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Marine industry is facing a crisis, but not without hope 

This article, by Dennis Kissman, was published in Marina Dock Age –  April 2012


With the summer season fast approaching, I want to take this opportunity to discuss the role marinas play in the overall marine industry, and how we can promote growth in boating to ensure the future success of marinas. It is safe to say that the marine industry is in crisis mode. Information provided by the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) reveals some startling statistics about our industry that should have all marinas concerned about our future. Specifically, current research from NMMA reveals adiminishing supply of boats and boaters. There’s no doubt this will have a negative impact on marinas because they must react to what boaters demand and boat manufacturers produce.

The Crisis

According to statistical research and analysis from NMMA, the marine industry, including marinas, is facing an uphill battle against an aging population both in terms of the age of boaters and the age of their boats. NMMA noted that the percentage of boaters over 50 years of age is increasing, while the percentage of boaters between 30 to 50 years of age is decreasing. Moreover, the average age of boats in 1997 was 16 years, whereas the current average age of boats is 21 years and typically, their useful life is about 25 years.

My concern with these statistics is that if the industry doesn’t upgrade its boats and attract a younger demographic to boating, there will be far fewer boats and more boaters leaving the boating lifestyle. All sectors of the marine industry, including marinas, need to join together to grow boating. 

A Solution

The decline in the number of boats and boaters is not new. It has been going on since 1997 and accelerated between 2006 and 2010, according to NMMA.

In 2004, the recreational boating industry decided to do something to stem the tide and implemented the Grow Boating Initiative and the Discover Boating Campaign to promote the boating lifestyle.

The Discover Boating campaign is an effort to attract new people to the boating lifestyle by highlighting the positive aspects of boating as a pastime. The campaign also provides educational tools to assist consumers in selecting the right boat for their needs. The core foundation of this movement is that people have a passion for the water; it is contagious, and this helps people identify with boating.

The public relations campaign has evolved over the years, and the current campaign leverages existing boaters’ experiences to attract new boaters. The idea is to have existing boaters share their boating experiences with their family and friends, in person and on the Web. The campaign sees this awareness and/or seeing actual boating experiences as the first step to helping people discover boating. The goal is to have the new potential boater desire, consider and eventually, purchase a boat.

The campaign has a strong Web presence through the website (www. and the use of social media like Facebook (with 220,000 “Likes”) and Twitter. Grow Boating has recently updated its home page (www., implemented new site navigation, redesigned its boat selector tool, implemented a new “Get Started” section and developed a Beginner’s Guides to Boating. 

Useful Resources

By summer 2012, the Discover Boating Facebook page will help bring this concept into reality through the Video Creator template on the Web. This turnkey template allows boaters to upload photos and videos of their boating experiences (which may include your marina), and the Facebook app will allow the user to add personalized text, music and render it into a personalized boating video. The idea is to have boaters share this video with their friends and family to entice them to participate in boating.

Grow Boating will also catalog these videos so that potential customers can view them, if they choose to share with everyone. Boaters can choose to share videos only with family and friends, but the hope is that boaters use the Video Creator to document their boating experiences for everyone. The use of the Internet and social media takes boating directly to the younger generations who are the future of our industry.

One of the most popular tools on the Grow Boating site is the Spousal Conversion Kit, which focuses on letting “the water and wind work its magic” on significant others. The objective is to convince family members to invest discretionary time and money on boating.

Recognizing that there are many other activities people can and do spend their time and money on, the Grow Boating site offers a cost comparison tool that compares the cost of boating to other pastimes, such as RVs, golfing, attending professional sporting events and vacations. This effort helps to challenge the notion that boating is too expensive.

To help boaters in pursuing the “boating lifestyle,” the Grow Boating campaign offers tools to help potential boaters. It includes information on boating basics, such as anchoring, finding boating destinations and understanding the costs of boat ownership, as well as a list of courses consumers can take to learn about boating safety and education.

Grow Boating has created several short Web-based video advertisements for online sports and weather outlets, such as and, because TV advertising has become cost prohibitive. In addition, Grow Boating has produced collateral material and tools to assist in promoting the message and campaign. Marinas can use the materials to help promote the program to their boaters.

Any waterfront facility or marine business has the opportunity to grow a critical component of the initiative, which is getting current boaters involved.

As existing boaters become aware of the campaign, they are empowered to help promote boating to their family and friends.

The Grow Boating committee has made these resources available free of charge to marinas and boat dealers, but the industry needs your help in distributing the message. On the Grow Boating website, marinas will find promotional tools that everyone can use, including online videos that can be embedded into your website, as well as bumper stickers and window decals and DVDs for showroom displays. It’s all there, you just need to visit the site and order your free materials for this season. 

Bridging the Gap

Marinas and boatyards have a real opportunity here to bridge the gap between boat manufacturers, dealers, brokers and the other segments of the marine industry. Remember that marinas are the gateway to the water for recreational boating, and if it were not for marinas, the industry would not be as big as it is today. The objective is to unify the marine industry to create a common voice and promote cooperation between the various sectors. The goal is to increase boating as an activity, attract new people to the pastime and ensure a strong industry for the future. I strongly encourage everyone to participate in this campaign. It is so critical to the future of every segment of the marine industry.

How can marinas do this? One way is for marinas to combine the Discover Boating Campaign “Welcome to the Water” with National Marina Day on June 9. This combination will create a strong message that will help educate boaters and non-boaters alike about marinas, the marine industry and the boating lifestyle. 

I cannot stress the importance of marina involvement in Grow Boating. Be part of the movement or face the consequences. The marine industry can no longer be isolated into individual silos. We must work together to grow participation, focus on the customer, offer innovative and superior experiences for our customers, and welcome more people to the boating lifestyle.

I would like to call your attention to an article written by Ron Stone back in the March/April 2000 issue of Marina Dock Age called “Marinas and Manufacturers are Best Friends.” Stone said, “Clearly, there is a symbiotic relationship between marinas and the recreational marine manufacturing industry. Each needs the other for growth and economic success. It is essential that they work together.” 

His words were as true then, as they are now. I encourage individual marinas to join and work with Grow Boating to actively promote the boating lifestyle to the next generation of boaters. 






Reinforcing the Need for Good Customer Service and Training

This article, by Dennis Kissman, was published in Marina Dock Age –  December 2014/ January 2015


There have been a number of articles in Marina Dock Age over the years about customer service. In fact, I have had the opportunity to author many of those articles, mostly focused on customer service in broad terms. They outline how marinas are in the service business, how good customer service will retain customers, and how your staff should approach the topic of customer service. I think it may be a good time to revisit the topic, as good customer service can overcome many deficiencies in a facility.

Training First

I believe that employee training goes beyond the basic skills and knowledge required for each individual position. In order to have the competitive edge in the marina industry, employees must have profound training in all aspects of customer service.

Before any training can begin, it is necessary that employees understand their own job functions, and carry out those job functions to the very best of their ability. From pumping fuel at your fuel dock, to helping a customer carry groceries, or providing correct billing, those basic functions are important. Employees should be trained to give each and every customer the feeling that they are the most important person in the marina.

The training begins with the basic tenets learned from an early age, simply to say “Please” and “Thank You,” and to smile. The basic training continues with courtesy and respect to your customers. Train employees not to be belligerent with customers, but to listen, smile and hold friendly conversations where appropriate. Employees at this level understand that when a customer visits a marina, they are visiting the area where that customer feels at home, as a special guest.

In our operations, we urge employees to show a positive attitude, not only in dealing with customers, but also with each other. Ask your employees to be honest, frank and sincere with your customers. Bad attitudes chase customers away.

Sometimes, however, the employee just has to grin and bear it. It is precisely at these times when customer service is at its most useful. For example, at the end of a long July 4th holiday, with the temperature and humidity soaring with the boaters all at their moorings or safely nestled in their slips, you take a well-earned breather waiting for fireworks to start. However, the fireworks are in the marina office as two irate customers bound in complaining that the other has unplugged power and is using their pedestal for their own boat. Here is a chance to excel at customer service. In this situation, we train our employees to: one, defuse the situation; two, acknowledge the problem, if one exists; and three, make sure they are empowered to deal with the situation at hand.

Anticipate Needs

Ask your employees to be aware of what goes on around them, to anticipate the needs of others. For example, one of the biggest fears of most boaters is the fear of docking their boat. A simple gesture by an employee would include asking the boat captain if they would like some help in docking and tying up the boat. Keeping in mind, regardless of the size of the boat, every boat underway has a captain on-board and that person deserves the respect that the position is entitled to.

Ask your employees to be prepared, to know “their” marina and approach the customer that may need help, not to wait to be asked. Ask your employees to answer questions correctly, not give any answer that will “keep the customer happy.” If employees do not know the answer to a specific question, they should say they do not know, but find out the answer and get back to the customer in a timely manner.

Ensure that your employees not only look after their own overall cleanliness, but also the cleanliness of their surroundings. We have a saying with our employees when it comes to litter: if you see it, you own it.

Train your employees to treat your customers as though they were guests in your employees’ homes. Ask them to try and remember them by name and make them feel special.

All the above guidelines should form the foundation for your employee training program in customer service, keeping in mind that customer service starts at the top of your organization. Employees will emulate what management does. Management has to look at the whole picture, from hiring the employee with the right attitude and placing him in the correct position and providing additional training when necessary.

Performance Feedback

Employees should get constant feedback for their service performance from simply a pat on the back for a job well done to awards and recognition. The manager acts as coach for the employees, putting the ‘fun’ in fundamentals, and reinforcing and motivating employees.

When you have your customers spreading the word about the level of customer service you provide at your marina, no amount of money spent on other forms of advertising can compete with the return you will get from good customer service.

The following is a good reminder to all your employees of the importance of customers to your business. Use these freely to get the message to all employees about why good customer service is vital to the success of your marina and their future employment.

The Ten Commandments of Customer Service

• The Customer is the most important person in our business.

• The Customer is not obligated to us – we are obligated to him.

• The Customer is not an intruder on our work – he is the reason for it.

• The Customer does us a favor when he arrives – our service is not a favor to him, but our purpose!

• The Customer is not a slip number, or statistic – but a human being with the same feelings and emotions as ourselves.

• The Customer is not someone with whom you argue or match wits!

• The Customer  brings us his desires, it is our job to fulfill those desires.

• The Customer is deserving of the most courteous and attentive service we can provide!

• The Customer is the person who makes it possible for us to pay our bills, provide salaries and maintain our Marina.

• Without our Customers, there would be no marina.

If you plan to use customer service as a tool to promote your marina, it has to be more than just words. It takes dedication and hard work that has to be in place and acted upon in a consistent manner. Implementing an effective customer service program does not have to be expensive, but the rewards can add tremendous value to your bottom line.




This article, by Dennis Kissman, was published in Marina Dock Age –  May/June 2013


Is your marina governed by a lease or concessionaire agreement from a governmental or quasi-governmental agency or possibly a private entity? If so, be sure you know the financial condition of your own business before you start complaining you cannot make your lease or concessionaire rental payments. Recently, we have been involved in two situations where the marinas had land leases with governmental agencies. Both marina owners used the current economic conditions as the reason why they needed a rent concession on their leases. One of the leases has been resolved with a reduction in rent, while the other is still pending. In our opinion, both clients have justifiable reasons to request rent reductions because of the impact of current economic conditions on their businesses. But how they justify their reasons for the reduction can make the difference in the outcome to their request.

Lowering Your Rent

If you are in a similar situation and considering approaching your “landlord” for a rent concession, whether it is a governmental agency or private sector owner, here are a few tips you may want to consider:

Relying on media hype about the economy, high unemployment or the weather, as a basis for your request, sounds like an excuse and weakens your argument. These are all factors that may contribute to your situation, but if you do decide to use any of them in your argument you must make them specific to your operation and customer base.

Statements or specific claims must be supported with facts. For example, lake levels are down and 30 of my previously occupied slips, which represent 20 percent of my total slips, cannot be occupied because of the low lake levels. Statements based on your opinion or hearsay are only going to weaken your argument.

When you make a broad statement, such as, my business is down because of the economy, be prepared to answer the next question; how specifically has the economy impacted your business? For example, you could address the situation like this: the Fourth of July holiday period represents about 30 percent of the marina’s fuel and store sales for the entire season. For the last two years with the sluggish economy customers have not use their boats, despite the good boating weather. As a result, store and fuel sales, which normally represent 10 percent of the marina’s total profits, have reduced the marina’s annual Net Operating Income (NOI) by $25,000. Making a statement like that gives the landlord or government agency the confidence that you understand what impacts your business.


Make sure that your financial records properly reflect what is happening in your business. Most importantly, maintain consistent records. The quickest way to lose creditability is to have continually changed how you record specific revenues or expenses. For example: one time you code a utility hookup fee as revenue and then another time it is offset against utility expenses. This does not impact your bottom line. If you are making an argument that your utility costs are up, it is difficult to justify, when part of the time you code the reimbursement as revenue and other times as a reduction of expenses.

Where important trends can be established, accurate historical records relating to finances, occupancy, weather information, will help you justify your request. For example, if you can show that there was not a revenue problem before the current issue arose, whether it is the economy, water levels, weather or any number of other issues that are impacting your profitability,  it will increase your creditability. The longer that you can go back, the more creditable your argument will be. It has been my experience that trends are cyclical and we can learn from the past to shorten any downturns that impact your business, Make sure the adjustment you are requesting is the reason for your financial problems. I mentioned earlier that we were involved in two requests for rent adjustments and one was granted and the second is pending. The problem with the pending request is that the record keeping is not the most diligent. Also, a quick review of  the marina’s records showed that if it did not have to pay anything for the lease agreement with the agency, it still would have lost more than $50,000 last year. Granted, the lease terms are a problem and need to be addressed, but before you ask for some concession in your payment terms, make sure that you have a viable business plan that can be supported with facts and data.

Be Prepared

If you expect a rental concession, know the details and history of your business before you ask. The people that will make a decision on your request may not know your marina, but they probably know how businesses are run in general. Whether you are talking about marinas or carpet cleaning, business logic applies universally, in many cases. Show them you understand your business, and they’ll have confidence that you know what it needs to improve.



This article, by Dennis Kissman, was published in Marina Dock Age – November 2013 I have often asked marinas why boaters keep their boats at that facility. Typically, the answers are general and superficial. For example; they may say, it is their location, the amenities offered or their new docks. Rarely do they say it is because of the quality of their staff.

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Carl Wolf joins the MMS team in Florida

Marina Management Services, Inc. (MMS) announces that Carl Wolf, CMM, has joined the MMS team focusing on marina operations, consulting engagements and the creation of the MMS marina policy manua

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