The Marine Retailers Association of the Americas is ready to launch its new conference, Dealer Week, at the Tampa Convention Center, Dec. 8-11.
“In rethinking how we would bring the event to market, we redesigned it from the ground up,” says MRAA president Matt Gruhn.
Historically, the annual conference has focused its educational programs around various tracks, including sales, leadership, service and marketing. The redesigned event has fine-tuned the tracks and will focus on three educational pathways: the customer, the employee and the dealership. “The pathways are similar to the tracks, but now we might have a sales track in each one of these pathways,” Gruhn says.
Each pathway will focus on delivering a better experience for the boat buyer, creating a higher level of engagement and satisfaction among employees, and refining dealership operations for efficiency and profitability. Three industry leaders will guide each pathway to help connect the lessons with attendees’ businesses.
There will be six sessions in each pathway. Dealers can customize their paths and access video recordings of sessions they miss. There will be formal time slots for dealer-to-dealer conversations after each session, another change from past conferences that only allowed for one or two formal roundtable discussions among dealers.
In addition to the main sessions, Dealer Week will have 10 sessions that are 10 minutes long, called 10x10s. Each 10x10 will present dealers with a topic and concept designed to help them think about their businesses in a different way. “The whole process was designed because we want to invigorate dealers’ businesses through the event and help them plan a stronger and more profitable year in 2020,” Gruhn says.
Between sessions, dealers can visit the exhibition hall, which will have close to 100 exhibitors, including boatbuilders, engine manufacturers, service providers and technology-related companies.
Dealer Week will also kick off with a field trip, another new addition. Attendees can visit three businesses outside the marine industry. “It will be an experiential opportunity for dealers to really engage in and understand what these businesses are doing and be able to apply it themselves,” Gruhn says.
Valerie Ziebron, president of VRZ Consulting in St. Augustine, Fla., is hosting the field trip. It is scheduled to start at Lazydays RV, which will serve as a model for finding and keeping technicians. (The company has 150 on staff at one location alone.)
Next will be Columbia restaurant, run by fifth- and sixth-generation owners. “They have an incredible story to tell on how to do succession planning right, how to keep the vision alive, and how to make sure lessons learned from past hardships get passed on to future generations,” Ziebron says. The restaurant also has a non-traditional mar keting campaign to share, and has been able to retain back-of-house employees.
Finally, dealers can visit the home rink of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Amalie Arena, which took its employees from low rankings in customer satisfaction and employee engagement to one of the highest in the National Hockey League. “There’s a big story in leadership for what they have done to nurture a caring atmosphere for their employees, which transfers to their fans, and the tangible way they are doing things that can be applied to the dealers’ businesses,” Ziebron says.
In addition to the field trip, Ziebron is co-hosting a session in the customer pathway with Carrie Stacey, owner of a consultant company. The session, titled “Reducing Repair Cycle Time,” targets common areas where boats stall during the repair process. By fast-tracking those jobs, dealers can reduce the amount of time between a boat entering the shop and getting back on the water. “It’s a brand-new session, and there is not a speck of content in it that we’ve ever covered before,” Ziebron says.
That session will emphasize participatory learning by having attendees find solutions to various challenges. It will include a follow-up e-learning course accessible to everyone at the dealership.
The online component fits the conference’s goal of establishing a greater digital presence. Every session will be archived on video, and organizers are looking at other media, as well.
“We’re building a stage at Dealer Week with seating in front where the press can do Facebook Live interviews,” Gruhn says. “So there will be live opportunities for dealers to listen to what industry leaders are thinking, what they are projecting for the year ahead and what they’re doing in their businesses.” The broadcasts will be put into the dealer management system, so they can be accessed later.
This year’s conference also is introducing Float Plan, a publication designed to help dealers navigate the event. It will contain tips, handout materials from speakers and space to take notes.
Dealer Week has close to 500 dealers registered. Strategic partners received free passes to distribute for an estimated 170 additional attendees. “Our goal is to expose more and more dealers to this education so we can help them do a better job running their businesses and a better job delivering to the customer at the end of the day,” Gruhn says.
The hope is that with more dealers in attendance, there will be greater opportunities for informal learning in conversations. There is also a formal networking event scheduled for Monday evening, as well as a young professionals event and a waterfront party. “I think it’s going to be a lot more interactive,” Ziebron says. “I’m excited for the direction it’s going.”
Adds Gruhn: “The whole premise of Dealer Week is to empower dealers and to help them strengthen their businesses by providing the best practices, strategies, insights and expert advice on an array of topics that are specific to the marine industry.”
This article originally appeared in the December 2019 issue.