The Marine Retailers Association of the Americas has turned the Marine Dealer Conference & Expo into a mammoth learning experience, but the learning can continue throughout the year with membership in the association. That was the principal message from MRAA president Matt Gruhn at the MDCE State of the Industry luncheon.
“The MRAA has gone through an enormous transformation with the idea that we would become more relevant and applicable to you and your business,” Gruhn told several hundred conferees.
An education-based organization, the MRAA allows dealers to use the association’s privileges and benefits to help them develop a higher level of performance in their businesses, said Gruhn. “People find [the MRAA] through the MDCE event, but the MDCE is not the only area where we offer education,” said Gruhn, noting that 20 attending dealerships this year were not association members.
Gruhn outlined the benefits that kicked in this year and new ones to come in 2016.
The online resource center’s virtual training programs now include highly regarded consultants such as Valerie Ziebron of Yamaha University and motivational speakers Jeffrey Gitomer and Sam Dantzler.
The virtual training subscription was launched this year. For $60 a month, as many as 25 employees of a dealership can access all 22 sessions in MDCE’s four tracks via online videos. The subscription was only being offered during the conference and expo — and only to this year’s conferees.
The Marine Industry Certified Dealership Program has added a new benefit exclusively for certified dealerships. Participants at any level are entitled to business insurance coverage through CNA, the MRAA’s exclusively endorsed insurance company.
CNA has partnered with Norman-Spencer Marine Insurance, the association’s endorsed insurance broker, to bring this perk to certified dealers, including insurance premium reimbursements of as much as $750 and no-claims bonus credit (as much as 10 percent of premium costs are returned to the participating dealer).
The first reimbursement checks were given at the MDCE to five dealerships: Advantage Yacht Sales, Mount Dora Boating Center, Sea Ray of Cincinnati, Texas Marine and Colorado Boat Center. A total of $12,555 was reimbursed, said Gruhn.
The MRAA has stepped up its marketing of the certification program through National Marine Manufacturers Association boat shows and support from Grow Boating and Bonnier Corp., publisher of Boating magazine.
New this year is free educational programming via monthly courses for certified dealers. (Last year, Discover Boating transferred ownership of the certification program to the MRAA).
An MRAA initiative has been launched to create a multiple-employer insurance program that would help provide dealers with better health insurance.
“Our members have said that one of their biggest challenges is finding affordable and effective health care,” Gruhn told me after the luncheon.
Besides improving health insurance, the program would provide assistance to make sure they are in compliance with Obamacare regulations taking effect Jan. 1, said Gruhn. “Right now we’re building census data to understand members’ ages, genders and insurance plans,” he added. “Once we have better data we can turn it back to the insurance company, and they can come up with a plan.”
The luncheon also included 10-minute presentations from Frank Peterson, president and CEO of the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation, and Carl Blackwell Jr., president of Grow Boating Inc. (doing business as Discover Boating). Peterson said the foundation is focusing on reaching out to the older generation — grandparents — who can get youngsters into boating.
“If we can engage them before they are 12 we have an 85 percent chance of them sticking with boating,” he said. The RBFF continues to promote fishing and boating through social media and online. Peterson said the RBFF saw 9.1 million visits to its digital assets this year that led to 1 million referrals to state and local fishing websites.
Blackwell was excited to cite data — some of it brand new — that illustrates Discover Boating’s recent success. More than 30 million people have seen the “Stories of Discovery” video; 750,000 people have liked the Discover Boating Facebook page; 5.3 million people visited the Grow Boating website; there were 2,400 positive stories in the media; and Discover Boating drove 2.9 million referrals to boat manufacturer websites.
These efforts are heightened by boat ownership trends. New-boat buyers continue to get older. In 1997 about 11 percent of new-boat purchases were made by people ages 50 to 54. That number increased over the years, and in 2013 it had risen to more than 14 percent.
This article originally appeared in the January 2016 issue.