Dealer Outlook

Trade Only Dealer Outlook Blog

Advisory boards can help dealers going forward

If you look at our industry sales figures, you’d have to say this recession seems far from over. But, it will end and there are many who point to signs that it could be sooner than later. But, regardless of the exact recovery timing, dealerships that examine and plan now for what’s ahead will position themselves for new levels of success.

Let’s face it: As we begin rebuilding from the rubble of this calamity, dealers must recognize that we will not be returning to the old business model we knew before this economic ship hit the sand. And, therein sits one of our biggest challenges as small businesses coming out of a period that’s predicted to forever change how we look at everything from our risks to regulations. Most dealers are not prepared. That makes forming an advisory board now a wise management move.

This fact surprised me. Only about 20 percent of small businesses have advisory boards, according to a Paul Willax at the State University of New York’s Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership. Create a board, then, and you’re likely to have an advantage.

Most small businessmen assume an advisory board needs to be a large group, say, eight or 10 or more. Not necessarily. In an article on advisory boards by Justin Martin in the April issue of Fortune Small Business magazine, Karen Usher was an interesting example. She founded TPO, a human resources outsourcing company. For the past 10 years, TPO has averaged a 30 percent annual sales growth to nearly $5 million in revenues last year. Better, yet, it’s “ultraprofitable” she says. Usher credits here success to her board of advisors – three veteran executives who guide her on everything from profit reinvestment to computer issues. She built her board by approaching her professional contacts and just 3 members have gotten it done.

In my nearly 40 years working with marine dealers, I have come to know so many great owners who can sell boats, rig boats, fix boats, love boats, convey the excitement of boats and make you love boats! But their Achilles’ Heel (a potentially fatal weakness in spite of overall strength) is that they are less than great business managers. Small business owners I know have been inaccurately fed some bull that they must be good at everything because they’re the leader. We’ve all heard it – you must be “well-rounded” to be the leader,” they say.

Whoever they are, they’re wrong! A good leader doesn’t need to be “well-rounded.” Instead, a good leader assembles a “well-rounded team!” That refers to employees, of course, but it also takes dead aim at creating an advisory board. Advisors will bring insight from outside your dealership. They will be able to share adaptable experiences you don’t have. They will have made mistakes you can avoid. Most important, they will bring a new perspective about the changes this current economic crisis will surely bring to the future of businesses, including yours.

If there has ever been a time to create your advisory board it’s now. Big changes are coming so consider inviting successful people you know or admire (could be a customer, supplier, neighbor, fellow club member, church member) with different backgrounds in different fields to join your advisory board. And, here’s some good news – most small businesses don’t pay their advisors nor are they expected to do so. Sounds advice at a low price – why would you wait?


9 comments on “Advisory boards can help dealers going forward

  1. Noel Osborne

    A great source for guidance in this area is SCORE. SCORE is a non-profit national organization with chapters in nearly every city. Their ranks are comprised of both retired and active businesspeople who have been succesful in the business world. They offer free counseling in nearly every area of business management. They have well formulated programs that can help you author your Business Plan for the future. Check them out at

  2. David Parker

    One of the best sources for an advisory group are 20 Groups. What better advice than from up to 19 other peers who truly understands your business. “If 2 heads are better than 1, how about 20?”

  3. Catherine Hughes

    Why is there no discussion in Soundings Trade about “cap and trade”, which took another step forward to becoming law last Friday in the House. All the advisors in the world can’t counter the destruction that will be wrought on the marine industry by this legislation. Lobby your US Senator now to vote against this massive tax.

  4. Mike Curtis

    Who and by whom would such a board picked?..small dealers are never picked for such an endevor by this industry..we have been in buisness since 1957 and have different divisions of our small enterprise,and won the first 100% CSI score given by Brunswick..we also won the 1 and only Jack Riechart award of excellence,but was never asked by anyone (other than Mercury Marine on how we did it) to be a part of anything…anyway..Thanks to Mercury Marine/Brunswick for being the best of the best in this industry! and yea,the boat biz is on the back burner with us until it turns around…there are other things to look at in the recreation world..people still will want to burn time doing somthing…but the boat biz has a flat tire and until its fixed we will look to other things to stay alive….Chow!

  5. arch

    This is what kills me about these forums…people worrying about advisory boards (when so many already exist) and boating bill of rights. ARE YOU SERIOUS?
    CATHERINE HUGHES is exactly right. CAP and BURN and many of the other irresponsible activities of our current adminstration will impact our industry TEN TIMES MORE than just about everything discussed in these forums put together.

  6. Komrade Carl

    Go Catherine !!! Cap & Tax is more important . If it comes to being you will need to retool your dealership to sell apples or the fruit desure, I’m seeing more folks standing at intersections trying to sell water…..

  7. out of biz

    Right on Mike. The boatbuilders and industry don’t seem to care about the smaller dealerships. Guess the rep’s get lazy and the big accounts maintain the “gravy” boat. Boy, how they could learn a few things about life in the trenches, but they really don’t want to hear what the small guy has to say. So is the world today it seems. Think they have a wake-up call now, wait untill the small local guys are gone and just the fat cats are left. I’ll say it again…RIP recreational boating.

  8. joe

    It sure seems to me that all the advice givers who want to tell boat dealers how to operate their businesses aren’t boat dealers themselves, and never have been. Hmmm.
    Cap and trade? Don’t worry, the libs have told us more than once it won’t cost the average household all that much–they have done lots of studies and forecasts on this and we should just worry about something else. The bailouts will probably break us all anyway so why worry?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive. For more information, please see our Comments Policy.