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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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Dealer to Dealer: September 2019

Posted By Mickaela Hilleren, Wednesday, September 11, 2019
How have you made purchasing decisions (for the next model year) at recent dealer meetings based on your current inventory levels?

I have brought in 2020 inventory, so that combined with my existing 2019 inventory, it will match my inventory level that I had last year heading into Q4. The primary difference being, last year at this time, I had less leftover 2018 inventory, where as this year roughly 30% of my inventory is MY 2019. Ultimately, my dealer meeting orders are down YOY. – Quinn Bellamy, Silver Lake Marine

We are backing are orders off by 20%. To much inventory and don’t think It will be a problem to find next year. – Ken Toby, Marine Sales Kentuckian

There has been lots of talk of 30% more inventory in the field than last year and I feel that it has a lot of people scared and dumping inventory at low margins.  The explanation in my opinion is two factors.  The obvious one is bad weather for the first part of the year.  The second is not as clear to many dealers and you guys maybe have a better handle on this and can shed some light.  Many dealers I talk with or sell against will often say sometime in May that they are sold out of new boats and can’t get orders fulfilled, etc.  This has gone on for years.  The often heard (and misguided) response to that is, “ that’s a good problem to have!”.  The fact is that it is not at all a good problem, it is poor planning plain and simple.  So now that the economy and consumers have proven over the past 7 years that things are good, dealers have ordered to accommodate demand.  And to do this you need to have stock over the summer when people are using and buying boats.  Just because 2020’s are now on our lots does not mean that you should be clear of all 2019 models.  It takes time to build inventory so if you were to be sold out in June and 2020s start slowly rolling in to your dealership in July, you will not have a full stock until winter.  The “overstock” of inventory is merely a correction of past “understocking” combined with a later start to the selling season.  No need to panic!  Just my .02. – Stuart Litjens, Boulder Boats

Yes, we did make ordering decisions based upon current inventory levels and the compressed selling season we experienced in 2019. The year began with political and economic news that, to some extent, hindered very early-season boat sales. We went into a dark, wet, cold, long spring before boaters saw any real sunshine around July 1. – Tighe Curran, Pier 33

After reviewing our current inventory we have made a decision to cut back on the initial 2020 orders. There are many dealers that have more inventory than previous years. This means there will be a glut of left over inventory and unfortunately dealers are willing to "blow out" their product below normal pricing. Also in the last few months it seems like the retail sales have slowed a little. Also election year is next year and I have seen for the last 45 years the boat sales slow up every four years just before the elections because of the uncertainty but after the elections business as usual.  We will be cautious for the next 12 months but by no means cut back on our normal inventory levels. You can't sell it if you don't have it! – Jim Wiborg, Bob Hewes Boats

Very carefully, still have ‘18s in stock. – Von Skinner, Cozy Cove Marina

Manufacturers have been forcing us to take on more, and in turn put our store into a volatile market. Our area/competition has high inventory levels for this time of year, and if the economy turns we will all be in trouble. While reps share our concerns, they can’t do as much as they could in the past. The continued rising price of new boats, and the cost of warranty to deliver a product in confidence to the consumer is higher. We are now in a situation where it requires more employees just to deliver on the same principles we have in the past, because of poor quality control from the factory. We have scaled back on ordering 2020 product because of this. – Anonymous

The amount of purchasing I'm doing is based on what has turned. I have 4 lines. [Our] purchasing decisions were made based on the idea that it will be a flat or slightly down year – Joe Hoffmaster, Hoffmaster’s Marina

We have, and in most cases we’re anticipating an increase. We doubled the order for one of our best-selling brands, from 40 units in 2019 to 80 units in 2020. – Roger Moore, Nautical Ventures

How have you made your purchasing decisions for next model year? Tell us below in the comment section!

Tags:  continuous improvement  dealer development  dealer to dealer  growth  marine industry  member spotlight 

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MRAA Hits the Road

Posted By Mickaela Hilleren, Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The past few weeks have been busy for dealers like you. Just as you’re seeing the last blast of summer sales, you’re also jumping on planes or driving across the country to visit your reps and peers at manufacturer dealer meetings. And we have been, too!

In the past month, members of the MRAA team have visited meetings for Chris-Craft, Lowe, Bennington, Tiara, Alumacraft, Barletta and Chaparral. And we have more coming soon! We’re spreading the news about Dealer Week, MRAA membership and the Marine Industry Certified Dealership program with the goal of offering you solutions to improve your business and fuel your growth. We’re also sharing information about the Dealer Week Early Bird discount, which ends Sept. 30, and passing along a Certification bundle that allows you to bundle Bronze membership with Certification to take advantage of valuable resources and benefits while completing the Certification program.

If you missed us at your meeting, or if you want more information on anything MRAA has to offer, Nikki can help. Reach Member Development Manager Nikki Duffney at 763-333-2420 or at for the full scoop.

Tags:  Annual conference  certification  continuous improvement  dealer development  dealer education  growth  leadership  marine industry  MICD  MRAA member  networking 

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Dealer to Dealer: August 2019

Posted By Mickaela Hilleren, Tuesday, August 6, 2019
Updated: Wednesday, August 7, 2019
As we push toward the end of the prime selling season, what is the one goal you want to accomplish by the end of the year?

"Figure out why our new boat sales are lacking behind 2018 when every other aspect of our business are well ahead." - Joe Lewis, Mount Dora Boating Center

"The one goal I’d like to accomplish would be to reclaim my sanity. Somewhere between Memorial Day and Labor day, all normal sanity was sucked out of my mind. Hopeful some cooler days and smooth sounds will restore my fried brain cells." - David deAndrade, White Lake Marine

"Top of my list is to reduce the inventory. Our inventory is high for this time of year and the manufacturers are asking for new 2020 orders to either met or exceed last year's orders. Being in this business for over 40 years we know that every election year the business tapers off towards election time. But after the elections, whether a Republican or Democrat is elected, there is business as usual. So we will adjust our inventory accordingly in 2020.  

Also we are training in house for new technicians. We are using our older tech's to train the younger new tech's and compensating the older tech's for their training." - Jim Wiborg, Bob Hewes Boats

"Be billing 80% of paid trades payroll hours." - Jim Dragseth, Whiticar Boat Yard

"We’ve outgrown our current location, both in size and scope. Our goal is to secure a bigger, deep water location that will allow us to inventory more boats, expand our service operations, accommodate more employees, add a full-service marina component, and more. Ideally we would migrate to the new location during 2020." - Roger Moore, Nautical Ventures

"We need to sell through our overstocked and aged inventory. There's also a challenging time ahead so far as inventory planning and management goes. Our primary goal is to identify when and where to shift our ordering and delivery dates, as well as volume of inbound orders." - Greg Knop, Family Boating Center

What do you want to accomplish in the upcoming months? Tell us below in the comment section!

Tags:  continuous improvement  dealer development  dealer to dealer  growth  marine industry  member spotlight 

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Continuous Certification: It’s Like Learning How to Swim

Posted By Mickaela Hilleren, Tuesday, August 6, 2019
Last week, MRAA Lead Certification Consultant, Bob McCann, used the analogy of learning how to swim during our MICD Certification consultant training.

You can imagine it... You’re a kid in a pool. A trusted adult is standing a few feet away and motions you to swim toward them. At the last second they take a step back. What?! You were almost to the finish line and they made a step backwards that challenged you to go farther, to do more.

The MICD Continuous Certification curriculum is kind of like that. Each quarter offers new content that is designed to challenge the way you run your business. We want to make you think.

In Q1, Jim Million takes a step back and provides information on how you can work toward a coaching and mentoring culture that will lead to a more effective workplace.

Q2 addresses the productivity of your leadership team. Ty Bello takes a step back and identifies the areas that may be blocking you from being productive.

Liz Walz and a panel of experts take a step back and help you reconsider how you allocate your staff’s time and talent in sales, marketing and customer service and how your departments collaborate to grab the attention of prospects and customers in Q3.

And if you have caught on, you would guess that Q4 is sure to push you further and challenge the way you run your business in order to bring greater success, as Theresa Syer shows you how to understand and influence your customer’s Key Emotional Drivers.

We hold our Certified dealers to a high standard. They have proven that they have the desire to be the best and be a dealership that continues to strive to be better. So we will continue to take a step back and challenge you to swim.

Tags:  boating industry  continuous improvement  continuous process  dealer development  growth  marine industry  MICD 

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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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Be, Do, Get

Posted By Nikki Duffney, Wednesday, May 22, 2019
Updated: Wednesday, May 22, 2019

I recently completed Skills for Success, a Dale Carnegie course, and one of the many things that I learned was the “Be, Do, Get” concept. The idea is to craft a short statement that outlines the growth you are interested in achieving. I thought this was pretty cool, and could be applied to all areas of my life. My “Be, Do, Get” statement is, “Be authentic, Do the work, Get continual improvement.”

I purposely left mine to be vague as I wanted to be able to apply it to several facets of my life. Here is an example of how I am applying my statement:

I want to show up to work every day with my true self, and be able to treat others with humility and respect. I want to do the work, which can take a different shape depending on the day and needs of the members and organization. Continual improvement, if we are not working on something to develop our tools as professionals, we are complacent with change and not able to move with new opportunity.

I would like to challenge you to think of a “Be, Do, Get” statement that you can apply to yourself or your dealership. Staying focused on how you need to show up, what needs to be done and focus on the outcomes desired will help shape the future you want.

Share your statement in the comments. We would love to see what is fueling your personal growth!

Tags:  authenticity  Carnegie  continuous improvement  growth  personal development  work 

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Step One: Evalute Your Website

Posted By Mickaela Hilleren, Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Step One: Evalute

As a marine retailer, you know that digital marketing is one of the fastest changing areas of your business. You have heard that your website is now your business’ “virtual storefront.” So with that understanding, it is key that your website not only provides its users with great content, BUT it also needs to provide them with a stellar user experience.

As discussed as part of the digital publication, "Evaluate Your Website’s Domain, Design and Digital Content", the first (and arguably the most important) purpose of a website’s design is to prevent a bounce. If you can convince your users to stay on your page for 30 seconds, you have a solid chance that they will stay much longer.

Use the following checklist, that is presented and explained in the whitepaper, to evaluate the USABILITY of your website:

How much time does it take to load the homepage? _________________

Can a visitor find information easily?  YES or NO

Is there a search button for visitors? YES or NO

Do all the links work? YES or NO

Is my site mobile friendly? YES or NO

Is my site compatible with multiple browsers? YES or NO

Are visitors able to navigate between different webpages in a simple an hassle-free manner?

Are all clickable items and navigation buttons clearly marked and easy to identify?

Are all the images clear and easy to see? YES or NO

Are there options for providing me feedback? YES or NO

Is the overall performance of my site acceptable?

Now that you made it through the checklist, what are you doing well? And what did you identify as an opportunity to better your website’s usability? Even one small change can dramatically advance the user experience of your website.

For two more guided checklists and additional guidance on auditing your website’s domain, design, and digital content, MRAA members can login and download the full white paper here.

The digital publication, "Evaluate Your Website’s Domain, Design and Digital Content” is the first in a three-part series, “The 3Ds of Effective Website Marketing,” created through a partnership between MRAA and Dominion Domains.

Tags:  best practices  continuous improvement  customer experience  dealer focused  growth  guides  Industry Guide  online retailers  usability  website 

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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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