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Retail’s rising stature

Dealer conference’s success is called a reflection of the growing importance of quality dealer networks


A record turnout, an all-time high in exhibit space and a stream of rave reviews for the 2012 Marine Dealer Conference & Expo all point to a growing recognition of the clout of the show and the quality of the dealers it attracts, organizers say.

The MDCE, co-produced by the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas and Boating Industry magazine, was held Nov. 11-14 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla. It offered three jam-packed educational tracks, as well as additional seminars and speakers.

“From start to finish the educational sessions received rave reviews,” MRAA president Matt Gruhn says.

“People were really excited about the educational sessions,” Boating Industry editor Jonathan Sweet agrees. “We did bring in a number of new speakers this year.”

The educational tracks focused on three major themes: sales and marketing, powering profits and service and marinas. “We haven’t gone through all the evaluations yet, but certainly anecdotally we got a lot of great feedback from dealers,” Sweet says.

More than 500 dealers attended the MDCE, an increase of 7 percent from 2011, organizers say. Manufacturers, distributors and other exhibitors brought the total marine industry turnout to nearly 1,000. The show took up more than 183,000 square feet of exhibit space — another record.

A newly launched Young Professionals Community was called a great success, teaming about 100 people for a presentation by David Spader of Spader Business Management, who told attendees: “I don’t care how capable you are unless I know you’re motivated to do the job.”

A leadership panel discussion with Brunswick Corp. CEO Dustan McCoy, Yamaha Marine president Ben Speciale, GE Capital’s marine group president, Bruce Van Wagoner, and Cobalt Boats president Paxson St. Clair took place in an open question-and-answer format in front of a packed room (see story, facing page).

The presence of the four leaders reflected the growth and clout the MDCE has achieved over the years, Sweet says. “That to me shows that one, they really want to reach out to dealers, and two, the importance they see in the kind of dealers we draw to MDCE,” he says.

Here are a few highlights of the show:

The MDCE’s popular Top 100 Dealers Awards Ceremony and Gala was in full swing on the closing day of the conference, lasting into the wee hours.

The Top 100 dealers were recognized by Boating industry in rounds between servings of a three-course meal and opportunities to mingle. The six-hour, island-themed event included dinner, dancing and a few dealers on stage in grass skirts doing the hula.

The coveted top dealer award went to Destin, Fla.-based Legendary Marine. Co-owner Fred Pace took the stage and recalled when he and his wife, Leslie, started the dealership from a trailer.

“This was a total surprise,” Pace said later.

* * *

Keynote speaker Robert Stevenson entertained and enlightened as he emphasized his message of staying open to new ideas and change.

“You change the rules or you won’t be around,” Stevenson says. “The top 10 in-demand jobs in 2012 did not exist in 2004.”

Stevenson emphasized that having a sense of humor is critical in business. In an industry that sells fun — a lifestyle — it’s crucial that people embody the fun they seek to sell.

“There isn’t one dealer I talked to that isn’t passionate about what they do,” Stevenson says. “I talked to several of you on the phone, and I’ll never walk into your showrooms because I’ll walk out with a boat. And I’m good at this.”

* * *

Gruhn, speaking at a breakout session, says the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas has tripled the number of benefits it offers members during the year that he has headed the organization.

Now the association is trying to get word out so members can take advantage of the savings that Gruhn says more than offset the cost of membership, Two examples, he says, are the shipping program and the insurance program.

The MRAA also has released a “Guide to Success” for 2013, a 40-page document with at least 100 ideas through which dealers can maximize success. Experts write on topics that include how to make dealership square footage the most profitable, tracking efficiency and generating positive online reviews, says Liz Walz, the group’s director of membership and marketing.

* * *

Welcome to the Water is adding a screen. The Discover Boating program, which has enjoyed great success on Facebook, is going to market-test 30-second videos in movie theaters in 2013.

“Imagine that — on the big screen, with Dolby surround sound. If I could add misters in the room, spraying to give people the full experience, I would do that,” says Carl Blackwell, Discover Boating’s marketing and communications manager. “Think of the magic that happens on the cinema screen. That’s something we want to capture this year.”

The program will test the idea between April and June in at least 20 states, Blackwell told attendees. The market tests are necessary, he says, because the venture is “not inexpensive.”

* * *

The MRAA lunch and awards ceremony presented several honors.

Debbie Meigs received the Darlene Briggs Marine Woman of the Year Award. Meigs has worked in Cobalt Boats’ customer service department for 26 years — through seven consecutive J.D. Power first-place CSI awards.

The Irv Rosenthal Award was given to Joe Lewis of the Mount Dora Boating Center. The award is presented annually to the individual who does the most to support the efforts of the MRAA.

Bonnier Corp. group publisher Glenn Hughes received the Jerry Martin Journalism Award for consistent dedication in improving the boating lifestyle and for contributing to the success of the boating trade.

The MRAA named Dominion Marine Media, the division of Dominion Enterprises that operates YachtWorld, Boat Trader and, as its 2012 Supplier of the Year.

* * *

Marine Five Star Dealer Certification, one of the core elements of the Grow Boating initiative, announced the recipients of two new awards. The Great Outdoors Marine, of Lavalette, W.Va., won first place in the Best Practices category and Schock Boats, of Newport Beach, Calif., won in the Best Dealerships to Work For category. Ten dealerships were honored in each category.

* * *

Bob Pappajohn of M&P Mercury Sales won an award for best idea of the year.

Pappajohn’s Burnaby, British Columbia-based dealership won for its efforts to sell to non-traditional boater populations. This included outreach to the Chinese community through interpreters, ambassadors and advertising written in Chinese.

This article originally appeared in the January 2013 issue.



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