Marine dealers say richer educational content (and more of it), useful seminars and engaging keynote speakers added up to make the 2014 Marine Dealer Conference & Expo a highly valuable event that will help their businesses.
“I found the entire event to be fantastic,” says Keith King, owner of Ocean Marine Group Inc. in Ocean Springs, Miss., a boat dealer for the Triton, Chaparral, Hurricane and Barracuda brands and several outboard companies. “This being my first MDCE, I did not know what to expect, but was very impressed. I gained beneficial knowledge from each seminar I attended and will bring more team members with me next time.”
Marc Savage, co-owner of Orleans Boat World & Sports in Ottawa, Ontario, attended the November event for the first time, too. He was impressed with the overall organization and the quality of speakers and seminars.
“We’ve been meaning to go for the last five years or so, but it’s a busy time of year for us,” Savage says. “This year we made sure we carved out the time, and [attending] was one of the best moves we’ve done for business.”
Savage, who went with co-owner Dan Proulx, took away “a little of this and a little of that” from the seminars he attended. He has already begun implementing strategies and ideas from the conference. For instance, the service department will now fill out a checklist of service items when a boat or engine is brought into the dealership for work. Previously, only a walkaround was performed.
“We are also more aware of the fact that we have to address the ‘Y’ generation and determine how we can get them interested in boating,” Savage says. Orleans Boat World & Sports is a dealer for Legend, Stratos, Ranger and Larson powerboats, Bennington pontoon boats and Evinrude outboards.
This was the fifth year at MDCE for Doug Giuliana, president of Advantage Yacht Sales in Newburyport, Mass. He says this year’s event was clearly the best because of the quality of the keynote presentations and educational sessions. In addition, “the speakers were engaging and presented useful content. It was fun to be there,” Giuliana says. “I enjoyed being there. The sessions were more effective this year because they involved issues that will help me with my business, with my responsibilities.”
For Giuliana, the “Back to Sales Basics” pre-conference workshop stood out. “You already are aware of many of these sales fundamentals, but you may have forgotten them or were unsure of the concrete steps you could take to further the effort.”
MDCE content is improving because the MRAA really does listen and react to feedback, Giuliana says. This was reinforced during the last day of the event when Giuliana bumped into MRAA vice president Liz Walz. The two exchanged pleasantries, and Walz immediately asked ,“How can we do a better job next year?”
Giuliana has responded: Event organizers should let conferees know prior to the event which sessions will be captured on videotape. “You may want to attend two seminars that are at the same time,” he says. “If you know which one is videotaped, you’d go to the other one.”
Karen Davidson is the general manager of Green Cove Marina in Brick, N.J., a 250-slip marina with winter storage and a dealer of Southwind boats.
“[The event] really re-energized me and gave me a renewed sense of opportunity,” Davidson says. “I was really anxious to come back and share my experience with my team.”
Davidson had thought the company was doing a good job using social media, but she attended the pre-conference workshop “Don’t Flunk This Test” in which the ARI’s Bob McCann and Lisa Buller helped conferees benchmark their social media performance.
“I realized we were paying for social media, but not using it to its fullest extent as a tool,” Davidson says.
After the conference, she jumped on the phone and arranged a meeting with her digital marketing personnel to begin building a plan to enhance results across digital channels.
The conference featured four learning tracks — leadership, sales, marketing and service. Under the sales umbrella, Davidson absorbed useful tips during business speaker Don Cooper’s “Opportunity Walks: Why most Prospects Don’t Buy.”
Cooper, who carries the moniker “the sales heretic,” pointed out that the personal hygiene and appearance of the sales force make a difference in establishing a comfort level with customers.
“If a customer is stepping back from a salesperson due to a tobacco smell or other reason, how are you going to establish a good sales relationship?” Davidson asks, reacting to Cooper’s presentation. “Other simple things, like a good handshake and looking people in the eye, are important.”
This article originally appeared in the January 2015 issue.