Is there any loyalty left in the marine industry?

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I recently read a story about a small company that produces about 1 million greeting cards annually, but of the 10,000 retailers worldwide selling their products, the majority are small independent businesses. The company is MikWright, Ltd., and the story appeared in the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) My Business magazine.

“We feel a commitment to them,” (referring to small independent retailers) explained MikWright’s owner-partners Tim Mikkelsen and Phyliss Wright-Herman. “They’ve helped us become what we are today,” they add.

I must admit I immediately admired their loyalty to their retail partners. And that got me wondering about our marine industry. More specifically, have boat manufacturers chosen to ignore the old wise saying -“dance with the one that brung ya!”

One could easily conclude that manufacturers have forgotten, given the deals recently inked with “big chain” operators to sell the same boats traditionally sold by independent dealers, and/or because of recent reports of dealers receiving letters telling them their dealer agreements (such as they are) won’t be renewed when they expire.

What hit me most about MikWright, Ltd. was this: They have been courted by the “big boys,” the giant chain retailers like Target. But MikWright resisted these requests in spite of the fact that, in addition to cards, MikWright also sells a variety of products ranging from notepads to plaques -- and big box stores could certainly boost those sales.

Still, MikWright remains resolutely loyal to their small independent retailers and I think highly of that. The lesson I see here is a good one. It’s fine to branch out and expand your customer base if you’re a manufacturer, whether of greeting cards or boats. Indeed, it’s important that a manufacturer does so for continued success. But in doing so, it’s equally important to remember the principle that it’s never smart to forget the people who got you where you are.

Though Mikkelsen and Wright-Herman have been asked to waltz with the biggies, they continue to dance almost exclusively with the same type of retailers that made them successful in the first place!

Now, if that kind of loyalty works for a manufacturer in the highly competitive greeting card business, you’ll never convince me that it can’t work for manufacturers in the boat business!

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