Pre-event workshops, long-sought speaker Jeffrey Gitomer among key additions to November conference
If you attended last year’s Marine Dealer Conference & Expo in Orlando, Fla., you know the event does not lack content. With three educational tracks taking place simultaneously, one of the most difficult aspects is choosing which to attend.
You might think it would be impossible for the organizers — Boating Industry magazine and the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas — to add more. But then, you may not know some of the players for both entities, who seem to work tirelessly on finding ways to add value. From pre-conference workshops to an unprecedented speaker budget, the show that draws many of the top marine dealers in the country has several new things to offer at this year’s conference, which takes place Nov. 17-20.
“We’ve really upped the educational budget this year,” says Jonathan Sweet, editor in chief of Boating Industry. “Basically we more than doubled it from last year. You can see the reflection of that in the speakers we brought in, from the keynote speaker Jeffrey Gitomer to those speaking at all the individual sessions.”
A focus on leadership
Gitomer has been on the attendees’ request list for years, Sweet says. The author of 11 books — including four New York Times bestsellers — said in a video promoting his appearance that he will deliver a customized presentation to help dealers sell value, not price, as well as teach dealers how to differentiate themselves from the competition instead of trying to compare themselves with others.
Selling value has been a big topic at the Growth Summit, an industrywide meeting with various players focused on brainstorming ways to grow boating, says Matt Gruhn, president of the MRAA.
Gitomer also will focus on leadership because attendees said for the first time in last year’s survey that they most wanted organizers to focus on that. “This year is leadership-focused, and Jeffrey’s whole approach is how to be a leader in your business and in your market,” Gruhn says.
Another overarching theme will be sales and marketing, says Liz Walz, director of education and membership for the MRAA. The three tracks are Sales and Marketing, Powering Profits and Service Department Management. “From an educational standpoint, it’s just going to be a phenomenal year.”
Joe Lewis, owner of Mount Dora Marine in Florida, says he is looking forward to not only the content, but also the networking. “The big thing I get out of that conference is being able to talk to other dealers in a non-competitive environment,” Lewis says. “A lot of this is not reinventing the wheel.”
The annual event just “makes sense on so many levels,” agrees Larry Russo, owner of Boston-area Russo Marine. “It’s informational, it’s networking, it’s new products, it’s social, and then it’s capped off with the ‘Top 100’ dealer announcements and gala,” Russo says. “That’s one reason a lot of top-tier dealers go to MDCE.”
That ranking will change a bit this year, Sweet says. Traditionally, Boating Industry had ranked dealers from No. 1 to No. 100. Last year, the magazine named Legendary Marine the top-ranked Dealer of the Year and recognized the others as “Top 100” dealers, offering some of them additional best-in-class awards. Although some dealers liked the change, many who had consistently rated in the top 20 wanted to go back to the prior ranking system.
“It made a perennial top 10 dealer appear the same as a perennial top 99 dealer,” Russo points out. So this year the magazine will introduce a “hybrid” ranking system, Sweet says.
“We’re going to rank the top 20 companies, and the remaining 80 will be ‘Top 100’ dealers. The reaction so far almost universally has been positive. I think that addresses the people’s concerns at the top of the list” and also those who liked the alternative system, Sweet says. “All 100 companies that have made the list know they’re on the list, but they don’t know if they’re ranked. They’ll find out at the gala,” with the exception of the Dealer of the Year.
John Dorton, of Bryant Boats, says the MDCE is a great opportunity to find dealers to fill open markets. Bryant will make two boat debuts at the show in hopes of attracting dealers in the West and South-Central parts of the country, in particular.
“Last year we directly signed five new dealers at MDCE. It was the first time the company had ever presented there,” Dorton says. “We think we signed an additional eight dealers as a result of the exposure that we had at MDCE. We just signed them several months later. Either they saw us there or had recommendations from other dealers who saw them there.”
Bryant will introduce its first two “bottom-up boats” — boats started from complete scratch for the first time in years — that will represent the “new evolving look of the Bryant line.” Dorton says a new 22-foot luxury family runabout, the Calandra, has “the Italian styling with the quality of handmade production in Sweetwater, Tenn.”
Bryant also will introduce an 18-foot “sportabout” outboard model with an entry-level price point that he hopes will compete with outboard runabouts and deckboats. Both will be available for dealers to introduce at the major boat shows.
“MDCE is the best opportunity to reach dealers potentially looking for new lines prior to boat show season. We’re unique in that we have open market territories and many builders don’t. For a company like us that is still filling in the spaces of our dealer network, MDCE makes lot of sense because we can talk to people at one time,” Dorton says.
Launching new products at MDCE is a twofold opportunity for boat and accessories manufacturers, Walz says. “They have a chance to be in front of their own dealers and they also have an opportunity to get in front of dealers who may not be in their network.”
Walz says MDCE dealer attendees have asked for opportunities to dig deeper into the topics that have the greatest impact on their dealership. This year the event is offering seven in-depth, 1.5-hour sessions on Nov. 18 where dealers can “roll up their sleeves and do some real work and create something they can take away and implement.”
The workshop is focused on developing an action plan for accelerated growth and will include a 15-page workbook so dealers can create a customized action plan for the year ahead. That session will be led by John Spence, who was brought in by Apple after Steve Jobs died to talk about planning for the future. A workshop led by Dan Cooper will discuss ways for dealers to maximize value at boat shows.
Industry consultant David Parker will discuss building a service menu to maximize profitability. Other sessions include workshops on maximizing search engine return on investment, turning Facebook likes into leads, putting mobile apps to work for dealerships and creating CEOs.
Seminars and highlights
The content has been ramped up so much during the past couple of years that the educational prospects are “top-notch,” Russo says. “The fact they do it in three tracks allows you to bring all your people and cover your bases at the same time.”
Walz says the MDCE committee made up of MRAA retail members continues to inform the content. “Members of the committee guide MRAA and Boating Industry as we develop the educational agenda and marketing strategy each year. And one of the things I was really proud about this year is, we considered more than 100 speakers in all. That’s probably a record. We really drilled down to see who would be the best speakers.”
Sam Dantzler, one of last year’s most popular speakers, will once again present two sessions. In the powering profits track, Dantzler will present a session titled “Pay Plans that Deliver Real Results,” which will outline how dealers can develop incentive-based pay plans across their dealership and improve profitability. In the sales and marketing track, Dantzler will present “The True Math of Discounting and Upselling.” He’ll help salespeople understand how discounting products instead of upselling can hurt bottom lines.
David Arvin will address building dealer brand and Josh Chiles will help dealers grasp digital marketing using social media tools, something Lewis says he’s particularly excited about. “Digital marketing trends are changing so rapidly that I can’t keep pace with them. I feel like everything I think I know a little bit, it makes me want to know more. and when I do, I find out what I do know is not much of anything,” Lewis says. “It’s rather perplexing.”
A best ideas panel, led by Boat Trader, collects dealer submissions of recent ideas they’ve implemented, Sweet says. Four finalists from roughly 100 submissions will present their ideas during a panel discussion and get vetted by the audience, Gruhn says. A winner will be announced at an awards ceremony and given an iPad.
The leaders’ panel will include MarineMax CEO Bill McGill, Chaparral and Robalo CEO Jim Lane, Volvo Penta of the Americas president Ron Huibers and Mercury Marine president Mark Schwabero, Sweet says, and potentially one other person who had not been confirmed in early October.
This article originally appeared in the November 2013 issue.