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Keep Them In The Sport!

“We’ll never see boating grow if all we do is lose as many boaters as we gain each year.” So says NMMA President Thom Dammrich, and he’s right! Keeping existing customers in the sport should be job #1 at our dealerships.

In my travels to the Great Lakes this week, I stopped at B & E Marine in Indiana. To brothers Barry and Rod Bensz, it’s all about keeping their customers boating and they do it with an impressive array of year-round programs designed to deliver perceived benefits and cement relationships.

For example, at B & E this summer, there have been “Women in Boating” programs, “Kids in Boating” days, “Men’s Refresher” Classes on safety and rules of the road, as well as several popular “Maintenance Schools.” There has also been a 9-day owner’s cruise to Mackinaw Island with more than 50 people traveling in 16 boats. Two owners moved up to larger boats after the cruise! This weekend, there will be a Labor Day Party, and the list of programs to involve customers goes on.

“We give our customers as many reasons as possible to be here and use their boats,” says Rod. “It’s a cornerstone of our business and it works for us.”

What also works is something that doesn’t get discussed in our industry very much. Barry calls it “the non-verbal” side of B & E. He explains that they have consistently made physical changes to the showroom, offices or ships store every year so customers always see something new and improved. “It’s our big non-verbal sign to them that business is good at B & E and they can count on us in the future,” he explains.

This year was a particularly big one as they built an all-new entrance, totally redesigned the showroom, and created new sales offices/closing rooms, all with great attention to details right down to the sand & water colors on the walls. Throughout the showroom are large (24” X 36”) mounted photos displayed on easels of their customers enjoying their boats. Barry explains: “Our dad (Ron Bensz) taught us that it’s in the down times that we should invest in our biggest improvements, so when the turnaround arrives we’re already set to fully capitalize on it.”

For sure, the B & E business model could be labeled “contrarian.”  After all, in a soft market most businesses will follow the textbook management technique of curtailing major spending and renovation plans. But being aggressive in tough times has its merits and for this dealership, at least, it is working very well.


6 comments on “Keep Them In The Sport!

  1. Sunshine State

    Speaking of “contrarian”- there is a benefit to the current slow down, the removal of those less capable and passionate,making efforts such as B&E the norm.We are a ‘mature’ industry with future growth trends likely never again to mirror past trends for a variety of reasons.
    In addition to striving to replace those customers “lost” we need to squarely monitor the reasons for the loss or decline.

  2. Ed Donlin

    Off-season get-togethers, parties, Coast Guard Auxillary classes and a speker’s night once a month at the dealership might sound like a lot of work but it willkeep your customers close.

  3. Grant Westerson

    Don’t ever forget the marketing rule/law that says it’s always easier to keep a customer than find a new one. Get them involved, diversify and for pete’s sake, don’t cut back the marketing, advertising or show presence. Not in such a slow market. When the economy starts to turn upward you want to be at the front of the pack, not trying to play catch up.


  4. Rod Bensz

    Thanks for visiting us! It was good to see you! Thanks for another wonderful Michigan City In-Water Boat Show too! We are on track for our goal of 20 Boats in 20 Days! See you again at the MRAA convention!


  5. Jim Battye

    “We’ll never see boating grow if all we do is lose as many boaters as we gain each year.”

    Have you made any efforts to learn the top 10 reasons why people leave boating? If so, what have you found? If not, why not?

  6. Bill Kearns

    1)price of product

    2) quality of product

    3) reliability of engines

    4) lack of qualified service personnel

    5) lack of knowledgable sales people

    6) “bring back to dealer” for warranty repair – many times impossible.

    7) lack of docking spaces and cost

    8) lack of quality boat ramps

    9) owner inexperience- lack of dealer/customer training on water.

    10) price of fuel

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