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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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Sharpen your team’s phone skills today

Posted By Nikki Duffney, Thursday, April 9, 2020

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


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



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


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


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


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


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

Tags:  customer experience  marine industry  phone skills  Training 

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#trainingdaywithMRAA Recap: What I Can't Stop Thinking About

Posted By Mickaela Hilleren, Tuesday, April 17, 2018

It has almost been a week since last Friday’s #trainingdaywithMRAA, and I can’t stop thinking about what Theresa Syer said in her session, “Make Customer Service Your Competitive Advantage.”

“According to the IPSIS Mori Study, emotionally engaged customers are 3-times more likely to recommend you to others.”

Whoa. We all know that the moment a potential buyer can picture their children (or dog, in my case) sitting in that new boat, the sale is closed. People are emotional creatures. So how can we use this information to keep customers returning to your dealership and bringing their friends?

Theresa says we need to shift our focus from the single task that needs to be completed (ie. selling a boat) to a future focus that will keep customers coming back for more. This happens when the customer is greeted upon arrival, is escorted to the place they need to be, is offered professional advice without cost, is given an above and beyond customer experience that they can’t stop thinking about.   

We shouldn’t strive to get customers in and out of the door as soon as possible; but instead create a unique experience for them to be wowed by. They are going to remember their experience when they need service on their new boat because you made things different for them.

Join the #trainingtrio on Twitter every Friday morning for their weekly #trainingdaywithMRAA session.

Tags:  #trainingdaywithMRAA  #trainingtrio  buyers  customer  customer experience  customer service  emotional  focus  training 

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How to Coach In the Heat of the Season

Posted By Bob McCann, Tuesday, May 30, 2017
Memorial Day Weekend is a memory. The winter shows are over. The spring cleaning is done. All the boats once in storage are now in the water. The units sold at the shows have been delivered. And sales training is complete.

Wait a minute! Do we ever stop learning or practicing our skills? Do athletes stop training or practicing when the season starts? The losers might, but the winners are always fine-tuning their skills. They continue to improve all season long to make sure they meet or exceed the goals they set before the season began.

When the season starts is when the coaches, aka Sales and Service Managers, earn their paychecks. Athletes keep their coaches close on the sidelines because pros know that they can get too close to the game and miss opportunities that come their way. A tuned-in Sales Manager with the help of modern-day systems can ensure their salespeople stay with the game plan by selecting the perfect boat for their customer, negotiating a mutually beneficial price, and delivering a better-than-expected buying experience. And a tuned-in Service Manager with the help of modern-day systems can ensure their technicians, riggers, yard staff and service writers stay with the game plan by selecting the perfect maintenance package for their customer, operating at high efficiency, and delivering a better-than-expected service experience.

I hear too often working with Certified Dealers that training is scheduled for the fall, and they have no plan to revisit what they learned during the offseason. Tell me it’s not so! Your favorite players continually develop and practice their skills, and you should do the same all season long.

Dealer Principles, Sales and Service Managers: We know this is a crazy time of year. We need to sell boats and keep up with the demand for service. We agree: It is time to put our heads down and sell, sell, sell and service. But there is still time to sharpen our skills during the game. I find that most dealers are still meeting with their sales and service teams on a regular schedule during the season. Since you’ve found the time to meet, make the most of this time and always touch on training.

I learned a formula for a successful meeting years ago during my Ford days that is a simple to execute and can apply to any dealership department. Every meeting should include:
  1. Recognition. They crave it and don’t get enough of it, which our Employee Satisfaction Survey results confirm. Note what they are doing well and give them a shout out. This requires making notes all week and reviewing them before your meeting.

  2. Housekeeping. Every dealership must stay on top of deals, scheduled jobs, deliveries, and the does & don’ts.

  3. Training. End every meeting with something that will help them sell or service a boat today. Take 10 minutes to review those nuggets you learned in the offseason so they don’t forget to use the information they’ve already picked up. Keep it simple. Go around the room and ask each salesperson why now is a good time to buy a boat. Each will have to think and answer, but often the biggest learning opportunity comes from the sharing of ideas. Or ask each technician how they can improve their efficiency or the customer experience. Or break-out those takeaways from MDCE. Review a page or two of your notes – or even better, an MDCE video or two – to relive those moments of brilliance in December and put the lessons to work. This is what good coaches do for their teams!

If after weeks of positive reinforcement, you still have a couple of team members not conforming to the process, meet with them privately for a refresher course that notes their deficiencies using my proven formula: Hug ‘em, Smack ‘em, Hug ‘em! Simply, start the conversation with what they are doing right. Give them the desired direction, and finish with some basic math: adding together what they are doing right along with the adjustment, which will end with a better result.

Champions never stop learning – and practicing what they know. When you make it a priority to carve out a few minutes a day during the heat of the summer to take advantage of the investments made in the off-season, you will reap the rewards of building a stronger foundation for success.

Tags:  housekeeping  off-season  positive reinforcement  recognition  Sales Managers  Service Managers  skills  Training 

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A common misunderstanding

Posted By Bob McCann, Tuesday, March 28, 2017
In the year and half that has passed since taking on the roll as Lead Certification Consultant, I’ve witnessed a common misunderstanding among many dealers concerning the literal translation of the requirements for Certification.

It was bestowed upon me by the MRAA staff and the dealers who sit on our Board of Directors that each requirement has an intent. In order to fulfill the Certification requirement, a dealer must meet the intent of the requirement or standard, not the literal translation. As a consultant, I recommend dealers fulfill these requirements by the most simple and effective method allowed – ideally, using the tools a dealer already has in place, though I also make the dealer aware of cost effective solutions others are using.

That was my strategy when I sold cars. I hated filling out paperwork when I could be selling more cars!  I was amazed by the redundancy of filling out forms that asked for the same exact data, like the sales agreement, AVC form, credit app, odometer forms, temporary registration, and others the government kept adding to protect the customer from me!  

So, I wrote a basic program for my Commodore Vic-20 to print out these forms in minutes, which saved me all kinds of time and shortened the purchase experience for the customer. A side effect of this effort was floppy disks full of names and addresses that allowed me to print letters after I talked my dealer into buying tractor-feed letterhead for my dot matrix printer to stay in touch with my customers and prospects. A more timesaving way to fold, lick, and stamp envelopes is another story!

The point is: Dealers like you created the Certification requirements and agreed that they were the best practices to elevate the customer experience and make dealers more money. Now it’s the MRAA’s responsibility to make them easier to adhere to vs. unnecessarily adding work to your day.

As an example, Certification requires dealers to supply sales follow-up logs with customer name, sale date, call date, person calling and call results. To satisfy the requirement, you must show 100 percent follow-up by phone within seven days of delivery. If a dealer is currently using a CRM system that prompts the team to contact the customer at predetermined post sale intervals (7-day minimum) and generates a report that shows them complying 100 percent, that satisfies the requirement. In fact, it’s exactly what we’re looking for: a method that is integrated right into a dealer’s everyday tools that helps them sell and service more boats.

When we see a separate form filled out that shows post sale follow-up, we look to help the dealer find a way to make use of processes or tools already installed at the dealership to eliminate additional forms or paperwork used exclusively for becoming Certified. Each of the Certification requirements must be fulfilled naturally in your daily routine or they will become a burden rather than a means of enhancing the customer experience and dealer profits.

Your Certification consultants have spent their entire careers looking for the easiest and most effective ways to achieve success. We seek to help our Certified dealers do the same.

Tags:  certification  consultants  intent  requirements  resources  training 

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No time for training

Posted By Bob McCann, Tuesday, March 21, 2017

During my early days running a dealership and then later at Channel Blade, we constantly made or heard the excuse: “We don’t have time for training. We need to work the phones or sell or fix something.” 

We learned later that not dedicating time to training cost us a ton in wasted time! Not to mention lost customers and sales because the crew wasn’t up to speed on their product, the competitor’s products, or the sales skills to help people buy.

Dealers today still find it difficult to dedicate time for training. That was the subject of a conversation I had with Liz Walz leading up to MDCE 2016. If you know Liz, you know that she is extremely passionate about dealer education and works vigorously to produce hours of training on multitudes of topics by industry experts, available at MDCE and in the MRAA Resource Center and MRAA Interactive Virtual Training System. She gets frustrated knowing that dealers are struggling to take advantage of training that could make a real difference for their team.

That’s where I came in. Liz asked me to create a training workshop at MDCE to show dealers how easy it is to create a simple plan to educate their people without adding more hours to the day. Fortunately, Liz asked me early in the year, as it took most of that time to find ways to make the process simple, with just a few steps.

We gave the workshop at MDCE, offering a complementary workbook to help attendees learn:

  • The why behind training
  • Who needs training
  • How to define your training needs and set training goals
  • Where to find training resources
  • How to schedule training
  • How to track and assess the results

It’s really that simple: determine who needs training, what training you need, what’s the goal for the training, find the training, and then schedule it! Schedule it? That’s the problem! We can help you find unique ways to work training in more often without working longer hours.

Now, we’re taking the research we did for that workshop and expanding upon it, transforming it into an MRAA Guide to Training that will walk you and your team through the planning (and if needed, budgeting) process from start to finish, offering you the chance to customize your strategy to fit your dealership’s and your team members’ unique needs and interests.

We spend time on getting buy-in from both employees and management. You simply need to find out what your crew wants to learn and keep it in line with management’s priorities. As we mentioned in a recent blog on job descriptions, marine dealers can see a big benefit from performance evaluations. This is yet another reason for them: So you can find out what your employees want and need to learn, instead of just checking the box that you did training. Click here to access the MRAA Member Resource: 10 Tips for Marine Dealership Performance Reviews.

Lastly, to keep training perpetual in your store, it’s important that every course your dealership attends or conducts has a goal and that you track the results. We are confident that when you train on a certain area, you will get better results in that area. When you get better results, you will keep doing what got you the results.

Tags:  education  resources  time management  training 

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Tools to compete in the job market

Posted By Matt Gruhn, Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Good people are hard to find. This statement is as old as any other business cliché, but it has never been more of a slap in the face for me than it is today.

I’m writing this blog as I wait for an interview candidate, who is now more than five minutes late for his interview. The assignment we asked him to complete prior to the interview still hasn’t arrived either. I’d love to exhale and simply move on to the next candidate, but our pool of candidates is bleak.

Five weeks ago, we actually hired someone for this position. She came to the Minneapolis Boat Show with us, a full weekend prior to when she was officially going to start. She had every skill and ability we were looking for, in addition to an eager attitude and a get-it-done mentality. She showed up as planned on Monday, was out until Friday with sick kids, and we haven’t seen her since. Vanished.

The best candidate for the position, after we resumed the recruiting process, took another job the day we were to interview her. Now this next interviewee hasn’t shown up, and it’s more than 10 minutes after his scheduled appointment. Don’t most people show up early for an interview?

I realize I’m singing to the choir here when I complain that it’s tough to find quality employees these days. Our members have been challenged to find technicians for a few years now, and the problem is only getting worse.

MRAA has committed itself to finding solutions for these issues. In fact, for the second year in a row, workforce development issues made our list of top issues to be addressed, which was created by the Advisory Council of Marine Associations, a group of trade association leaders who help to set the MRAA legislative agenda.

In 2016, our efforts created the first MRAA Marine Industry Workforce Assessment. It revealed that more than 21 percent of the positions budgeted to be on dealership payrolls went unfilled in the prior year and suggested that our industry could be short some 31,000 retail employees by 2019. MRAA members can download the assessment here.

In the end, dealers pointed to a few main reasons why they are having trouble finding good employees: the generation gap, a poor transition from schools to the workforce, a lack of tech schools to begin with, the seasonality of our business, a lack of employee training, and an inability to compete with the pay scales of other industries. With a mission to provide solutions for some of these issues, MRAA has:

  1. Held several generation-related topics at the Marine Dealer Conference & Expo. MRAA Retail Members, sign into for access to some of these topics.
  2. Generated a database of marine specific technical schools.
  3. Been working on a guide to dealership training, to be published as a free member resource later this year.
  4. And launched a compensation study to give us a better understanding of the pay scales and structures in the marine industry.

The results of the 2017 MRAA Compensation Study are now available for purchase. For just $299, you can access the high-level executive summary; the full, in-depth report; and an online, dynamic salary calculator that will allow you to run an unlimited number of queries on up to 35 job descriptions, broken down by region, dealership size, and more.

Whether they’re training opportunities or customized resources, these are all tools designed to help you compete better in your market place. The only thing we can’t do is force these people to show up for interviews or for work.

Moving on…

Tags:  Compensation Study  hiring  MRAA  training 

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A Work in Progress

Posted By Liz Walz, Tuesday, February 7, 2017
Updated: Thursday, February 2, 2017

My 11-year-old son, Nathan, is at the age where he no longer places an unwavering faith in the words and actions of his parents. Rather, it seems he’s constantly questioning what we do and say, looking for confirmation – and undoubtedly finding it – that we’re the flawed human beings he has recently begun suspecting us to be.

Of course, I’ve known about my flawed nature all along. And I’ve worked hard to acknowledge it – both at home and at work. I regularly admit to myself, my family and my team that I’m a “work in progress.”

It’s a way to talk back to my inner voice and send a message to those around me at home and at work. If we don’t accept that it’s okay to be flawed, to be human, to try and to fail, then what are the chances that we’re going to take the risk – when we inevitably fall short of perfection – of trying again, of learning from our mistakes and attempting to do it better the next time?

That drive to continuously grow and improve is at the heart of our work at the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas. The one thing that our members have in common is a desire to keep getting better and to ultimately become the best – however you define it. So every benefit, educational program and resource we provide and every partnership we enter into is designed to contribute to that journey.

But if we truly believe in the idea of continuous improvement, then we must actively pursue it ourselves. We can’t call ourselves a “work in progress” if we’re standing still.

That’s the idea behind the launch of the MRAA’s new blog, to be published each week on “Training Tuesday.” By committing to this blog, the MRAA team is promising you that not only will we be working each day and each week to get better at serving you, but we’ll also share what we’re learning along the way. We hope you’ll share what you’re learning on your journey with us too.

After all, the way we see it, we’re in this together. The boating business can’t grow and improve unless marine retailers like you grow and improve. You’re at the heart of this industry, working day in and day out on the front lines, bringing boating to life for families in your local community. We’re here to serve you and your desire to be the best. And like you, we are traveling the sometimes meandering and bumpy path known as progress.

Our end goal is the same. To provide an incredible boating lifestyle that attracts people to the water and to your businesses time and time again.

Make sure you follow along by clicking the subscribe button at the top of this page so you receive notices when we've got more to share with you. Until then...

Tags:  desire  improvement  journey  lifestyle  progress  pursue  training  training tuesday 

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The 20 Group Advantage: An Interview with John Spader

Posted By Liz Walz, Wednesday, January 4, 2017
Updated: Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Following Spader Business Management's launch of a new type of 20 Group, MRAA's Liz Walz sat down with John Spader to discuss the impact of 20 Group participation on marine dealers, the thinking behind the new type of group being developed, and the new education and training discounts offered to MRAA Retail Members.

Liz Walz (LW): Spader Business Management has a long history as a 20 Group Provider to MRAA Members. For those who haven’t experienced a 20 Group, can you tell us about how they work and the benefits they offer to participating dealers? 

John Spader (JS): 20 Groups are groups of non-competing marine dealers who share financial info and successful practices with one another. Belonging to a 20 Group gives you the opportunity to get ideas and strategies from other marine dealers who may have similar goals and objectives as you. Your 20 group becomes, in a sense, your own personal “Board of Directors” that can help you identify ways to make your business more successful and fulfilling. 
LW: When we talk to members who have not experienced a 20 Group before, the three most common concerns we hear about joining are: the time away from the dealership, the sharing of sensitive financial information, and the investment required to participate. Can you speak to these three issues? How do you reassure dealers that it’s worth it to take this leap? 

JS: These are all very common concerns indeed and let's address those one by one.  

With respect to time away from the dealership, in our 40 years of operating 20 Groups, a common comment we hear is: “Before the meeting, I was trying to figure out how I could carve out the time for this meeting, but after participating in the meeting and gleaning so many new ideas and action items that will significantly help our business, I am so glad I came!” 

Sharing sensitive financial info is another hurdle to overcome, but that is the difference between a 20 Group and just a business meeting where people get together to talk about ideas without the actual results to see how good the ideas are working. The financial info only has value when it can be benchmarked against other data. The sharing of financial info amongst members is a cornerstone to the success of 20 Group members. 

The comment we have had from members in regards to the financial investment is that they save more by attending the first meeting and implementing the ideas learned than the first year of membership costs. And is it worth it? Well, let's just say our top performing Marine Industry 20 Group Members are earning 8% to 10% plus nets. Is that worth it?
LW: In our experience, dealers who participate in 20 Groups have a distinct advantage over those who don’t, as they not only are held accountable by their 20 Group peers and facilitators to show real improvement, but they also have a larger network to turn to for advice and best practices when they encounter challenges or opportunities. Do you have any data to back up the idea that 20 Group members are indeed outperforming the marine market or that 20 Group participation delivers a return on investment?  

JS: Whenever we have had the opportunity to compare the average nets of our 20 Group members to aggregate averages of manufacturers or industry lenders, we typically find the 20 Group members average 1.5 to 2.5 times greater net profits. Also, during the last downturn, there was no doubt that 20 Group members, on a whole, adjusted and fared better than the masses. This was confirmed to us by several manufacturers and lenders as well.
LW: Through MRAA’s Young Leaders Advisory Council and Young Professionals Community, we get the opportunity to talk to a lot of up and coming leaders in the dealership. As this new generation takes the helm, they often face the decision of whether to continue their dealership’s participation in a 20 Group or whether to join a 20 Group for the first time. Can you talk about the relationship between succession planning and 20 Group participation?   

JS: In the "Information Era," it's not uncommon for younger professionals to question the impact of 20 Groups since, on the surface, it appears to be all numbers. However, our members would likely tell you: "Yes, the numbers are the numbers, but the secret sauce is not only WHAT the numbers are telling you but more importantly HOW others, in the same industry, can and are producing some amazing results." Not only would I highly recommend 20 Group membership to an up and coming young leader, I would also recommend they get in touch with others who have made the transition and have been thankful to have been part of such a peer group.

After offering 20 Group services for 40 years we have had the opportunity to witness many successions from one generation to the next, and it's very gratifying to know we've played an integral part in many of those successful transitions. So much so that some of our members are 3rd and 4th generation dealerships and a few have recently celebrated 40 years with us. It's just amazing. Transitions, especially within families, have many emotions, issues and challenges that have already been experienced and overcome by other members in the 20 Group. We have seen firsthand the mentoring that takes place within a group as dealerships transition from one generation to the next. It truly is a great place to share with others, to learn and to be coached. 
LW: I understand that Spader Business Management is launching a new 20 Group for the marine industry that is a little bit different than those of the past. What can you tell us about it? 

JS: The objective of this new group is to be more of a developmental peer group for smaller volume dealers who need more hands on training and coaching incorporated into the meetings, seek more coaching and consulting in between meetings and who would benefit from less time away from the dealership. This group will have two face-to-face meetings per year and two coaching/consulting calls between meetings, yet still benefit from the typical benchmarking of data and transfer of successful business practices.  
LW: What types of dealerships would most benefit from this new type of 20 Group? 

JS: Smaller volume dealerships that are seeking the benefits of sharing with a peer group but would like to do it in a format that doesn’t require as much time away from the dealership and gives more one to one coaching and consulting both at and between the meetings.
LW: Why are you launching this new type of 20 Group now? Is there something happening in the industry or within Spader Business Management that is driving it? 

JS: We've identified a need to make the benefits of 20 Group membership available to a broader base of dealerships. 
LW: Of course, 20 Groups aren’t all that Spader Business Management offers. You also provide a host of dealer workshops on topics as diverse as leadership, management, hiring, sales and the service department, as well as one-on-one consulting and even virtual training. If a dealership professional is looking to improve their results, how would you recommend they get started working with Spader?  

JS: In our many years working with dealers, we have created dealer assessments that have proven to be very effective at identifying the best course of action for the greatest impact for a dealer. I would encourage these professionals to contact Spader and speak with someone about administering an assessment for their dealership and then use those results to determine the next steps. 
LW: The MRAA is proud to work alongside Spader Business Management to help our members improve and grow. Can you outline how MRAA members can benefit from our long-term partnership?

JS: Spader Business Management enjoys long-term relationships with MRAA members coast to coast in the United States and Canada. In nearly every situation presented to us, we know of another dealer with the same or similar challenges, how they addressed it and where they are today. A relationship with Spader and MRAA is a combination of not only excellent networking opportunities, but also decades of knowledge, best practices and trends that everyone can benefit from. Both organizations are truly interested in the improvement and profitability of those with which we interact.

Tags:  20 Groups  continuous improvement  education  interview  marine dealer  spader  training 

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