The Voice of Marine Dealers

2012 is full of opportunity!

The Marine Retailers Association of the Americas is off to a great start in 2012! I’m thrilled to let you all know that not only is 2012 the association’s 40th anniversary, but we’re expecting this year to be one of our best years yet.

Why? Well, we have numerous initiatives underway that will make membership all the more valuable to you and your business. Here’s a quick look at what you should expect from us in 2012:

New website
Just before the turn of the new year, we locked in on a deal with a new association management system provider. In the dealership world, this would be the equivalent of a dealership management system, a customer relations management system and a new website provider rolled into one product. We’ll be launching a brand new website, hopefully by Feb. 1, which will make finding information about your benefits and other happenings at MRA a lot easier. We’ll be creating a series of new email newsletters so we can stay in contact with you more effectively. And behind the scenes, we’ll be running a new database that will allow you to manage your account, register for events and pay your dues online. All with the click of a button.

More benefits
In the last three months of 2011, the MRAA more than doubled the number of benefits that it offers its members. Couple that with our new membership structure, and it’s extremely easy to see the clear return on your dues investment. But wait! There’s more. We have a series of new benefits we’re about to make public in the coming days and weeks, all of which will add even more value to your membership. Stay tuned.

New educational events
At last year’s Marine Dealer Conference & Expo, we announced the creation of Marine Retail University, a series of one-day dealer education events that we’ll be hosting regionally across the United States. These events will provide dealers with trends and data specific to their region, in addition to other expert advice and best practices the MRAA has accumulated. We’re close to announcing the title sponsor for this series, in addition to the first two marine trades associations that have locked in an event to be held in their region.

An even better MDCE
Last year’s Marine Dealer Conference & Expo was the best yet. The interaction between dealers and the suppliers, above and beyond the always-strong mix of educational sessions has created a great deal of excitement about the 2012 event. We’re moving back to the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, which will facilitate the growth we’re expecting. If you haven’t yet attended an MDCE — where nearly 500 dealers and 1,000 industry people gather each year — you should make plans right now to do so in 2012.

All of these developments have been created to provide you a greater return on your membership investment. Watch for many great things to be coming out of the MRAA in 2012!


Econ 2011

Historically, I’ve been fairly poor at understanding economics. I barely skated by in Econ 101 in college, and my collegiate-level understanding of supply and demand was warped by the ever-increasing demand for the libations of my classmates and the never-ending supply flowing from the local taps.

The real world has taught me a lot more about economics. And, thanks mostly to the Great Recession I’ve become somewhat of a student of economics over the last few years. I’ve done everything I can to seek out business magazine articles on the economy, and the list of books I’ve read about the economy seems to grow by the week.

It really got started when a friend recommended “Ahead of the Curve,” an HBR Press book written by Joseph H. Ellis. It’s subtitled as a Commonsense Guide to Forecasting Business and Market Cycles. It was a great book, and I had plans to use the concepts to develop some forecasting tools for the marine industry. That is, up until the recession threw those market cycles a curve. It’s a great book, though, and I’d highly recommend it.

In late 2009, I picked up a book by Harry S. Dent Jr., at the recommendation of John Spader over at Spader Business Management. Dent had spoken to some of Spader’s 20 Groups in the past and had done well in predicting economic success through his books “The Roaring 2000s” and “The Next Great Bubble Boom.” I followed Spader’s advice and picked up Dent’s book, “The Great Depression Ahead,” which was written in 2008.

It was a tough read, particularly because I, like many others, like to believe in a brighter future, and this book does not predict that. But I was fascinated by Dent’s predictions and how he used demographic trends to forecast. I enjoyed it so much that I picked up Dent’s most recent book — what might seem from the title to be a replica of the previous book — called “The Great Crash Ahead.” But this is another fascinating book that outlines not only the inherent problems with our economy, but predicts what is to come and how you can profit from it.

So infatuated was I with the economic perspectives, that I picked up another book that Spader recommended: “Aftershock. Protect Yourself and Profit in the Next Global Financial Meltdown.” It’s another fascinating, if even more negative, overview of what may be to come from our economy.

I realize how “doomsday” these books sound, and while I’m not writing about them because I particularly believe that their grim predictions will all come true, but rather because I’d much rather be educated about the potential pitfalls ahead than to be blindsided by them. I hope that you feel the same way.

I finished that book over Thanksgiving, and I picked up another book, a recommendation from Bob Williams over at Marine Five Star Dealership Certification: “Endgame: The End of the Debt Supercycle and How it Changes Everything.” Again, a fascinating (and educational) book on the economy. I’m just over halfway through it, and I can tell you that it’s another book I would recommend.

What’s interesting is that all of these books provide different perspectives. In fact, of these last three, one suggested that our economy is headed for deflation, another said that we’re headed for inflation, and the most recent is suggesting that our economy could go either way.

In any case, an education on what might be around the next corner is always valuable, no matter if you got that education at collegiate tuition rates or for the cost of a few books on Amazon.

A successful generational blend

Phil Keeter Award

Matt Gruhn presenting Phil Keeter with the award renamed after Keeter in honor of his commitment and dedication to marine retailing.

They keynote at this year’s Marine Dealer Conference & Expo was by far the most talked about presentation the event has ever had. Not only was it entertaining through its incorporation of humor, but it also hit home because of the clear connection the topic had for the MDCE audience.

The topic was simple: There’s a difference between each one of the four generations in the marketplace today, and we need to be aware of the characteristics of each of those generations as we conduct business. The presentation itself focused on how to sell to each of those generations, but the principles can be applied to how we interact with our employees, our co-workers, our suppliers and those people we interact with in our personal lives.

The MRAA is undergoing a generational shift as I type. Many of you know that I’m the new guy on the block, a Gen Xer who has all of about 50 days under my belt as president of this association. My predecessor in this role, Mr. Phil Keeter, has about 22 years and 11 months on me in this role and his 50-plus years of marine industry experience dwarfs my 15 years.

Both of our vantage points add value to building your MRAA of the future however. I may bring a new outlook on technology and some new ways to operate the association. But the wisdom, built through experience and offered by Mr. Keeter, has proven more valuable to me than I could ever explain. I’ll go to him with an idea, and he’ll offer historical perspectives, thoughts to consider, potential potholes to watch out for, and then he simply suggests that I take that backdrop and run with the decision I’d like to make. What a fabulous mentor he has become for me.

Mr. Keeter and the MRAA board of directors have also created a Young Leaders Advisory Committee, a group of Gen Xers and Millenials that have been given the opportunity to breathe next-generation thinking into a strengthening organization. The board and the YLAC group work together on committees, blending their wisdom, experiences, insights and energies to help build a stronger MRAA.

It’s this type of collaboration that I believe will fuel our growth as an association and strengthen our voice as a dealer community in the days ahead. And that has me energized.

A new point of view

Back in 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt was quoted as saying , “Every man owes part of his time and money to the business or industry in which is engaged. No man has a moral right to withhold his support from an organization that is striving to improve conditions within his sphere.”

As I’ve discovered, in searching for the exact wording of that quote, associations from every corner of every industry have become fond of using this quote as a promotional tool. Or maybe “as leverage” is a better way to put it.

It’s as though they believe that if they print this quote, members will line up to support their association out of some sort of moral duty. And so they saturate their marketing materials with it. On brochures. On websites. On letters to members and prospective members. Everywhere you look, they’re leveraging the echo of those 100-year-old words.

Let me tell you something: 1908 was a long time ago. This type of thinking was common back then, and it was fueled by a generation or two that set the tone for industry expansion in the United States. It’s a belief that held true to form during the Baby Boomer generation. But it’s now becoming a part of history.

Gen Xers and the Millenials, the Gen Y generation, approach their industry participation differently.  They want to know “what’s in it for me?” They’re skeptical of sales pitches. They’re skeptical of the old ways of doing business. And their involvement in associations is waning.

Bottom line is that while we here at the MRAA believe in the mantra that we should support our industry, this association will never operate out of an expectation for support. We will operate in a manner that every business should operate in: We will earn your business.

If you were at this past week’s MDCE, you will have heard the keynote presentation that was given about the attitudes of the different generations in the market place. None of them are the wrong attitudes; they’re just different attitudes. And we will cater to each of them.

You also heard, if you were at MDCE, that your Marine Retailers Association is expanding its list of benefits and opportunities in an effort to demonstrate greater value out of your membership. You’ll see much more of that in the coming days, weeks and months.

Stay tuned.

See you at MDCE!

In my work life, the only thing that rivals my passion for the marine industry is my passion for professional development. I’m a lifelong boater, and I’m also a lifelong learner.

Unlike boating, it took me quite a while to love educational opportunities. I was an average student in high school, a below-average student in junior college, and I improved only slightly when I moved on to a four-year college. But in my professional life, and particularly when I became editor of a trade publication, something ignited the fire in me.

I began attending educational conferences. I went through the Dale Carnegie Course. I now read more books in a single year than I did in the first 30 years of my life combined. And the only thing that prevented me from going back to get a Master’s Degree was the recent recession.

In my role here at MRAA, it’s my hope to instill that same desire for lifelong learning in our membership and to help them realize that desire in themselves through a host of professional development benefits. Right now, the Marine Dealer Conference & Expo, at which MRAA members receive a $50 (per registrant) discount, is the focal point of that, but I can assure you that you’ll see similar benefits sprout up in the coming days, weeks and months.

I’m thrilled to be arriving at this year’s MDCE early (tomorrow) and to be assisting MRAA’s great partners at Boating Industry magazine as they prep this year’s conference for your arrival.

I love the MDCE because it gives me a first-hand opportunity to talk face-to-face with all kinds of dealers and all the businesses that are so interested in the success of the marine dealer body. The networking you can do at MDCE is more than worth the price of admission, so I encourage you to take every opportunity to get there, meet a new face and learn something from them.

And while you’re at it, please make sure to stop by the MRAA booth (number 601) and learn about all the new opportunities we’re creating for you and your business. And I’d love to hear what you think we can do to serve you better.

See you in Orlando!

Event season

Somehow, I wound up with the “event gene.” I’ve always enjoyed attending and organizing events of all sizes, whether they’re simply social gatherings at my house or events as large as the Marine Dealer Conference & Expo.

When I cleaned out my desk at my last job, I emptied out 15 years’ worth of badges, lanyards and nametags from various events I attended over the years. What a walk down memory lane that was! When I was in grade school, I organized an event — a neighborhood football game — with all my buddies where we sent official invitations to our parents to come watch the game. A couple of them actually showed up.

In my professional career, I’ve organized all kinds of events from consumer poker runs to watercraft shootouts and consumer testing events to the Top 100 Dealers Program and the last couple Marine Dealer Conference & Expos. And every year, I attend as many marine related events as possible.

As I write this blog, I’m sitting in the airport in Dallas-Ft. Worth, on my way home from the Boating Trades Association of Texas Summit & Expo, a two-day event in Houston, where I gave the keynote presentation. Last week, I was in Louisville at the International Boatbuilder’s Exposition and Conference. I’ll be home just long enough tonight and tomorrow, to unpack, do some laundry, repack and leave for the Ft. Lauderdale International Boat Show tomorrow afternoon. And I’ll cap off event season next week by attending the Lorenz & Jones Marine Distributing Marine Market event, before I leave for the 2011 MDCE on Friday the 4th.

Being away from the wife and kids is never fun, but the time spent at the events, interacting with the industry fuels the passion I have for my job. They each offer a unique learning experience you can’t get behind your desk or on the sales floor. And the in-person networking is so much more effective than trying to build relationships over the phone or through social networking.

I hope to see you at one of the events, and by all means, if you’re at the MDCE in a couple weeks, stop by the MRAA booth and say “hi.” We’ve got a lot of exciting announcements to tell you about.

See you there … gotta go catch my flight.

Blog No. 3…

There are days where I sit down to write this blog and wonder if there’s anyone out there … anyone who cares what’s on my mind today. And, truth be told, there are likely few of you right now who do.

So why do I do it? For a few reasons. First, I believe an active dialog provides a solid reminder that there’s someone here working on your behalf – even if that dialog is one-way for now. Second, I expect that at some point maybe something I have to say will grab your attention and help you run your business better. And finally, and this is the point that should grab your attention, because eventually this blog will draw in new members.

I read a book recently, (you’ll hear more about that in future blogs) titled
“The End of Membership as We Know It.”
Very appropriate for an association executive, don’t you think? I was so captivated by what I learned in this book that I went online to search for the author after I turned the final page.

It turns out that she runs her own company and she has a very active blog. Now, like I mentioned with my own blog, she must have wondered at some point if anyone out there was listening. Regardless, she populated that blog with a wealth of information, and it ultimately convinced me (and surely countless others) to interact with her company more regularly. Ultimately, it drew me in enough to convince me to become a repeat customer, as I purchased another book of hers and wound up contacting her about her consulting services.

While this is just one example of how blogs can be effective, it underscores how blogging can be a critical component to any marketing strategy, even those at your dealership. It’s especially important if you are active in social media because you can automatically broadcast your blog out to all of the customers who “like” your business or follow what you have to say.

It’s important to simply get started and to continue to provide valuable information. Eventually, you’ll find, your blog will establish you as an expert, and people will turn to you as a trusted resource.

I encourage you to get started today.

Great benefits

One of the most visible benefits that MRAA members receive is the discount afforded them with their registration to the MRAA annual meeting, also known as the Marine Dealer Conference & Expo. MRAA members save $50 on every employee they register for this event.

For some dealers, such as Singleton Marine Group, that $50-per-registrant savings more than covers the cost of membership. Singleton Marine Group, a long-time member of the MRAA registered eight employees for the upcoming MDCE, saving itself $400.

The beauty of this situation isn’t even found in the fact that SMG principal Austin Singleton saved more on registrations than he paid for the membership. The true value is really found in what Singleton and his team get out of the annual convention.

You see, last year was the first year that Singleton and his leadership team attended the event, and they were so impressed with what they took away that in 2011, they are bringing more team members to increase the take-away.

“The MDCE event made a large impact on me last year,” Singleton says. “Honestly, I had been a bit hesitant to invest my time, but we were WOW’d by the event. Not only was each session’s content incredibly valuable, but they also sparked conversation among us that continued for months. I was very impressed with the quality of the content, so much so, in fact, that we invested in bringing one of the speakers in-house for a companywide meeting as a season kickoff event this past spring. I cannot wait to get down there this year with a much larger group and see how the event stirs the pot.”

If you’re interested in realizing the same level of value from both the event and from your membership, make sure you attend this event. It will be held Nov. 6-9 at the beautiful Gaylord Palms Resort in Orlando. The MDCE offers 22 educational sessions that are designed to help you learn how to run a more profitable business. The event also offers more than 100 exhibitors with products and services geared toward boat dealerships and numerous networking sessions where you can connect with other dealers.

Visit for more information and to register for the 2011 MDCE, simply click here. And don’t forget to click the MRAA member button to save $50 off of your registration.

I look forward to meeting you there.

Aspiring for greatness

It isn’t very often that we get to realize a long-held aspiration. But as you read this, I am getting that very opportunity, and I’d like to share that story with you.

It was about four years ago now that I had what was then an off-the-record conversation with MRAA President Phil Keeter. In that conversation he suggested he would be retiring in “a few years,” and almost immediately my hopes and desires to succeed him set in.

I had been working in the marine industry for almost 11 years at the time and had spent the better part of the prior six years working in various capacities on the trade publication Boating Industry. My passion for working with and helping marine dealers took a firm grasp of me and my career ambitions as those years went by, and certainly the prospect of focusing all of my energy on that single pursuit was incredibly appealing to me.

Today, I’m officially three days into realizing that dream. I’m currently holed up with Mr. Keeter in his Tulsa, Okla. office, where he’s trying diligently to share his 50-plus-years of industry knowledge and wisdom with me over a three-day period. Wish me luck.

Mr. Keeter and I will be working side-by-side for the next three months as I ramp up toward succeeding him and he ramps down toward retirement. I look forward to soaking up as much knowledge from him as possible over those 90 days.

There will be plenty of time, through these blogs and the countless conversations that I will have with you over the coming days, weeks, months, and years, to share the aspirations I have for the MRAA and our progress toward them. But for now, I just wanted to briefly introduce myself (and this brand new blog site) and let you know that I hold it as an honor and a privilege to succeed Mr. Keeter and to begin serving you and the rest of the marine dealer body on an every-day basis.

I have newly created aspirations, and they’re focused on creating more value for you and your membership in the MRAA. So stay tuned to this blog for those developments, and just know that if there is ever anything I can do to be of assistance to you, you should, please, feel free to contact me at any time at or in my office at 763/315-8043.

Post Navigation