When ABYC president John Adey was asked to give the commencement address at The Landing School in Arundel, Maine, this spring, he drew on his background as a boater and his background working in the industry, which includes sweeping floors at a small brokerage while in college, working in a small marina and eventually running his own marine retail business. And he drew upon a mantra of sorts at The Landing School, which reads as follows:
Superior technicians will:
• Deliver it right the first time
• Deliver it when promised
• Charge less than was quoted
• Deliver it clean
It would be hard to say that much better or more succinctly. And Adey told the 62 graduating students this June that they can build a satisfying, rewarding career by following those four principles.
After his talk, a longtime boater came up to Adey and expressed a sentiment that, unfortunately, is not unusual when boat owners get together to shoot the breeze. It had to do with the guy who works on the man’s boat. “Every time I pay this guy I always feel like I’m doing him a favor,” the boat owner told Adey. “I don’t feel like he wants my business or needs my business.”
That’s not the model for individual success or for growing our industry. “The model is do what you say you’re going to do,” Adey says. “That captures everything.”
It’s no secret that the typical frustration flash point for many boaters centers on lousy service. Although we may have hoped that the bad apples and unprofessional behavior were swept away in the Great Recession, it isn’t completely so. Things have gotten better, but old habits and old cultures die hard.
Adey is a pragmatist. Sooner or later, he says, all boats break. At that point, he continues, the industry needs the infrastructure — and the mindset — to fix them properly and provide the boater with a good customer-service experience. It doesn’t have to be a white-glove, Mercedes-Benz and cappuccino treatment, but it should be professional. “Fix it right, and fix it the first time,” Adey says. “We really want to raise the bar.”
Adey also understands the pressures and challenges of running a seasonal marine business, where you’re dealing with cost-conscious customers who demand a lot. “You try and jam 10 pounds into a 5-pound bag, and sometimes the subtleties get lost,” he says, “and that includes customer service.” He points to the Brewer chain of 22 full-service marinas from New York to Maine as an example of an organization doing things the right way in a seasonal environment.
Coincidentally, managing editor Rich Armstrong and I recently interviewed founder Jack Brewer and new Brewer Yacht Yards president and COO Rives Potts (see story on Page 36). It was no surprise that customer service, professionalism and ABYC certification were among the themes we discussed. “Customers are demanding,” says Brewer, the CEO and chairman. “They want service. They want it done now. They want it done right. And they want it at a fair price.” And, he noted, that’s the way it should be.
Adey agrees. “You need to give the customer something to believe in,” he says. “There is no more noble cause than for the customer to understand you’re looking out for his family. Safety and reliability are tough to beat.”
Potts told me that the Brewer yards are big supporters of ABYC certification. (The company had about 80 enrolled in the organization’s programs this year.) “We want our guys to be the best they can be,” says Potts, who is on the board of The Landing School. He says he’s always looking for skilled workers with the right attitude.
“The biggest thing I teach them is how to work around a boat,” Potts says. A repair job might cost several thousand dollars, but what the customer is liable to remember, he says, is the muddy footprint the tech left in the boat.
“One of the things I try and do is think of the big picture and think of relationships, instead of transactions,” he says. “That’s my mantra here: It’s relationships, not transactions.”
That’s a good one to remember. So is the one about the customer being right, even when he’s acting like a horse’s patoot. “Get in an argument, and 99 percent of the time we lose,” Potts says. “So come over to their side early and come out ahead.”
There has always been demand for good people, something that’s not going to change.
“Know the boats, figure out the business side and you can excel,” Adey says. “Deliver what the customer wants. Everywhere I go, they’re screaming for trained, well-spoken people.” And, he notes, “There’s the ethics and business acumen portion of it, too. Be clean in your business practices. Own up to your mistakes.”
Have fun with the customers, don’t take yourself too seriously and keep up with technological changes, he says. When it comes to new products and technology, Adey says, “Don’t put your head in the sand. You can’t know everything, but this is your trade. When a customer says ‘What is this?’ — if you don’t know, you’re going to be knocked down a few pegs.”
Keep pace through training and certification programs, webinars, reading, and attending boat shows and trade shows such as IBEX and MDCE. He also encourages everyone in the industry to get involved at some level — local, regional, national.
“Have a stake in your industry,” Adey says. “Give something back. And every opportunity you get is a chance to forward your business and the industry.”
That’s good commencement advice for the rest of us.