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Thursday
Mar092017

MAKING A LASTING FIRST IMPRESSION

This article, by Carl Wolf, was published in Marina Dock Age –  May/June 2016

The first impression your marina makes will set the tone for a possible future relationship for a new customer. When a potential customer stops by your marina, you’ve already achieved a significant marketing victory.  A first impression can be what a person views as their car pulls in to the marina’s parking lot or as they enter your marina by boat.  But it can include a lot more. Everything that a person sees, hears, smells, feels and tastes, could possibly be creating that first impression, which can be a lasting impression.  Put yourself in the position of a first time customer visiting your marina.  What do you expect when you arrive?

Take a Marina Tour

You, as the customer, enter the marina parking area and you notice the property is inviting with professional signage; landscaping that is being maintained, and lawns and flower beds that are edged and weed free; the property has been policed for litter, and the trash cans are not overflowing. The parking lot, curbs and sidewalks are swept, litter free and maintained.

As a customer visiting the marina by boat, you observe that the marina’s exterior and signage are welcoming, and the entrance is well marked and maintained. Inside the marina, you can feel the calm waters, compared to the wave action outside the marina.  The fuel dock is inviting, clean, well-maintained and staffed with courteous uniformed employees. The waters within the marina are free of litter. The docks are tidy with coiled lines, washed down decks, cleaned and maintained power pedestals, and wood (decking, uprights and fender boards) that is solid, and hose bibbs that are drip-free.   

As you enter the marina building to visit the dockmaster’s office, you notice that the building is well maintained, was recently painted, and the grounds are free from trash. The windows are clean, the floor has been recently waxed, and the brochure rack is organized and clutter free. Walking through the store aisles, the displays are clean, professionally organized, dusted and stocked with new inventory.  The counter is open, with minimal obstructions and arranged in an orderly fashion. The uniformed marina employee is courteous, informative and responsive to your inquiries. When offered, you accept a fresh cup of coffee from a separate counter that is clean, with milk that hasn’t expired. 

While the employee summons the dockmaster, another employee is competently replying to a boater’s inquiry over the marine radio. Listening to the marine radio, it’s quite apparent that this employee is aware that her voice is being publicly broadcasted over many miles and heard by many boaters. Her voice is one of confidence and professionalism.

After being contacted by the counter employee, the dockmaster greets you with a firm hand shake and escorts you into her office. The dockmaster’s office is professional in appearance, has a relaxing atmosphere, distraction free, comfortable chairs and organized with no loose stacks of paper.

After discussing what the marina has to offer, the dockmaster takes you on a tour of the marina. The restroom and shower facility is clearly maintained on a regular basis, and the facility is clean, has no out-of-order signs on any of the fixtures, clean lavatories/sinks/urinals and showers with no hair plugs on the floor drain or soap melting in the soap dish. The air has great circulation, minimal humidity and smells fresh. The floors are spotless, dry and have no stains under the urinals or lavatories.

As you walk the docks, the decks are firm, lines are neatly coiled, electrical cords are not hanging in the water, and the wood is splinter free. The docks and piers are clutter free of unused boat gear, batteries, bicycles, grills and old dock parts. The floating docks are stable, while the fixed docks are solid and in good repair.

As your tour takes you through the boatyard, you notice the boats are neatly stored and organized on boat stands and cradles. Unused cradles, trailers and boat stands have been removed from the property and stored elsewhere.  The service/parts department reception area is fresh, organized and free of obsolete magazines and newspapers. 

While observing the hoist hauling out a yacht from the water, you notice that the equipment has been recently painted, has new cables, and is quiet and free from oil stains and rust. The technicians and equipment operators are wearing clean, stain-free uniforms, proudly representing their marina. The marina’s vehicles have been recently washed, are free of dents and scratches and parked in assigned parking spaces. The marina’s work boat is free of water and trash in the bilge area, and is waxed and has new lines.

Creating Relationships

You need to invest time and effort into creating an inviting first impression culture. Your marina needs to define, train, test and continually reinforce your staff of the importance of a positive first impression. Create a continued dialogue between management and employees on ways to improve the first impression. It is your opportunity to create a long-term valuable relationship with your customers. You must view and act accordingly as though each and every impression made to a customer visiting your marina will be their first impression. You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.

 

 

 

 

Monday
Nov282016

Making the Right Purchasing Decisions

This article, by Dennis Kissman, was published in Marina Dock Age –  November 2011

I think it is a fair statement to say that everything that makes up a marina will eventually wear out, break down or become obsolete.  If you agree with that statement then when it becomes time to add, upgrade, replace or do nothing you need to ask yourself am I making the right decision, is it the right time and for the right reason.  This is what I refer to as the “decision making process.”

There is no one right answer, each situation must be judged on its own merits and circumstances.  Too many marina owners do not think of all the consequences when making some business decisions relating to their facility and as a result these decisions often fall short of expectations.  If too many of these business decisions are made in this manner the business will not achieve its economic potential and will eventually fail.

There are too many possibilities to address in this one article.  It may be best to use some examples to explain this thought process when making physical changes in your marina but first, there is one thing that will always have an influence over the decision making process and that is how is it going to be paid for.  Unfortunately, if money comes into play too early in the decision making process the end result may not be what is expected or best for the property.  I mean this in two ways; if you have unlimited financial resources it can be just as instrumental in making the wrong decision as having too few funds available.  The key is to striking the right balance between funds and needs.

Here are a list of thoughts that should enter into your decision making process.

-If what is being installed is buried underground or behind walls where it will require additional costs to get to when something goes wrong, and it will, I look for the best product available and make sure that it is installed right.  In this case top of the line is better than average.

-Separate “nice to have” from “must have to maintain or improve cash flow.”  “Nice to have” is part of your wish list and does not belong on your maintenance list.

-If safety of staff or customers is an issue that has to have the highest priority regardless of cost.  If you think because you have liability insurance you are protected, think again.  If your insurance company finds you neglectful in maintaining your property they can deny any claim made against you and your business.

-Select the right tools and of the best quality to maintain the property.  Poor quality or inadequate tools will shorten the useful life of the marina’s equipment and facilities.  If you do not have the right tools to properly maintain your equipment and facility, inevitably short cuts will be taken when performing maintenance thus reducing the expected life of what is being worked on.

-If for three years in a row you spend more per year on maintenance than the annual depreciation expense of the asset consider replacing the asset.

-If you have more than one asset that is the same and parts are starting to fail, cannibalize the assets and replace only the number of like assets that are necessary.  An example of this is sectional floating docks.  Let’s say that one section has a bent frame while another section has a bad float.  Combine the serviceable parts into one and only replace one section.  You may find that you do not even need that one section and not have to replace it.

-Just because technology has changed from what you currently have it does not necessary mean that it is better or will last longer.  Look for a proven track record over some slick advertisement telling you how good something is.

-If you request competitive quotes for something, and you always should, be specific in your request.  If it is not in writing and in a manner you understand do not assume. Ask questions and get clarification before signing that contract or purchase agreement on the dotted line.

-Be sure that by extending the useful life of an asset that it will not become obsolete before the end of its extended useful life.  A good example of this is what happens with docks.  As boats get wider sometimes perfectly good docks become obsolete because they cannot accommodate the newer and wider boats.

-Plan repairs and replacements to occur when it will have the least amount of impact on your ability to generate income.  This is not always easy, usually when it is the best time to conduct repairs or install replacements it is in a slow cash flow period.  The way to minimize this problem is to keep a perpetual list of needed projects.  The list should include a brief description of the project, the estimated cost, whether or not it will be done in house or farmed out and a priority in relation to the other work on the list.  This is a living document and can change on a daily basis particularly relating to the priority.

-When it comes to equipment such as forklifts, boat hoists, transporters, vehicles and office equipment, consider the tax implications and available cash to decide whether it is better to lease or buy.

I think it is worth mentioning again that cash will influence what, when and how something gets done in your marina.  But, if you wait to add the cash element into the equation after going through the steps that brought you to a particular decision you will have a different perspective regarding cash and usually find a way to come up with the necessary funds to get the job done.

I am sure that some of you reading this article could add to this list from your own experience.  Keep in mind it is not necessarily a specific list that is important but as long as you have a methodical way of going through your decision making process and follow that process you will maximize the financial resources you have available and keep your marina in good shape.

Monday
Sep192016

Turning Over Marine Store Inventory 

This article, by Carl Wolf, was published in Marina Dock Age –  April 2015

Some would say that a marine store at your marina is a core part of your business.  It might be, but how well do you know how if your inventory is selling?  Stepping back, let’s look at the basics of understanding the dynamics of an inventory. 

Pricing

First, understand who is going to be buying your marine products.  Are they boaters who dock or store their boat at your marina?  Is your marine store the only one in the area? Will other boaters come from other marinas or boatyards? Does your marine store have nautical gifts which could attract a larger segment of the population?  Does your marine store have a seasonality or slow season to it?

Regardless of what segment of the market you are catering to, price your merchandise so that it sells out by the end of the season, if you expect to realize a profit.  Pricing has a direct correlation to your inventory turnover.  Do not sit on merchandise that is either obsolete or is about to become obsolete.  If the end of your season is approaching, discount your merchandise so it sells.  Obsolete inventory is only going to go down in value the longer you hold on to it.

Boating merchandise fits one of two categories: perennial staples, such as bottom paints, cleaners and mooring lines; and trends or fads. For these, stay updated by using your suppliers as barometers to understand the boating market trends, especially trends that are fading. 

Turnover

The inventory turnover is a measure of the number of times inventory is sold in a time period, such as a boating season.  The equation for inventory turnover equals the cost of goods sold divided by the average inventory.  At a minimum, you should be able to turn your inventory at least twice a year. 

The inventory turnover ratio is a key measure for evaluating just how efficient your marina is at managing the company’s inventory and generating sales from it. Usually, a higher inventory turnover ratio is preferred, as it indicates that more sales are being generated given a certain amount of inventory.  Turnover ratios you should aim for at your marina:

Target turning over your inventory three to four times per year.

Minimum inventory should be turned at least two times per year.

Your inventory becomes obsolete if it has not turned over at least once per season.

Break your inventory down into segments of like type items.  For example:

  •      Fuel - gas and diesel;
  •      Parts - spark plugs, propellers, and gaskets;
  •      Marine supplies: cleaners, paints and hardware;
  •      Groceries: beverages, snacks and ice.

Be careful not to be skewed by a high turnover of one segment of your inventory.  You can have a high turnover of fuel, but some engine parts may be on the shelf for more than a year.  When you combine a fast turnover item like fuel with a slow moving item, it will skew your results and lull you into believing you are doing better than you really are.

Obsolete Inventory

Let me ask you “What do you consider to be obsolete inventory?”  We consider inventory items to be obsolete if:

  •      The items have not turned over at least once in the year.
  •      The items remains in stock after the boating season has ended.  For example, marinas in northern waters still have anti-freeze and/or shrink-wrap in inventory after the boating season has ended.
  •      The date on an item has expired, such as flares and perishable beverage/food items.

Shrinkage

In financial accounting, the term inventory shrinkage (sometimes truncated to shrink) is the loss of products between the time of purchase from supplier/vendor and the point of sale.  Shrinkage can be attributed to employee theft; shoplifting; administrative errors; improper supplier controls; cashier errors; items damaged in the marine store, and perishable goods not sold within their shelf life.  Shrinkage affects your profitability, as it relates to the difference in the amount of profit your marina will generate.

Funds and Taxes

If your inventory is not moving, your profit and loss statement will reflect it.  As you review your balance sheet, you will see how much of your working capital is tied up in carrying slow moving inventory.  Inventory sitting on the shelves at the end of the year is susceptible to year-end taxes in many states.

Continual Review

Be cognizant of the dynamics of your inventory.  Review your inventory controls policy on a regular basis.  Test the inventory and create safeguards as needed.  There will be a day of reckoning.  That day may be at the end of a calendar year, as your marina is being re-financed or worse yet, the day you put your marina on the market.  The controls you have in place concerning how your inventory is managed will have an impact on the marina’s bottom line.  The controls can mean the difference between having a profitable year or not.

 

Friday
Aug262016

YOU ONLY GET ONE CHANCE TO MAKE A FIRST IMPRESSION

This article, by Dennis Kissman, was published in Marina Dock Age –  November 2014 

We’ve all heard how crucial a first impression can be. We know how a bad first impression can lose the confidence of a prospective or existing customer in your marina.  The first impression you give, sets the tone for any future relationship.  You must view and act accordingly as though each impression made by you to a customer or potential customer as it will be their first impression.  You only get one chance to make that first impression.  It is your opportunity to create an introduction for a possible long-term relationship between you and your customer.

 

Yet, do we really know what that first impression is?  The first impression is created by whatever means the customer may come in contact with your marina.  Whether it’s when they drive onto the marina parking lot, tie up their boat at the fuel pier, use your restroom, or contacting the marina through your web-site. 

A Visit

What were your thoughts when you pulled into the parking lot of a hotel for the first time where you are going to be spending the next week on vacation?  Was it inviting?  As you look around, are the flower beds maintained or are the weeds growing through the mulch? Are the bushes trimmed or do they have litter lodged at their base? Are the sidewalks swept clean or are there cigarette butts laying in the curb?  Your first impression was just generated and you have already created an image of how your stay is going to be.

Likewise, when a boat pulls up to your fuel dock, what is the message the boat owner is receiving.  Do your fuel dock attendants assist the boat in tying up, welcome the boater to your marina, support the fueling process, pump out the holding tank or bring 2 bags of ice to the boat?  Are the uprights in good condition, the spider webs gone, plenty of cleats to tie up to and waters surrounding the pier are litter free?  Depending upon what they see you have just created the first impression of your marina for that boater.

Many times when I have visited a marina, the restrooms tend to create a very strong impression for me both visually and by smell on how the marina is operated and maintained. 

Verbally and In-person

Many times when a boater has their first impression with an employee at the marina, it’s with one of the employees on the lower end of the pay scale.  How knowledgeable and polite is the employee answering the phone?  Are the dockhands familiar and experienced in tying a line to a cleat or familiar with the process of using a spring line?  Are the employees at your front desk under pressure assisting customers who can be demanding? Have you ever considered that the employee using the marine radio is potentially broadcasting to all boaters with marine radios within reception?  Are they using proper radio etiquette and following policies established by the marina?

So many times, employees are hired, fill out some forms, given a uniform and put to work.  But have we trained them to be our front line?  Marinas have long been considered to be a place to keep a boat.  I beg to differ and believe that a marina is not just a place to keep a boat but a gathering place for boaters.  As such, we need to teach the employees on how to create that positive first impression that want people to come to the property and have a good time since we are part of the hospitality industry.

Marketing

Boat shows used to be the way we reached the boating market.  It has changed over the years.  It used to be where a marina could go home from a boat show with a handful of signed slip agreements.  Today, our customers still go to the boat shows, but they can do their shopping at home on the internet for a place to keep their boat.  They don’t have the pressure of a salesperson talking with them.  How does your website look and is it easy to use? It’s creating a first impression on the user.

Marinas now have to consider today’s social media, such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.  Even if your marina has yet to embrace these platforms, your customers are.  Do you know what they are saying?  Each of those postings and tweets are a result of a person’s impression of your marina, first or otherwise, but could very easily turn into first impressions of countless others who rely on social media for their information and which you have no direct dialogue with.

Take the time to establish a policy on creating first impressions for your marina.  Walk your facility, look at the marina through your customers eyes.  Observe your employees, provide them the guidance on what you would like to see and hear.  This can be accomplished and have some fun in the meantime by role playing.  As manager, you want to always play the role of the customer and do not be too gentle or forgiving, because your customer will not. 

Thursday
Aug182016

SECURITY AND YOUR MARINA

This article, by Dennis Kissman, was published in Marina Dock Age –  September/October 2015

Thanks to the media we are bombarded daily with every catastrophic or horrific incident that takes place anywhere on the earth in real time.  Twenty plus years ago when we heard of such things we took them at face value.  Today there is an underlying implication that all of these incidents are tied somehow to terrorism.  Unfortunately this is the world we live in so the question is; how can marinas best cope with this situation?

Now before you say my marina is not in or near a commercial port or waterway but at some inland reservoir and I don’t have a problem with terrorism, I agree with you to some extent but to dismiss the need for security completely would be a mistake.  Think of it this way, terrorism may not be your issue but providing a safe environment for your customer is an issue that should be addressed.

Marinas are considered part of the recreation industry and recreation is defined as: an activity or pastime that promotes refreshment of health or spirits by relaxation and enjoyment.  With that image in our mind as to what recreation should be, when you go to a marina do you want it to look like you have just entered a highly secured military base?  I think your answer would be an emphatic no.  Now the challenge is for you as a marina owner; how do you balance a legitimate need to have your marina secure yet have your boating customer feel relaxed and safe when he or she is at your marina.  Your customer would also want to know that when they leave the marina and their boat is in your care, custody and control that next time they come to your marina their boat is just as they left it.

There are several ways that you can make your customer feel safe and secure without being obvious. Here are a few tips that we have learned through the years mainly observing what some marina owners have done.

Perimeter security is the first line of defense to keep someone off your property or channel how people enter or exit your marina.  Fencing with a top of barbed or razor wire is the best but not attractive.  Camouflage the fence with vegetation on both sides and if not possible at least on the inside of the marina.  Select vegetation that is dense and attached to the fence such as and ivy.  A hedge also is good but the trunk or branches that could traverse the hedge be of a size that would not support a person.

If your marina is in a basin where access to the marina is by a channel or limited in some manner.  When a boat arrives or leaves the marina at night it should trigger sensor that turns on a powerful light that shines across the entire water entrance of the marina but not on boats berthed in the marina.  The light needs to be bright enough to reflect off the boat entering or leaving.  Associated with triggering the light should be a camera that records the boat’s movement.

Security cameras have become popular for recording what is going on around your marina but with that comes an ongoing cost if it is to be an active system rather than a passive one.  If you are not monitoring what is going on in real time at your marina you will not know when a problem occurs until someone reports a problem to you.  For example, a customer comes to you and says he is missing some items off his boat.  That is all well and good but this was the first time that customer came to the marina and his boat in two months.  Now the question is when did the incident occur?  You start to review the recordings going back from the current date.  Your system recycles the recordings every four weeks.  You look back through four weeks of recordings which is no easy task to begin with and nothing.  Whatever happened and recorded had been recorded over and lost.

Cameras may be a deterrent if they are in plain sight but that could also be a negative to some of your customers.  We know that some boats are used for more than just boating, enough said?  This is also the reason it is not a good idea to have real time surveillance cameras that can be viewed by anyone on your website.

Not that many years ago, the feeling was if you restricted access to the docks that was all that was needed.  The feeling was if you controlled who could go through the gate, which often times looked like a prison entrance with barbed wire surrounding it, that was sufficient.  If you rely on this as your security, how many times have you found the gates tied open or tape used to prevent the latch on the gate from locking?  I would venture to say that it is a daily occurrence at some gate in your marina.  I did see at one marina where they hooked up an alarm and flashing light with a timer on it and if the gate was left open for any length of time the alarm sounded and the light flashed.  This solved part of the problem but did nothing to prevent someone entering the dock if the latch had been prevented from locking.  At lease the gate was not visibly open which did help to some extent.

In the last few years technology that was developed for non security applications is making its way into the security industry.  As more and more of this technology is adapted for security purposes the price is getting more affordable.  An example of this is the sensors that were originally developed to be put in the pavement at intersections to trigger a traffic light to change has evolved into a perimeter fencing application where a similar type of sensor is buried and anytime there is a movement over the sensor it is recorded.  It is worth checking out to see some of these new applications and what is applicable to your security needs.  No matter what you do regarding security your goal should be that when your customer comes to the property they feel safe without your security measures being in their face.