A focus on the personal touch

Posted on Written by Richard Armstrong

28_focus_01E-mails, newsletters and social media are all in the mix for Mount Dora Boating Center & Marina

Treat every customer like they’re the only customer. That philosophy is ingrained in the culture at Mount Dora Boating Center & Marina, says general manager Joe Lewis. Whether it’s immediately addressing a problem or just helping a customer tie up their boat after a day out, he says dealers who go the extra mile will reap the benefits. “It’s that little stuff that will take you miles,” Lewis says.

29_focusEstablished in 1972, the dealership and full-service marina on Lake Dora in central Florida — with 94 wet and 140 drystack slips — is emerging from the Great Recession with guarded optimism. In fact, Lewis says the dealership, which sells new Crownline runabouts and Harris pontoon boats and a variety of used boats, has turned a net loss in 2010 into a net profit, completing the “best first quarter” in four years. The dealership sold 25 boats in the quarter and a half-dozen were new, Lewis says, attributing the uptick primarily to pent-up demand.

“I think consumers are tired of being afraid of everything,” he says. “People are sensing it’s not Armageddon — the world didn’t end and the sky didn’t fall. They’re getting back into their comfort zone.”

For the first quarter, sales and service were up, as were storage and gas sales. In the good years, the dealership might sell 120 to 150 boats, around $3 million worth of product annually; last year it sold half that.

Lewis acknowledges sales volume may never return to previous highs, so his team is using a new strategy to bring in customers. This year, the company didn’t attend the Miami International Boat Show. Instead, he brought boats to the Orlando Spring Home & Garden Show. In a move organized by the Marine Industry Association of Central Florida, about 100 boats from 10 regional dealers were exhibited at the show. “Some dealers sold some boats, but I wasn’t one of them,” Lewis says, though he was encouraged enough to plan a return next year.

28_focus_02“We took a flyer on this, thinking it gives us a chance to get in front of people that would never think of going to a boat show,” he says. “It gives us a convenient way to pique their interest.”

Participating dealers are talking about improving promotion of the event and possibly organizing a separate boat show to run next to and concurrently with the home show to attract new buyers. “It’s got a lot of possibilities,” he says of the diversified approach to selling.

Service with a smile

Customer service reigns supreme at Mount Dora, from a personal note from Lewis thanking every new customer for joining their family to asking them to rate their buying experience. The dealership has a “Consumer Bill of Rights” posted on its website (www.mt doraboats.com) that lays out what is promised to customers.

Mount Dora recently purchased from the state a listing of every registered boat owner in the region and sent fliers by direct mail to all non-customers. The message on the flier was direct: “Thinking about selling your boat? We want it.” The promotion was well received, and the dealership significantly added to its inventory of used boats. Used and brokerage boats brought in fresh revenue during the leanest years, Lewis says.

28_focus_03The dealership has also started e-mailing a monthly newsletter announcing specials and upcoming events, and it is constantly striving to grow its list of addresses. A company Facebook page is also starting to take shape. It’s all part of the effort to maintain a line of communication with customers and potential customers.

To Lewis, it simply makes good business sense, and he says dealers who neglect these various avenues are “missing an opportunity” to build long-lasting customer relationships that are critical to long-term success.

Mount Dora has also started a boat club and is beefing up its rental fleet in an effort to draw customers who can’t afford a new boat or are unsure whether to take the plunge. “We believe in a very soft sell. I don’t think the hard sell works anymore,” Lewis says. “I think continuing to be nurturing is the way to go for the time being.”

This article originally appeared in the June 2011 issue.

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