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Vegas dealer conference in full swing

LAS VEGAS — Tuesday's Marine Dealer Conference & Expo featured plenty of advice on surviving in the current economy, best practices for a dealership and its service department, a snapshot of the economic landscape, and awards for those who provided exceptional service to the industry.

The first full day of the event, which runs through tonight, gave attendees tips on how to stay afloat in a tight market. Maintaining a positive attitude and vision, focusing on running an efficient and customer-focused service department, and developing and writing down processes and goals were some of the advice speakers had for attendees.

“I'm very pleasantly surprised; I expected to have no one here,” J.J. Marie, president and CEO of Zodiac of North America, said of the event. (Organizers say there are around 400 attendees.) “I am pleased by the meaningful and useful seminars and presentations.”

Tuesday's speakers included John Spader, who talked about survival. He stressed the importance of positive non-verbal communication, putting forecasts in writing, keeping employees informed of what is going on in the business, and effective communication by leaders to inspire those with whom they work.

Spader suggested dealership owners ask their employees to write on a piece of paper all the reasons they can't sell boats. Then, he said, have them crumple up the papers and throw them in the air. The simple task can change the energy in a room and get people to think in a positive manner. They can then list all the reasons why people should buy a boat and use that list to sell.

Address reality, he said, but don't let it weigh you down.

Two panel discussions by top dealers focused on best overall practices for running a dealership, and best practices specifically for the service department, which many said could provide dealers with additional revenue while boat sales are down.

The last session of the day, by Steven Ramel of GE Capital Solutions, focused on the economic landscape. Despite the overwhelming negative news, there were some positives to report, he said, notably lower gas prices and a lower prime lending rate.

Ramel said there was no way to estimate when the credit market would ease up and the overall financial picture would improve.

"It's so unpredictable," he said. "It's almost impossible to predict."

The day's events also featured an awards luncheon.

The Irv Rosenthal Award, named for a man who was instrumental in the development of the MRAA, was awarded to Gary Briggs, founder of Wayzata Marine in Minnesota. Briggs joined the association in its early years and served on the board for several terms.

The Supplier of the Year Award was presented to the Norman-Spencer Agency for its 20-year service to MRAA members.

The Bill Ferguson Award, named for the association's first executive director and given annually to a trade group that supports the MRAA, was presented to the Marine Industries Association of South Florida.

The Jerry Martin Journalism Award was given to Boat & Motor Dealer magazine.

Three lawmakers — Rep. Steven LaTourette of Ohio, Rep. James Oberstar of Minnesota, and Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida — were honored for their efforts in helping pass the Clean Boating Act.

Also Tuesday, educational foundation awards were given to the New Jersey, Connecticut and New York marine trade associations. The $1,500 grants are matched by the state groups and given to students pursuing careers in the marine industry.

— Beth Rosenberg



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