ORLANDO, Fla. — The Marine Retailers Association of the Americas has consistently improved its Marine Dealer Conference & Expo during the last few years, adding education and training opportunities, but the benefits will keep rolling in throughout the entire year with membership in the association, MRAA president Matt Gruhn told dealership professionals.
“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 at a state-of-the industry luncheon on Tuesday.
An education-based organization, the MRAA allows dealers to use its privileges and programs to help them develop a higher level of performance, said Gruhn.
“People find [the MRAA] through the MDCE event, but the MDCE is not the only area where we offer education,” he said, noting that 20 attending dealerships were not association members.
Gruhn outlined the perks that kicked in this year and new ones to come in 2016.
- The online resource center and virtual training programs were launched last year.
- Virtual training now will include programs from highly regarded consultants, such as Valerie Ziebron of Yamaha University and motivational speakers Jeffrey Gitomer and Sam Dantzler.
- A Virtual Training subscription was launched this year. For $60 a month, as many as 25 members of a dealership can access all 22 sessions in the MDCE’s four tracks via online videos. The subscription is only being offered during the conference and expo — and only to this year’s MDCE attendees.
- The Marine Industry Certified Dealership Program has added a new benefit exclusively for certified dealerships. (Last year, Discover Boating transferred ownership of the certification program to the MRAA.) Participants at any level of the MICD Program are entitled to business insurance coverage through CNA, the MRAA’s endorsed insurance company.
CNA is partnering 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 handed out Tuesday to five dealerships: Advantage Yacht Sales, Mount Dora Boating Center, Sea Ray of Cincinnati, Texas Marine and the Colorado Boat Center. Gruhn said a total of $12,555 was reimbursed.
The MRAA has stepped up its marketing of the certification program through NMMA boat shows, Grow Boating support and Bonnier Corp./Boating magazine.
New this year is free educational programming via monthly courses for certified dealers.
An MRAA initiative has begun 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 Trade Only after the luncheon.
Besides improving health insurance, the program also would give assistance to ensure compliance with Obamacare regulations that will take effect Jan. 1.
“Right now we’re building census data to understand members’ ages, genders and insurance plans,” Gruhn 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. (which does 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 [years old], 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 and they led to 1 million referrals to state and local fishing websites.
Blackwell was excited to cite data — some of it new — that illustrates Discover Boating’s recent success. More than 30 million people have seen the “Stories of Discovery” videos; 750,000 people have liked the Discover Boating Facebook page; 5.3 million people visited the website; there were 2,400 positive stories in the media last year; and Discover Boating drove 2.9 million referrals to boat manufacturer websites.
Boat ownership trends have heightened the importance of pushing boating to the younger generation. The bottom line is boat owners continue to get older, said Blackwell, referring to a bar graph in his slideshow presentation.
For instance, in 1997, about 11 percent of new-boat sales came from the 50-54-year-old segment. That number increased over the years, and in 2013 it had risen to more than 14 percent, he said.
Also, in 1997 boat owners younger than 50 represented 55 percent of boaters; 17 years later that number had dropped 20 points, to only 35 percent, Blackwell said.