I enjoyed a long visit with Eddie Smith as I was preparing an article on this industry legend for the February issue of Soundings Trade Only. It had been years since Eddie and I had connected. I don’t even want to think about how many years ago it was when I first got to know Eddie. But I do know he was a great guy back then and he hasn’t changed.
A good friend of mine, John Underwood, former owner of Lockwood Marine and past chairman of MRAA, wrote the following after reading the Trade Only article:
“I first met Eddie Smith in the early 80’s. I was making a call with my company’s NC branch manager in hopes of helping him sell Grady some dust control equipment. It was one of three calls that day, which were facilitated by traveling in my Cessna Skymaster. When we finished working with his engineer, Eddie invited us into his office to chat. As a long time waterman, I was fascinated with the strides they were taking, turning Grady-White into a top of the top end boat line. In my air pollution control travels, I had been in many boat plants that failed Grady’s standards miserably. We also talked airplanes, a business hobby we shared.
“I don’t know how exactly much effect the conversation had on me, but a few years later, my oldest son and I started Lockwood Marine on the Georgia coast. We had to scratch for both boat and motor lines and started out with only Force Outboards – not in the Grady-White dealer class.
“Time moved along and Lockwood prospered. We got better lines including Boston Whaler’s smaller boats – movin’ on up. I happened to mention my admiration for Grady-White to an old friend, Homer Rice. Homer turned out to have been Eddie’s college football coach before he became my alma mater GA Tech’s athletic director. Homer knew something of the progress Lockwood had made and suggested to Eddie that he give us a look. We happened to inhabit a gap in Grady-White’s coverage, and I got a call from his sales rep, Greg Idol. Greg wanted to drop by and see us the following week. I told him how flattered we were to be considered. Greg said he was coming to set us up, not look us over, per Eddie’s instructions. We signed up and ordered some boats. I was impressed that Greg cautioned us not to take on a great load until we felt out the market. Being naturally cheap, I had no trouble following his advice, but the attitude was a major contrast to some other manufacturers.
“This turned out to be a major turning point for us. Grady became both the volume and profit leader for the dealership. Their staff also helped us to eventually reach a 100% customer satisfaction score on their elaborate evaluation program – not easy to do. Once we did it for Grady, we found it easy to do for others. Eddie obviously had a great eye for good managers.
“Even though I sold my dealership in 2007, I still have the warmest of feelings for all the folks at Grady. If I were young enough to go back into the boat business (77 isn’t that young), I would be back in North Carolina begging for the line again. They made being a boat dealer fun.”
If you haven’t seen the article on Eddie Smith and Grady-White in the February issue of Trade Only, check out this link: http://www.tradeonlytoday.com/features/manufacturers/grady-white/entrepreneur-vision/