Some thoughts from the dealer conference in Vegas

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The economy was the biggest topic of conversation at this week's Marine Dealer Conference & Expo in Las Vegas. Many of those who attended talked about the decrease in sales they were seeing this year and the worries they had for the future.

With this in mind, the theme of the three-day event was "Surviving and Thriving in a Down Market," and it featured some great advice all dealers can use to stay afloat until the market turns around.

For those unable to attend, here are a few of the interesting nuggets I took away from the conference:

1. Your business should be a reflection of you but not be dependent on you. If you leave for any length of time, your business should still be able to thrive. Put written processes in place so everyone knows how things are done. Also, write down your goals, along with a timeframe for achieving them. Those who do that are more likely to be successful, according to keynote speaker Karin Iwata.

2. Effective leadership, with positive non-verbal communication to employees, is a key to success, said speaker John Spader. Talk to your employees about the top priorities and share the truth about what's going on in the business.

3 “Hope is not a plan,” noted speaker David Parker. A solid, written plan will increase the chance of success. Systems, procedures and processes are foundations of a well-run dealership. Two key positions in a dealership, he said, are the person who can sell an icebox to an Eskimo and the person who can squeeze a buffalo off a nickel — and they are rarely the same person. Have a detailed analysis of income and expenses and look carefully for places to increase your bottom line.

4. One of the best marketing strategies, according to the panel of experts on the subject, is to maintain strong contact with current customers, because they are likely to be your future customers. Keep them excited. Also, they said, use the Internet and your Web site to drive business, and update your Web site on a regular basis to keep it fresh and give people something to come back for.

5. Respond to leads in real time — within a matter of hours, not days or weeks. Treat an Internet lead the same way you would someone who walks through your door. Your Web site, said Sea Ray and Boston Whaler dealer Larry Russo, “is the new front door to your business.”

These are just a few of the tips and suggestions given by panelists at the conference. There will be more in the January issue of Soundings Trade Only.

So, if you were at the conference, what are your thoughts?

If you weren't there, is this advice that can help you and your business?

Let us know what you think.

Beth Rosenberg