MDCE 2017: Kenton Smith receives Darlene Briggs Award

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Wanda Kenton Smith, who received the Darlene Briggs Woman of the Year Award, is shown with Matt Gruhn, president of the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas.

Wanda Kenton Smith, who received the Darlene Briggs Woman of the Year Award, is shown with Matt Gruhn, president of the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas.

ORLANDO, Fla. — Wanda Kenton Smith, chief marketing officer of Freedom Boat Club and president of Marine Marketers of America, won the Darlene Briggs Woman of the Year Award at the Marine Dealer Conference and Expo.

Don Galey, of Galey’s Marine in Bakersfield, Calif., was the first recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award.

The MDCE got underway on Sunday and it runs through Wednesday at the Orange County Convention Center.

The MRAA said the Briggs award is named after the late Darlene Briggs of Wayzata, Minn., who was admired for her tireless dedication to the industry. The MRAA and Boating Industry magazine present the award to honor her memory. It is presented annually to an outstanding woman who is actively involved in the industry at any level.

Kenton Smith joined the industry in 1980, and the MRAA said she wears multiple hats on a daily basis, which also include; president of Kenton Smith Marketing; marketing columnist for Soundings Trade Only; chairwoman of the RBLC New Markets Task Force; and member of Boating Writers International.

The MRAA said her contributions to the advancement of women in the industry are astounding. She founded Marine Marketing to Women, an educational firm that provided training on the impact of women on buying decisions for consumer products, including boats.

Kenton Smith also created an organization called International Women in Boating, reaching a membership of 350 before it was taken over by the National Marine Manufacturers Association. Her most recent contribution was the launch of Freedom Boating Divas, an educational and networking program for female members of the Freedom Boat Club.

“Wanda Kenton Smith’s continued pioneering for the advancement of women in the boating industry over the past 37 years makes her an obvious choice for this year’s Darlene Briggs Woman of the Year Award,” Jeff Siems, president of the board of the MRAA Educational Foundation, said in a statement.

“I feel extremely fortunate to have worked my entire adult career other than one year in the boating industry,” Kenton Smith said in her application. “I have been taught and inspired by many women along my walk, and I’m grateful for the experience and the people who have crossed my wake, and for the opportunities I’ve had to grow and continue to learn.”


With more than 62 years in the industry, Galey grew up in his parents’ appliance, boat and motorcycle store and worked there through high school and college.

Upon graduation, he purchased the business and soon thereafter eliminated appliances and motorcycles from the company’s offerings, renaming the company Galey’s Marine Supply Inc.

At 81, Galey still works alongside his son and grandsons on a daily basis. He remains a member of a Spader 20 Group, stays connected with lifelong friends in the industry and still gives back to his community, currently as the chairman of Union Cemetery, the oldest operating cemetery in California.

Galey’s son, Mark, was on hand to accept the award on his behalf. Don Galey is being treated for cancer and can’t leave the area.


This year’s MDCE is the largest to date, and growth and engagement have risen as organizers have added content— educational tracks, pre-conference workshops, learning labs and keynote speakers. All that content is based on what dealers say is top of mind and what they most need to know and learn to thrive as business owners.

Grow Boating Inc. and the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas are partnering to provide training and education at this year’s event, and Soundings Trade Only partnered with the MRAA to offer scholarships for three dealers to attend the three-day event.

Three well-known speakers and marketing experts will take the MDCE stage to help dealers navigate a changing marketplace and evolving consumer behavior.

Tim Sanders will present “How Digital Can Supercharge Your Business” today at 4 p.m.; Marcus Sheridan will take the stage at a session titled “Increase Closing Rates With Content Marketing” on Tuesday at 2:30 p.m.

Sam Dantzler will present a seminar titled “How to Sell to First-time Boat Buyers,” using information from a recent study published by Grow Boating, on Wednesday at 10:15 a.m.

Sanders, bestselling author and noted innovation guru, is this year’s opening keynote speaker, focused on digital content and social media marketing; self-discipline strategist, author and business motivational speaker Rory Vaden will be the closing keynote and will discuss creating a culture of discipline.

One of the things that dealers responded overwhelmingly positively to was an inaugural roundtable session, said Matt Gruhn, president of the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas. “We had dealer-to-dealer roundtable discussions and set up 40 tables of 10. Each table had its own topic so people could sit down at the table that had the discussion most relevant to them.”

Last year there were roughly 40 tables, and all of them were packed, Gruhn said. “So based on feedback, we’re actually expanding that for this year and will do three instead of just one, so there will be one every day of the educational sessions. We’re super-excited about those. When you boil it down from an educational standpoint, that dealer-to-dealer interaction is something our attendees just can’t get anywhere else.”

“The great thing about this is that we’re not alone in our desire to help the dealers,” Gruhn added. “We’ve got an incredible group of sponsors and exhibitors that show up year in and year out — and some new ones again this year — to support our efforts in supporting the dealers.”


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