A big kickoff at MDCE

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The Marine Retailers Association of the Americas last night kicked off the Marine Dealer Conference and Expo in Orlando, with a gala dinner and awards ceremony. The event was a fast-moving mixture of awards presentations, comedy skits and moving speeches by some of the awards recipients.

One of the primary goals of the event was to raise funds for the MRAA Educational Foundation. BRP said it would match any funds that were donated that night by the assembled group of dealers.

Matt Gruhn, MRAA president and Liz Walz, MRAA Educational Foundation Executive Director, were joined by professional emcee, James Cunningham, who kept the evening moving with nonstop quips and a game-show spoof that featured dealers and other leaders of the boating industry answering trivia questions about the industry.

The awards included the first-ever Marine Apprentice Scholarship, presented by Jeff Siems of Blue Springs Marine and president of the MRAA Educational Foundation. Austin Kalina of Indian Lake Marina is the first recipient. “Our recipient had no marine technician training when he joined the dealership, but he did have a passion for learning and a commitment to teamwork,” said Siems. “The dealership manager who nominated sees a bright future for him as a technician perhaps someday a service manager.”

The MTA Technician Scholarship was awarded to The Marine Trades Association of New Jersey to send four members to the ABYC Marine Systems Certification Course. “The Marine Trades Association of New Jersey shares our dedication to helping marine businesses train and grow their employees,” said Matt Lodder of Marine Sales Group and the MRAA Educational Foundation Board of Directors. “We are proud to be able to support their efforts – and contribute to the professional development of four of their members – through this scholarship.”

The MRAA Educational Foundation’s College Scholarship provides $5,000 for study at an accredited college to a student planning for a career in the marine industry. This year’s winner was Carter Goettling of Blue Springs Marine.

Goettling began working at local dealership at the age of 15. In high school, he competed in the Skillsusa program in Marine Technology, winning a state competition and placing ninth at the national level.

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“The marine industry has been a part of most of my life so far, and I hope for it to be a large part of the rest of my life,” said Goettling, who wants to eventually become a master technician for BRP and Evinrude.

The winner of the Duane Spader Leadership Development Scholarship was Chad Taylor of Taylor’s South Shore Marina. The winner of the Kevin Lodder Scholarship was Patrick Green, Director of Certification and Customer Service Manager at Tobler Marina of Hayden, Idaho.

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The Darlene Briggs Woman of the Year Award was presented by Wanda Kenton Smith, last year’s recipient, to Angela Pilkington, executive vice president and chief of staff at Correct Craft (see accompanying story on today’s newsletter), who has had a highly successful, 37-year career at Correct Craft. “Angela’s dedication to her company, its employees and the boating business are an inspiration,” said Walz. “She demonstrates that tremendous professional growth can be achieved in our great industry through the pursuit of ongoing education and opportunities for development.”

Pilkington thanked the MRAA, her family and colleagues at Correct Craft, who all sat at a table at the front of the ceremony. Pilkington credited Correct Craft’s founders, the Meloon family, for their support over the years and being like a “second family.” Pilkington has been active with volunteer work, both in the U.S. and abroad. She also serves as a mentor to female staff members of Correct Craft.

Pilkington praised the company where she has worked for 37 years. “I wouldn’t have worked here so long if it wasn’t such a great company,” she said. “As our CEO Bill Yeargin says, we’re only as good as the team we have around us. And it’s a great team.”

MRAA’s Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Gary Briggs, founder of Wayzata Marine in Minneapolis. Gruhn recalled a time in 2004 visiting the dealership, which Briggs had designed himself. “He guided us through it, explaining every last detail,” said Gruhn. “I remember that the pillars were positioned to allow the maximum number of boats to displayed indoors. That’s the definition of a real boat dealer, right?”

Briggs’ smart business acumen, engrained work ethic, and contributions to the industry through trade-association memberships and community work were noted. “Gary’s years in the marine business are filled with accolades, and the impact of those achievements touches every business and every individual in this room tonight.”

Briggs accepted the award, and thanked the MRAA, his family and boat manufacturers who, he said, “make staggering products for our consumers.” He also noted industry changes over the years, including increased professionalism in the dealerships. “Profit is not a dirty word,” he told the dealers. “Get your prices up and justify them with service, service, service.”

The MRAA also presented 16 awards to “Great Dealerships to Work For,” which were nominated anonymously by dealer personnel, without the knowledge of the managers or owners. Those awards have grown from four last year to 20 this year. 

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