Fighting the economy … and cabin fever

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Vermont dealership uses in-house promotions, good service and an emphasis on family to stay busy

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The owners and employees of Vermont’s Woodard Marine put so much emphasis on pride in a job well done, it’s become the dealership’s motto: People Really Interested Deliver Excellence — or PRIDE.

Signs proclaiming that motto hang throughout the dealership, says Lauren Woodard-Splatt, who, with her husband, Eric, is the third-generation of her family to run the business her grandfather started in 1960.

“The key for us is our employees,” Woodard-Splatt says. “If we didn’t have great employees, we would not have a good business, so I always tell them they are wonderful.”

She says it’s important to meet with those employees on a regular basis to keep them abreast of what’s going on with the business, so everyone is on the same page. “We keep the family atmosphere alive,” she says.

Woodard Marine, located on Lake Bomoseen in the western Vermont town of Hydeville, sells Regal, Bayliner, Godfrey Marine, Boston Whaler, Lund and, on the personal watercraft side, Yamaha WaveRunner. Woodard is the only dealership directly on the lake, giving it a competitive advantage.

Sales holding up
“We sell a little of a lot of lines,” says Woodard-Splatt. “Our lake is a very small lake, and there’s not another dealership directly on the lake so we want to be able to fill every niche for all the boaters in the area.”

The dealership has had a “decent year” and is running even in sales with last year, something Woodard-Splatt attributes in large measure to the attitude of her employees.

“We figured that if our attitudes were better, then maybe the customers would see that our attitudes were better,” she says. “I think that did work.”

But it takes more than great employees to keep a dealership successful in hard times. Marketing, attention to detail and a diligent service department all make a difference, says Woodard-Splatt.

The dealership takes part in the Vermont Boat Show each winter, but it also holds its own in-house boat shows two to five times a year.

“I already have customers e-mailing me, ‘When is your boat show?’ ” Woodard-Splatt says. “It’s kind of a local thing that people really look at as a big deal. In the springtime, everybody has cabin fever up here with all the snow, and it shows everybody, ‘Hey, summer is going to come and the snow is going to melt and the ice is going to go off the lake.’ ”

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The dealership also hosts other activities to help people have fun with their boats. Programs include Woodard Marine University, which offers free classes for the public, and various events to raise money for local groups. The biggest fund-raiser comes at the end of the boating season when the showroom turns into “Margaritaville,” and 100 percent of ticket sales help support a conservation camp for children, held on the lake each year.

Service as a standby
Woodard-Splatt also credits the dealership’s service department for helping bring in money when sales are slow.

“It’s probably one of the most important aspects,” she says, and constitutes about 60 percent of the dealership’s business.

The dealership offers a full-service shop. In addition to the usual repairs, it can do fiberglass work, gelcoat repair and full engine work. It’s a flat-rate shop, and customers know up front how much a job will cost.

Although there’s no year-round boating in Vermont, the service department is open all year and performs offseason work on the boats it stores. The department is able to advise customers on needed maintenance, and will recommend repairs if it sees problems with a boat it is storing.

Woodard Marine is a 5-Star Certified Dealership and a Top 100 dealer. It offers promotions to people who store boats there. If, for example, a customer buys a boat in the winter, there’s no fee for the storage.

What advice might she give to other dealers? Woodard-Splatt says people should follow their instincts.

“I always tell people to go with your gut instinct. You would know if things are going good or not good,” she says.

Lastly, she says, remember to have fun and keep the family atmosphere alive.

This article originally appeared in the March 2009 issue.

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