How can I get a bigger piece of a smaller Pie?


Times are very tough we all know that. “So what,” some might say! Well the “so what” might be a key to your survival through these difficult times and might even mean growth for your business! Having said that, the “so what” will most likely be different for each and every dealer.

The real goal is bringing in more business to your dealership so you can show a profit in your business and eventually grow it in this economy. So, as I said in a previous article, “change is in the air and most likely required!” Are you prepared to look for new business?

Every manufacturer and dealer will tell the consumer, through advertising and marketing, their products are the best or their service is the best or their prices are the lowest! I don’t know about you but after awhile, from my own experience and observations when looking for a car or television or cell phone or anything with heavy marketing and advertising, it all starts to blend together and something gets lost in the translation because everyone really says the same thing. So how do you separate yourself and your business from your competitors and “Get a bigger slice of a smaller pie?”

As I alluded to in an earlier piece, you need to determine if you can or should change your dealership’s approach to the public and what that change should be. Today, (in the short term) new business most likely will not come from new boaters but more likely new customer business will come from one or more of your fellow competitive marine dealers. Now, I am not suggesting you consider a price war, for that truly benefits no one and damages all dealers in a wide marketing area. What I am suggesting is that you consider identifying your strengths and weaknesses as a business. Develop a plan to improve your weaknesses, which are business deterrents, and capitalize on your strengths, while identifying new opportunities.

Each dealership is unique to itself so no cookie cutter plan works for everyone. What we will try to do here is stimulate your creative thinking and encourage you to meet with all of the folks that work for you, buy a pizza, and brainstorm your business and possible new revenue opportunities. Identify them all. Don’t discard anything until you discuss it. Something our elected officials in Washington might consider as doing as well!

If you offer strong service and would benefit from greater P&A sales to consumers, you might consider holding a winterizing class for your customers (and their friends) one or two nights per month this fall. Consumers would see exactly how it is done and you will have the necessary accessory materials available for them to complete the task themselves. I know you would prefer the labor yourself, but we are talking about a poor economy and cautious boaters that are looking to save a buck. If they need the rig shrink-wrapped it will be coming to your business for that service. Your dealership can be the one in your immediate market that offers that winterizing training and obtains new customers from all brands. And let us not forget your P&A margins are in the 50% range on many items. Again, the goal is to find new business and new customers. Additionally, we hope to obtain business that might not be coming to you this fall from your current customers. Remember, they love their boats, but in today’s risky economy they are very guarded about spending discretionary dollars for issues they feel they might be able to put off till next year. Help them make a smarter choice. It might mean less to you in the short term but much more in the future!

Another thought along these lines is home service “on-site” winterizing! I know how difficult this is for you, but to a consumer it might be huge. If you are the only one in your market offering the service at a residence, it might be gigantic! It’s an offering, not a demand. If, for example, the boat owner travels all week and only has Saturdays off, he does not want for himself or his wife to drag the boat to a dealership, but if the dealer could winterize in my yard and thus leave me alone on Saturday… I might be willing to pay extra for that! Discuss it! Test it!

If you are located in a heavy trailer boat area, what about pushing trailer servicing and refinishing, decaling, etc.? Let’s face it; in most cases the trailer is empty only when the owner is on the water. If you offered a “refurbish,” you could put the boat in a sling and paint the trailer, blast it, decal it, grease it, brake it, etc.! Just advertising this service may stimulate a consumer repair since he decided not to trade this past year or he has no place to leave his boat off the trailer long enough for a complete trailer makeover! Given the economy, don’t take anything you may have tried in the past for granted! Test it again. Remember the economy. People are re-thinking their priorities.

Moving to a different thought, I knew many a successful dealership that ran great mailing and newspaper ad/marketing programs promoting super accessory deals that would be installed over the winter months while the boat was in, or before it was put into, storage. It is important to remember, you cannot expect to get business if you fail to ask for it! Am I right? The key is to discuss with your team, identify possibilities, evaluate those possibilities, test the idea and implement or discard as the facts will indicate.

What about boats? Take the guy that owns a Grady-White or Pursuit or Whaler, for example, high end product. Those folks like pristine equipment, as do most bass boaters and skiers. They ding up rub rails, pull cleats loose and tear carpet and upholstery. By offering a boat repair service you just might find the hot button of a consumer simply looking for this service! Trading the boat may not make sense to this owner, or many owners, but putting their prized rig back into pristine condition prior to spring will be less costly and still exciting and rewarding.

Don’t give up on your local rescue squads, police, fire and charities as well as clubs. Call on these locations and ask them for their business. This is simply “good, smart” business. All of that said, there is one group that I know will seek you out if you can deliver their needs and that is insurance companies. They are always looking for good dealers that can offer consumer boat repairs, parts and labor at affordable prices. You don’t have to take every job, but you should want to at least be offered the opportunity.

All of the above is quite simply intended to percolate and marinate your thought juices and get you thinking about new methods to bring in new customers. But, and it is a big but, you and your employees must first determine your capabilities to perform a new offering! Additionally you must be committed to the new process and stick with it to get it going. The worst decision would be to advertise and market a new dealership offering and not be skilled or ready for the business. That harms your dealership and enhances the other guy!

Assess your business. Determine if consumers in your area need or want a service you do not see advertised or being offered. Ask your own customers what they might want or need. Perhaps give them a checklist they can give back to you with several thoughts on it. Find out what they think! Whoever thought small Japanese cars would make it in this country back in the 70’s? Someone did! Make that new forward thinker your dealership!

Find your niche and be an innovator! That will get you a bigger piece of the smaller pie! The pie is soon coming out of the oven. How big a piece will you be looking for?

Remember, you sell fun and relaxation. Help your customers find both.

My very best to all marine dealers.

About Henry H. "Skip" Hegel

Henry H. “Skip” Hegel, former marine dealer, has held sales and service management positions with OMC and Mercury Marine. He lives with his wife in Pinehurst, NC. For more info, click Contributors on the main menu.

2 thoughts on “How can I get a bigger piece of a smaller Pie?

  1. Again, right on the money Skip. I run ads stating “we’re Better Because….I don’t down play any of our competitors I just try to accentuate some of our methods that set us apart. Here’s an example;

    Your suggestion of performing on site winterization. Not a bad suggestion. Here’s what we do; We find it cleaner to offer a driveway to driveway service. Where we pick up our customers boat from their home, transport to our service department, perform the services and then return the boat to where we picked it up.

    This allows us to better control the oils and disposal. Being that we have the boat at our facility, if there are any needed repairs we have our tools, parts, accessories, price books and telephone to gain permission readily available.

    We’re into our 5th year of doing this and each year more and more folks are taking us up on the offer. We get calls from folks new to us saying “You do this for my neighbor” then asking “Can you do that for me too?” Cha-Ching!

    Local, we charge a simple $25.00 round trip, easily covers my cost. Folks don’t have to adjust their schedule, no hassling with the boat before going to work and when they gtet home its clean, done and put away. We’ll back it into the garage and wrap it in a blanket if they want us to!
    This is just one way why “We are better because…. and have continued to grow our service department.

    Nice post Skip, keep em coming.

    Rob Brown

  2. Hi Skip..Read and enjoyed the insight shared in your articles.I’m up here in Canada and am looking at introducing and representing a US boat manufacturer here.Anyone that reads this post and would be interested in suggesting ideas to put the best business plan in place would be greatly hopes of keeping people working.

    Thanks D..

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