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MDCE 2013: Best Ideas winner set to be announced today

ORLANDO, Fla. — Among the educational sessions held Tuesday at the Marine Dealer Conference & Expo was a panel discussion featuring the four finalists for the fifth annual Best Ideas program.

A representative from each dealership explained its idea and its successful implementation to a full house of conferees, who voted to determine the winner. The winner will be announced today at the MDCE luncheon and will take home an iPad for a prize.

Tonia Blenkarn, co-owner of Desmasdons Boatworks in Ontario, Canada, discussed how the dealership invested in the 18-month development of an app that resulted in streamlined integration of services and communication among the dealership’s departments and customers.

"We asked our customers, staff and managers a lot of questions," Blenkarn said of the development process. "What we found was most problems came down to a breakdown of communication."

The app, named DBW Hub after the Georgian Bay dealership, allows all parties to check on the status of a repair or other service at any point in the process.

Kay Woldman, marketing director at Lake Union Sea Ray in Seattle, discussed the dealership’s implementation this summer of a Feature Boat of the Week program that made free, no-obligation test drives available to anyone who signed up.

It was powered by social media at a low cost and the dealership counted two sales this summer and numerous leads that came directly from the program. Launched in April, it cost the dealership about $10 to $15 a week, including fuel for the sea trials.

A dedicated subpage at the Lake Union website offered the time, place and test boat and solicited customer engagement.

"Our purpose was to engage a younger audience and get them to participate," Woldman said. "We wanted to blend social media with an actual experience."

Jani Gyllenberg, marketing director at Marine Connection in West Palm Beach, Fla., discussed how, frustrated by the cost of paper printing, his dealership invested in digital signs to present a multimedia sign for each boat it displayed at boat shows.

The LCD panel signs, connected to custom servers, allow a constantly changing sign that provides more information and a dynamic video of each boat in an appealing format. Changes to what is displayed on the sign can be made quickly in house, Gyllenberg said.

At $750 to $1,000 a sign, estimates are that each sign pays for itself after three of the seven or eight boat shows where the dealership exhibits each year, he said.

Trevor Campbell, director of operations at Seattle Boat, discussed an entirely different problem-solving scenario. His dealership made national headlines when a July 4 fireworks display caused a fire that burned 14 boats and damaged five others on one of its dry racks. Total damage was $1.5 million.

What distinguished the disaster was the emergency operations plan Seattle Boat had in place. It served the dealership and its customers well. Within hours after the blaze, customers were notified, as was the dealership's insurer, and a proactive media communications plan was in motion.

"The situation escalated so fast, the sooner we could connect with our customers, the better the outcome," Campbell said.

After the fire, the dealership credited the storage accounts for all customers affected and offered free enrollment in its boat rental program "to get them right back on the water," he said.

— Rich Armstrong


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