ORLANDO, Fla. — The Marine Retailers Association of the Americas announced Tuesday that it launched four initiatives to broaden its services to the industry, including improvements to the dealer certification program and the creation of tools to connect employers and job seekers and to foster business-to-business activity.
The MRAA has gathered a head of steam in its growth and enthusiasm in the last six months, according to MRAA president Matt Gruhn.
“With all the progress we’ve made over the past two or three years, we feel like this is our biggest year,” Gruhn told me after an MRAA luncheon at the Marine Dealer Conference & Expo. “Our team has been extremely energized and eager to bring all these programs and products and services to life. The MRAA is here to serve the industry and to do a better job of helping dealers find success and continue to grow their businesses.”
The MRAA has worked to improve dealer certification by simplifying the participation process, creating more online virtual interaction and online resources, making participation more affordable and reducing the frequency of recertification. The group has also stepped up its marketing efforts.
“We’ve been told the program lacks marketing, but now we have videos explaining and promoting certification that certified dealers can use to show customers and help sell their dealership,” Gruhn said. The videos — one featuring powerboating, one sailing and a third with both — each run about 2 minutes.
On Jan. 1 the association is also launching MRAATraining.com, which provides a direct link to the dealer certification program’s new interactive virtual training that walks you through the process at your own pace. The training website also includes a new MRAA marine industry career center, which aims to connect job seekers with marine businesses.
The American Boat & Yacht Council and the MRAA are working together on the career center effort (www.mraa.com/careercenter). Businesses can post job openings and use tools to help them find the right employees to better manage their workforce and job seekers can search through the open positions and post their resumes, Gruhn said.
The MRAA also created a Marine Industry Directory, an online list of businesses and the products and services they offer.
“We have had a lot of companies asking us how to get in touch with a specific company or which companies have certain products available,” Gruhn said. “We expect the directory to connect dealers with the suppliers and the manufacturers they are looking for.”
The group also will create four electronic “guide to success” books for free download from the MRAA website.
Discover Boating report
The MRAA is a partner with Grow Boating, so Joe Lewis, chairman of the Grow Boating initiative and Discover Boating, gave MDCE conferees at the luncheon an annual update. He said the campaign has enjoyed a successful year, attracting 3.4 million visitors to discoverboating.com; in 2014, discoverboating.com sent 1.8 million people to boat manufacturer websites to shop — an 83 percent increase from 2013.
“We were hoping for 800,000, but we just blew that out of the water with 1.8 million people,” Lewis told me after his presentation. He explained that the web surfers had already begun researching buying a boat by inputting information via the website boat selector tool. “They are already engaged and have taken the next step and gone to the manufacturer’s site,” Lewis said. “Our job is getting them from thinking about boating to actually becoming a shopper.”
Lewis also said the campaign has benefited greatly from increased video content on the website and the “Stories of Discovery,” which include country singer Jake Owen, who grew up in Florida boating and fishing. Owen promoted boating during his “Days of Gold” concert tour, making appearances on national television. His last tour show was in October.
“We will continue our relationship with Jake, but we’re not sure in what fashion,” Lewis said. “He is a great ambassador for boating because he genuinely loves boating. It’s in his blood.”
The MRAA promoted director of education Liz Walz to vice president.
Walz, 39, served as director of membership and marketing from August 2012 to November 2013 and then as director of education.
“This event and its education is all Liz,” Gruhn said. “She is behind every educational aspect that we offer. She has an intense focus on what and how we can deliver services to dealers to help them grow.”
Walz worked at Boating Industry magazine for about 12 years before coming to the MRAA.
“Dealers have an incredible impact on the industry because they are on the front lines and bring boating to life for customers, so the big picture is to help them improve and grow,” she said.