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Keep Them In The Sport!

“We’ll never see boating grow if all we do is lose as many boaters as we gain each year.” So says NMMA President Thom Dammrich, and he’s right! Keeping existing customers in the sport should be job #1 at our dealerships.

In my travels to the Great Lakes this week, I stopped at B & E Marine in Indiana. To brothers Barry and Rod Bensz, it’s all about keeping their customers boating and they do it with an impressive array of year-round programs designed to deliver perceived benefits and cement relationships.

For example, at B & E this summer, there have been “Women in Boating” programs, “Kids in Boating” days, “Men’s Refresher” Classes on safety and rules of the road, as well as several popular “Maintenance Schools.” There has also been a 9-day owner’s cruise to Mackinaw Island with more than 50 people traveling in 16 boats. Two owners moved up to larger boats after the cruise! This weekend, there will be a Labor Day Party, and the list of programs to involve customers goes on.

“We give our customers as many reasons as possible to be here and use their boats,” says Rod. “It’s a cornerstone of our business and it works for us.”

What also works is something that doesn’t get discussed in our industry very much. Barry calls it “the non-verbal” side of B & E. He explains that they have consistently made physical changes to the showroom, offices or ships store every year so customers always see something new and improved. “It’s our big non-verbal sign to them that business is good at B & E and they can count on us in the future,” he explains.

This year was a particularly big one as they built an all-new entrance, totally redesigned the showroom, and created new sales offices/closing rooms, all with great attention to details right down to the sand & water colors on the walls. Throughout the showroom are large (24” X 36”) mounted photos displayed on easels of their customers enjoying their boats. Barry explains: “Our dad (Ron Bensz) taught us that it’s in the down times that we should invest in our biggest improvements, so when the turnaround arrives we’re already set to fully capitalize on it.”

For sure, the B & E business model could be labeled “contrarian.” After all, in a soft market most businesses will follow the textbook management technique of curtailing major spending and renovation plans. But being aggressive in tough times has its merits and for this dealership, at least, it is working very well.



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1. 2023 new boat retail outlook

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To wrap up 2022, marine retailers reported lower demand, expressed more negative sentiment and voiced concerns about rising inventory. Boat prices and the economy remained top of mind for dealers in December.

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As the gaudy sales figures from the pandemic continue to return to more realistic numbers, the main segments of the recreational boating industry saw new-model registrations of 4,421 in November, a 30.3% drop from 6,340 during the same time in 2021. .