Survival of the fittest

Recently, I was invited to sit in on a Four Winns regional dealer meeting at the O’Hare Hilton where I had the opportunity to visit with several dealers I have known over the years. I consider the dealers who were at this meeting, and those all around the country who are still in business, a good example of “Survival of the fittest.” But there is no question that many of those in the industry who have survived this horrendous recession so far still consider it a daily battle to remain in that group.

It was encouraging that the “Industry survivors” that I chatted with at the Four Winns meeting seemed rather upbeat. But I also sensed they were all constantly watching every aspect of their businesses on a daily basis and keeping close track of every nickel and dime. I also have to say that at the end of the one-day meeting, the Four Winns dealers seemed very encouraged at what they saw and heard.

Roch Lambert, the new President of the Platinum Equity holding companies recreational boat division that includes Four Winns, Glastron and Wellcraft, was the lead off speaker at the meeting. In my opinion, Lambert, formerly VP and General Manager of BRP’s Ski-Doo, Sea-Doo and Evinrude Division, is a business “turn-around” artist. I watched him take the bankrupt OMC outboards product line and do a major rebuild of the Evinrude brand by building a new high tech, state of the art manufacturing facility, leading innovative engineering to develop the award winning Evinrude E-TEC, plus overall creative marketing. And now it appears he is on track to do the same at Four Winns, Glastron and Wellcraft.

Shortly after taking over as President, Lambert brought in another BRP veteran, Jeff Brunson. I watched Jeff for several years when he was Evinrude’s Director of Sales under Roch Lambert and then later when he became VP of Sales for Cruisers Yachts. He has extensive experience in both the engine and boat arenas. Brunson is now VP of Sales & Marketing for Four Winns.

In making his opening presentation, Roch Lambert emphasized that the world has changed and as a result, manufacturers and dealers alike must look for ways to keep up with and even stay ahead of all the changes. He outlined the need to have boat plants operating at or near capacity and stressed his commitment to quality products as well as to loyal service to the Four Winns, Glastron and Wellcraft dealers and consumers. And, he also emphasized that the company has the financial ability to “get it done,” which is a key factor. Lambert said his team has four key values they will focus on: (1) Financial discipline, (2) Teamwork, (3) Innovation, and (4) Quality.

The innovation was readily visible with some of the new boat designs and features presented by Christophe Lavigne, Vice President of Engineering for Four Winns.  Toward the end of the meeting, one dealer said to me, “I was taking a ‘wait and see’ about Lambert and Brunson running Four Winns before I came to the meeting.” But at the end of the day, he said he liked what he saw. I got the sense that the other dealers also liked what they saw and headed home with a lot of enthusiasm about Four Winns and the new direction the company was heading. Roch Lambert also stated that he and his team fully realize that the dealer is the true connection to the consumer. I am not sure that all manufacturers have come to this conclusion…currently…and in the past!

Speaking of “Survival of the fittest,” current estimates are as many as 40% of boat dealers have closed their doors during this major recession. There has been a major thinning of the ranks for sure. Let’s hope now that all of the “Survival of the fittest” dealers continue to survive and grow as the industry hopefully starts to rebound in 2011. As an older and successful businessman said to me when I bought a Chevy dealership several years ago, “You gotta keep your eye on the ball every day.”  So hang in there this winter and keep your eye on the ball every day in your dealership. We’re all rooting for you!

About Ben H. Sherwood

Ben H. Sherwood is a marine industry veteran and a marketing consultant who operates Sherwood Marine Marketing in Pleasant Prairie, Wis. For more info, click About on the main menu.

8 thoughts on “Survival of the fittest

  1. Excellent article, Ben. I know Roch and Jeff very well. There is no doubt in my mind they will do great things with the iconic brands they are working with. The dealers should feel blessed!

  2. Hey Ben,
    Interesting article. One of the big complaints I’ve heard was a lack of communication between Four Winns and their dealers. Sounds like that’s begining to be addressed. We were a former Four Winns dealer but decided not to re-new our dealer agreement in 2009. Been thinking about looking at the line for 2011 but haven’t been able to talk with anyone. Our calls go unanswered. Probably just don’t like us any more, but it’s good to hear their getting back on their feet.

  3. Joe: Thanks for your comment. Good to hear from you. I believe you will find that the new team at Four Winns will be much more responsive than what you experienced before. Give Jeff Brunson a call at Four Winns. If he isn’t in I am sure he will get back to you.

  4. Survival of the fittest seems to be moving into individual dealerships. Marginally productive employees are gone, departments that looked good but didn’t produce are gone, and the remaining dealerships are really streamlined. Each of their profit centers are really gearing to produce profits. Foolish luxuries like huge inventories of new boats no longer flourish.

  5. Excellent points John. The points you make had to be key in the survival of countless dealers who are still around.

  6. I just signed as a Glastron dealer and I’m happy to see that Roch Lambert is at the helm. Being a longtime Evinrude dealer we witnessed firsthand Mr. Lamberts efforts in rebuilding Evinrude into what is now a viable brand once again.

    As for the article, Spot On.
    Today’s business environment requires us to pay close attention to our daily transactions. Sales and expenses.

  7. Rob: Good to hear from you and thanks for your comments. A lot of dealers are glad to see Roch at the helm. Glastron has been a great brand name for many, many; years and I think you will do well with it.

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