Navigating Rough Seas

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There’s no denying we are in an economic coma. If there’s any encouraging news, perhaps it’s in an announcement by the Food and Drug Administration that it’s allowing emergency authorization of an antiviral drug to treat covid-19. Studies reportedly show that remdesivir has helped patients go from relying on oxygen to leaving the hospital in two weeks.

Equally encouraging is that the nation's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, has labeled results of yet another study, conducted by the National Institutes of Health, “very optimistic.”

But even if these drugs or others being researched prove effective, we are already saddled with the worst economic drop in our lifetime. When we entered March, the marine industry had been enjoying a steady expansion over the last decade. When we exited March, we saw businesses shut down and an economic drop that makes 2008 look like a lawn party. It’s not difficult to see our industry struggling for the rest of this year.

The depth of the current conditions notwithstanding, we in the marine industry have navigated very rough seas before, and we can do it again. It’s time to implement good strategies that have worked in the past and add new ideas now available in the digital age.

For example, manufacturers should step up and coordinate moving their dealers’ inventories to where there are buyers; lenders should be waving curtailments, lowering swipe fees and providing other assistance; MTAs should be lobbying states for sales tax holidays and direct grants to small businesses, while developing marketing materials and strategies that push retail sales; and dealers, intent on staying around for the long haul, should be learning from and acting on the recommendations contained in available resources.

The “Dealer Best Practices, Consumer Boating Tools” guides available from the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas is an excellent place to start. This resources will help dealerships get back to work in a safe and effective manner. You can find it here.

No one can define what “getting back to normal” will look like. Whatever normal will be, it isn’t coming in the next few weeks, likely many months. So being open for business will mean more than bringing some staff back. It will mean continuing to adapt to a new normal of retail, where sales, service, deliveries and sea trials demand new methods for keeping employees and customers safe. Without customers’ confidence, there won’t be customers or sea trials.

To help address these needs, MRAA has produced these four documents to help dealers navigate the choppy waters ahead:

1. 49 Best Practices for Operating Your Dealership Safely

2. MRAA Sample Dealer Policy for Drop-Offs and Sea Trials

3. How to Communicate Safe Boating With Consumers

4. MRAA’s Boating Do’s and Do Not’s for Distribution to Boaters

“49 Best Practices” offers insights into how dealerships can safely sell, service and deliver boats, as well as offer sea trials. The resource also includes a sample dealer policy for drop-offs and sea trials, which will serve as a training tool and a means to encourage compliance with the new policy, as it features space for a dealership logo and a line for employees to sign and acknowledge understanding.

The final two documents offer insights into how dealership personnel can communicate safe boating with customers. One outlines the talking points and rationale for communicating safety in the new environment, and the second — “Boating Do’s and Do Not’s” — offers a downloadable resource that can be printed and shared with customers to help ensure boating remains open and available to all. No one wants a repeat of Michigan or Miami or other states where boating was shut down because boaters refused to maintain social distancing, particularly at launch ramps.

We all want to be optimistic about a speedy, positive outcome to the pandemic. In that regard, marine dealers are just like us anglers, who cast off each time believing it’s the day we’ll catch the big one. And when we don’t, we go out the next time believing that’ll be the day.

But there may not be a next time for many dealers. The May print issue of Soundings Tarde Only presents a comprehensive look at the difficulties our industry, and dealers in particular, will be facing. Reagan Haynes’ “No Playbook to Follow” is eye-opening. Her articles “Necessity and Invention” and “Cash Flow and CARES Act” present an informative examination of the changing environment every builder and dealer is now living in.

Also, Wanda Kenton Smith’s “Marketing Insights” column provides eight tips for not only surviving, but thriving in (and after) the pandemic. If you haven’t read the May issue, I urge you to do it now.

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