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Entries in 2014 (6)



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.


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. 



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

Over the years I have visited a number of marinas both wet slip and dry stack that have what I call a grave yard for boat trailers.  From a boaters perspective the trailer is like a security blanket thinking they can move their boat at any time they chose.  In reality if that trailer has not been used in the last six months most likely it is too dangerous to carry the boat over the road.  Many of those boat owners do not even have a vehicle capable of towing their boat today.  That raises the question in the boaters mind: Why keep the trailer?, and for you as the marina operator: Is there an opportunity to make money out of this situation?

Some of you may be saying “I charge rent on trailer storage” but is the risk worth it? I was recently with a client that had one of these grave yards for trailers.  A wet slip customer was moving and leaving the area after being at the marina for several years.  He wanted his trailer to put the boat on and take it to his new home.  You could have imagined the shape that trailer would have been in.  The only problem was the marina could not find the trailer even though the customer had paid monthly for storage since he first arrived.  The marina ended up buying a new trailer, and it was not cheap, for this boater and any money they received from charging rent was gone.

It appears that lost trailers are more of a problem than you may think.  If you are plagued with this problem I would like to suggest the following to minimize this embarrassing and costly situation:

1. Define an area where trailers are stored and identify a specific area for each trailer.  This is no different than what you do when a customer’s boat is in a slip or dry rack.

2. Record each license plate number and the expiration date associated with the trailer in a given spot.  Current license plates seem to grow legs when setting in a storage yard.

3. Do a weekly inventory of all trailers being stored on the property.  Having a permanent record of what trailers were on the property on a given date.  This may help reduce your insurance premium by having a good control in place.  This is no different than doing dock walks on a regular basis.

4. All trailers should have a manufactures identification number but these numbers are often hard to fine.  I would suggest investing is a steel stamp letter set.  These sets cost less than $100.00 and they are well worth the investment.  With this lettering set you can establish your own unique identification system and place the numbers in a uniform location on the trailers making it easy for employees to inventory the trailers being stored.

5. Take a picture of the trailer when it is placed in the storage yard and keep it with the customer’s record.  It is funny how boat owners seem to forget what their trailer looked like or the condition it was in when it arrived.

It may be that storing trailers on your property is not the best solution.  As a marina owner you want that customer to call your marina their boat’s home.  I would like to throw out an idea that may appeal to you.  Let’s say a new customer comes to your marina and his boat is on a trailer.  What if you suggest to him that you will take his trailer in trade for storage?  Not different than trading in a car.  Let’s say that it is a new trailer with a market value of $1,800.  The wholesale value may be $1,200 and that or less is the storage credit you offer.  Now you have a trailer to sell or keep and rent out.  The renting out of trailers may be particularly lucrative if you have an in-house service department that can maintain trailers as well as boats.  You would only want to keep the best and most versatile trailers in your rental fleet and the size of your fleet will vary depending upon rental activity.  Several trailer rental places I have checked with have only four to six types of trailers in their rental fleet and the average size of the fleet is eight trailers.  Since you will be renting to a captive audience you will be able to design your fleet specific to your customer base.

If this is a revenue stream that you believe would help you, check with your insurance agent first as I understand the laws and insurance coverage may change from state to state.  I further understand that the majority of time liability is covered under the towing vehicle’s insurance policy but not in all circumstances.  Like any other activity where mechanical equipment is involved, keep detailed maintenance records to avoid liability issues should a problem arise.

If you believe this is a good idea but do not want to get in the trailer rental business check in your area for places that commercially rent trailers and work a deal where you can get a commission if you make arrangements for one of your customers to rent a trailer.  In either case you have accomplished getting that boater out of the trailer but he still has his security blanket that a trailer is available if he needs it and he knows it will be in good shape to take over the road.



This article, by Dennis Kissman, was published in Marina Dock Age –  May/June 2014

One topic that I have written and spoken on at many marina conferences is the importance of good record keeping and financial reporting.  I think it is time to revisit this topic as many marina owners do not put enough emphasis on it when conducting their business and making those important decisions that will guide their business and, more importantly, their profitability going forward.

There are several issues that come to mind but I believe the most important is having consistency in how and what you report.  Even if your information is not the most detailed or complete, having consistent information that is presented in a consistent format will allow you to compare from one year to the next on how well you are doing.

Following in importance is non financial information.  We are in a reactionary business and there are a number of outside factors that you have no control over but still have to react to.  This can impact your profitability. Some examples are the weather, inland lake water levels, economy and other recreational activities in your market area.  One of the busiest holidays for boating activity is the Fourth of July.  If July fourth falls on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, boating activity in that year will be less than if the fourth falls on any other day of the week.  Keeping track of this non financial information in a consistent manner is just as important as the financial information.  Make sure that when you look at what you wrote a year ago it still has meaning.  To help me, I like to make what I call a “cheat sheet”.  This is just a list of the external issues that impact your business.  The one thing that tops the list of issues is weather.  Typically if there is bad weather when a holiday occurs most likely it will negatively impact your bottom line for the year.

I would like to get back to the financial information and how non financial information plays a role in helping make the right business decisions.  I stated how important consistency is in financial reporting but many times the difference in a number does not tell you what is going on in your business.  If you did not understand the makeup of the amount reported for prior year as well as the current year the decision you make guiding your business may be the wrong one.  Let’s take a look at one example, fuel sales, and dissect what is or is not important.  What are the important components that impact the profitability of your fuel sales; gallons of fuel sold, the price you paid for the fuel, the price you sold the fuel for, the weather and local economic conditions and last but not least, the fuel inventory balance.

I want to put some numbers to the analysis mentioned above to show how you arrive at some meaningful information to make a business decision on.

In this example the marina only sold one type of fuel.  If more than one type of fuel is sold a similar analysis should be performed.  The information shown in the first section represents basic information that is from your accounts payable for fuel and your daily sales log of fuel sold.  The information shown in the second section in the table represents what you have recorded as revenue and cost of sales for the period.  The bottom section of the table is the analysis of the numbers that are previously stated in the table.









Gallons of Fuel Sold




Average Sales Price Per Gallon




Average Costs Per Gallon




Gross Profit Per Gallon







Total Fuel Sales




Total Fuel Costs




Gross Profit on Fuel Sales







Due to reduction of Gallons Sold



Due to the Price Increase on Gallons Sold



Due to the Cost Decrease on Gallons Sold



Net increase in Gross Profit









You may be asking how you arrive at those numbers to explain the increase in gross profits.  Here are the formulas:

  1.        To get the Reduction of Gallons Sold you take the difference in the top line ($1,812.0) times the gross profit per gallon for the prior month ($1.20).
  2.        To get the Price Difference you take the gallons sold for the current period (6,928.0) times the difference in the average sales price per gallon ($0.25).
  3.        To get the Cost Difference you take current number of gallons sold (6,928.0) times the difference in the cost per gallon sold ($0.08).
  4.        The Gross Profit is the net of one through three above.  Keep in mind as a general rule decreases in gallons sold result in a negative number while price increases and cost decreases result in positive numbers.

Now that you have the financial information analyzed you can apply the non financial information to further explain the change and make changes accordingly.  For example, there are three factors that could have reduced the number of gallons sold.  They are: local economy, weather, or price of fuel which would be a factor in the status of the economy.

This is just one account that we have analyzed but similar types of analysis can be set up for every type of revenue and expense account as long as you understand what the components are that goes into determining the amounts reflected in your profit and loss statement.

This is just one more reason for keeping good records of your business’ performance.  This whole process may sound complicated at first but once you get into it you will see how much easier it is to make the right decisions to improve your marinas profitability.



This article, by Dennis Kissman, was published in Marina Dock Age - September/October 2014

Safety is an issue in which we all must address.  Not because it’s the law, but since it’s the right thing to do.  Employees are a marina's most valuable asset.  Their health and well-being should be the company’s number one priority. Safety has an influence on the financial strength and the operations of the marina. Think through the consequences if an employee suffers from a workplace injury:  the employee has suffered; the company may lose a valued employee for a period of time; who will replace the employee during their absence?; Workers’ Compensation and/or insurance premiums may increase; depending upon the injury, government regulators may visit the workplace; litigious lawsuits could be brought forth.  Protect your employees and your marina by setting forth a plan in which you can minimize safety issues from occurring.

Assessing Your Marina

To begin with, you need to have a thorough internal or external written assessment completed of your marina.  This assessment should look at and identify all safety and health hazards related to physical assets (utilities, docks, tools, cleaning supplies, etc.) and operational tasks (cleaning the restrooms, replacing a dock board, edging the lawn, etc.) within the marina, in which employees may use or be exposed to.  Additionally, this assessment can be used as a baseline to move forward eliminating hazards or to identify new issues as the marina experiences changes or processes. Use the assessment when creating, maintaining and auditing the marinas workplace safety and health program.  Items and tasks which need to be identified for further evaluation on safety and health issues can be addressed.

A Written Workplace Safety and Health Policy

It begins with management leadership and employee involvement.  A workplace policy is created and communicated to the employees. Detail job descriptions that include safety and health responsibilities. State the marinas current year’s goals and objectives. Evaluate safety and health responsibilities. Inform visiting contractors and customers as needed.

With adequate training, guidance and a nurtured company safety philosophy, an employee will view work related tasks with an eye towards safety.  For example; when cleaning a restroom, they can be made aware that accidently mixing two (2) different products together which can create a harmful vapor.  An employee’s shoes can prevent them from slipping on wet floors or protect them from splinters on the docks or understand that an electrical cord with a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) can protect them from an electrical hazard when working around wet locations. Goggles can protect their eyes from flying debris while edging the lawn. Teach employee’s the hazards of working around water and the importance of wearing a life jacket if they accidently fall in the water.

Training is a high priority to ensure a safe and healthy workplace.  Setting aside time and having knowledgeable employee(s) to do effective training is important.  Following a set training program, a new employee is indoctrinated immediately into the program on their first day of work.  The program progresses as the employee’s duties change, the work environment evolves or the safety and health policy is updated.  Maintain records for the employees on the training they have received. These records should become part of the safety and/or the employees file.

Safety rules and regulations have to be enforced.  A proactive approach is always desired.  If needed, a disciplinary program needs to be in place and followed.  A report on an incident, near miss or accident must be created and investigated.  Safety procedures can be created or adjusted by using these reports as a learning tool.


The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is there to help your marina.  Their website is a helpful online resource that your marina can use. You can locate workplace health and safety requirements that apply to your marina. Your marina can request an OSHA on-site consultation that is free and provides confidential advice in all states across the country.  Refer to OSHA’s on-site consultation fact sheet for additional details ( on the program. Find out if your state has specific requirements that are OSHA approved and the standards that state mandates. Take advantage of training courses, educational programs and materials offered by OSHA for employers.

As a marina owner/operator, providing employees with a safe and healthy workplace is critical to the wellbeing of your employees and the success of your business.  Take the time now, educate management, invest as needed and create a positive philosophy for a safe employee and a safe marina environment.  Protect your employees, protect your marina, and set forth a plan in which you can help minimize potential safety issues from occurring at your marina.


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.