming from to check out the bike he had on the floor. I told him I’d be coming from my office over lunch, and he was enthusiastic with a reply of “That would be awesome! I'll see ya then.”

I walked in and immediately saw the bike I had inquired about, and soon I heard, “Liz?” Not only was Bryce nearby, ready to help any customer, but he was ready to help me, remembering my name and which bike I was coming in to look at.

He didn’t have all the answers – like when I asked the difference between the 2017 model and a pre-owned 2015 I was considering at another dealership – but he had the right answers, and he understood what I was looking for and what I needed as a newer rider. He assisted me in ordering my lowering kit; he helped me navigate financing. He was patient with me when I changed my mind after leaving the dealership and decided to go with the ABS model versus the non-ABS that we had spent most of our time talking about. He wasn’t judgmental that I was a new rider, a female, or a millennial.

Bryce took the time to learn about what I wanted and why, and he didn’t sit around rattling off features and benefits that were unimportant to me.

When we as customers are looking to make a significant purchase – a motorcycle, a boat, a house, anything that requires a decent investment – we want to trust that the person who is selling the product has our best interests in mind.

Are you making those connections with your customers? Do you “get” them? That’s the type of experience they’re looking for when they walk in your door.

Tags:  connections  customer experience  customer service  dealerships  experience  motorcycle dealerships 

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Their Loss, Our Gain

Posted By Liz Walz, Wednesday, August 8, 2018
My 13-year-old son, Nathan, and I spent an hour yesterday in a car dealership, signing the papers on a new vehicle. Nathan is passionate (obsessed is probably a better word for it) about anything that has a steering wheel, from the boat and the lawn tractor to his go-cart and the family cars.

While my lease didn’t expire until October, Nathan began researching new vehicles last Christmas break, and he hasn’t let up. If we had it my way, we would have waited to turn in our lease until the day it was due – and probably would have saved a few thousand dollars. But that would have meant enduring another three months of debate with a 13-year-old over the benefits of this feature vs. feature and this model vs. that one.

So, Nathan accompanied me to the dealership, partly out of his passion to be in a business full of cars, and partly so I would choose a vehicle that met his standards. As I was signing the papers, I shared with the salesman that Nathan has considered a career in car sales. He has a natural way with people. He loves to be behind the wheel. And all his time researching cars online has made him an encyclopedia of specifications and options.

I’m thinking that this guy has the opportunity to give my son the encouragement to chase his dream, to get paid to pursue his passion. He has the power to not only influence him to follow in his footsteps, but also to change my kid’s life.

Or not. The salesman – a 60-something who has been selling cars since he was 19 – rolls his eyes and says: “Go to college, kid!”

Opportunity lost. Experience ruined.

 As dealers, it’s our job to focus on the customer experience. A big part of their experience is determined by whether they’re interacting with people who love what they do for a living. Your employees’ passion can not only attract people to want to buy from you and to engage at a higher level in boating (or driving), but it also can inspire people to want to work alongside you. Or not.

When it comes to careers, boating actually has a BIG advantage over other industries. Whether you’re selling or servicing boats, you get the chance to bring people together on the water with their friends, their family and the natural world to have fun and to escape from the stress of life on land.

If your dealership hires employees who believe in the incredible value of what you provide to your customers and train them to apply that enthusiasm to delivering a great customer experience, we can not only attract and retain more customers, but also spark more interest in working in our businesses and our industry. If other industries fail to do the same, their loss, our gain.

Tags:  customer experience  dealer development  dealer focused  employee satisfaction  experience  Experiences 

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MRAA History: Panel Dicussions

Posted By Mickaela Hilleren, Thursday, July 26, 2018
Panel discussion have been a hallmark of MRAA’s Annual Conference throughout the years. This two-tiered panel tackled the problems of the day through these dealer experts.

Tags:  Annual conference  Annual meetings  dealer development  dealer focused  experience  mraa history  networking 

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MRAA History: MRAA Conference Booth

Posted By Mickaela Hilleren, Thursday, July 19, 2018
Updated: Thursday, July 19, 2018
Throughout the 40 years of MRAA’s Annual Conference, the MRAA booth has been known by many names — MRAA Info Center, MRAA Rewards Pavilion, etc. — but no matter the name, MRAA’s team has always stood ready to support our dealers — at the conference or otherwise.

Tags:  Annual conference  conference booth  dealer development  dealer education  dealer focused  experience  mraa history  MRAA staff  networking  supportive 

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MRAA History: The Decade of the Dealer

Posted By Mickaela Hilleren, Thursday, July 12, 2018
Updated: Wednesday, July 18, 2018

In 1989, MRAA celebrated its 8th Annual National Conference, with a look ahead to the 1990s, a decade that we called the "Decade of the Dealer.” MRAA President Phil Keeter was quoted in this article as saying, "The retail marine dealer is the linchpin of the industry.” Today, we just consider every decade as the Decade of the Dealer!

Tags:  Annual conference  dealer  dealer development  dealer focused  experience  Experiences  history  mraa history  past  throwbackthursday 

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Fact or Fiction? Customers Will Give You Their Contact Info

Posted By Katie Eichelberger, Wednesday, July 11, 2018
According to research conducted by Discover Boating in its “First Time Boat Buyer Research,” the answer is, “FACT,” for 66% of buyers. But only after they have purchased from you. Which makes it obvious, that trust is an issue.

Members of the MRAA team attended a presentation by David Horsager, and we can tell you that 1. There’s a reason he calls himself a “trust expert,” and; 2. It is the exact reason we’ve chosen him to be our 2018 MDCE Opening Keynote. He taught us that in order to successfully build trust amongst consumers, it first starts with your employees and their relationship building skills with those customers.

Relationships are built on asking the right questions, showing your genuine desire to find them exactly what they want. Consumers are looking for a unique and personalized experience.

I know, I know, you have heard this before. But are you actually taking the time to ask the right questions to build that relationship and in term, their loyalty?

Once a positive relationship is built, you are one step closer to having their loyalty. But not until then. After you have their loyalty through relationship building, they’ll refer to you as the expert and share that positive experience with everyone they know. And therefore, your business has greater success.

Tags:  customer experience  dealer development  Discover Boating  experience  first-time boat buyer  keynote  loyality  mdce  trust 

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Determine who comes first

Posted By Liz Walz, Tuesday, April 4, 2017

There’s no doubt that there are aspects of the marine industry and the individual companies that make it up that are unique compared to other industries and businesses.

But exactly how different the factors that drive success in a given marine business vary from a similarly sized business in another industry … well, that’s debatable. Are they 60 percent the same? 90 percent the same?

Today, I’m leaning more toward 90 percent. In a book I’m reading called, “Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business,” the author – one of the most respected entrepreneurs of the restaurant industry – writes about his formula for success, which involves providing “enlightened hospitality” to his customers.

One of his core strategies is putting employees first, a concept that can apply to just about any organization. Easy to say, harder to do. Especially in an industry like the restaurant business with all the turnover it experiences. But that’s precisely why he does it.

“There are five primary stakeholders to whom we express our most caring hospitality and in whom we take the greatest interest,” writes Danny Meyer. “Prioritizing those people in the following order is the guiding principle for practically every decision we make, and it has made the single greatest contribution to the ongoing success of our company.”

  1. Our employees
  2. Our guests
  3. Our community
  4. Our suppliers
  5. Our investors

When he says “ongoing success,” what he really means is sustainable profits, which he argues is near impossible to achieve without a team of dedicated employees providing the best possible service to your customers.

If you put investors first – and let’s be clear: when he writes “investors” he’s talking primarily about delivering a return on investment for himself, his friends and family – “there will inevitably be a revolving door of staff members who, finding themselves in a business culture that does not place their own or the customers’ interests ahead of the other key stakeholders, will quickly cease to feel particularly proud, motivated or enthusiastic about coming to work,” he writes.

But what does it mean

It’s easy to get behind an idea like putting employees first. But what truly interests me is how it’s practiced in the business.

So many companies will tell you about their “values” or “mission” or “culture,” but even when management has the best of intentions, it rarely seems to be reflected in the day-to-day experience of the employee or the customer.

Here’s a few ways that Danny practices what he preaches in his restaurants:

  • Staff roundtable discussions where employees provide feedback on how they feel the business is performing;
  • Monthly dining voucher program through which staff can dine at the restaurant in exchange for completing a detailed questionnaire about their experience;
  • Walk the Talk” survey where employees rate the company’s leadership and management.

The best dealers in the industry have found similar ways to improve and grow their business.

  • Marine Industry Certified Dealerships adopt an Employee Satisfaction Process that includes conducting an annual survey, sharing the results with their team and using their insight to improve the way they do business.
  • Other dealers ask employees to rate their managers as part of the company’s performance review process.
  • And still others use more informal strategies, like employee suggestion boxes (They’re not just for customers!) and asking for feedback during company and one-on-one meetings.
  • We want to know: Do you believe in putting employees first? Why or why not? And if so, how do you do it? Respond to this blog or email me at

As I learn more about other industries, I’m beginning to suspect that regardless of the size or target customer of a business – or even the product, the foundation on which success is built is much the same.

As Danny writes, “You may think, as I once did, that I’m primarily in the business of serving good food. Actually, though, food is secondary to something that matters even more. In the end, what’s most meaningful is creating positive, uplifting outcomes for human experiences and human relationships. Business, like life, is all about how you make people feel. It’s that simple, and it’s that hard.”

Tags:  employees  experience  hospitality  satisfaction  sustainable profits 

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