Interview with Kelly’s Port on How to Succeed in Down Times

kellys-portKyle Kelly and the staff at Kelly’s Port Marine are in the business of selling fun for a living and their customers are the great benefactor.

Established in the Lake of the Ozarks in 1977 by Kyle’s father Randy, Kelly’s Port has grown to be one of the top marine dealerships in the area through exceptional service.  Even in times where the economy was down, the dealership has been able to grow through offering a same-day service guarantee that no one else can provide. They were also just named a Top 100 dealership for the ninth time in 10 years.

The dealership is now heading into its second-generation of ownership as Randy is currently working on the transition of handing it down to Kyle and his brother Ryan.  We recently spoke with Kyle to find out how they’ve been able to achieve a high level of success.

IDS: Congratulations on once again being named to Boating Industry’s Top 100!  Tell us what the business has done to be named a Top 100 dealer for the ninth time in 10 years?

Kyle:  “The Top 100 is a nice program that we got involved in several years ago.  During that time, we’ve received some great recognition and have also been fortunate enough to be selected as the editor’s choice a few times.  It’s a great program.  Our team works very, very hard to take care of our customers and it’s nice to get their vote of confidence, as well as recognition from our peers on a national basis.  We’re flattered!”

IDS: As a dealership that’s located in the Lake of the Ozarks, you deal with quite a bit of competition.  What have you done to set yourselves apart and succeed, especially in recent years where the economy impacted many dealerships?

Kyle:  “The joys of being at the lake is that we have great competition.  We very much encourage it and we’re also pushed by our competition to strive, innovate, do better, and grow. Our primary focus is our commitment to service.  We started out as a marine repair shop and then got involved into the sales and storage aspect of the business.  Since we started out primarily in service, we’ve worked to keep that same mindset in our commitment to the customer.  It’s the main concentration of our business.  That being said, the main thing we do to set ourselves apart from the competition is guarantee same-day service.  We’re the only marine dealership in the nation to offer this.

If you purchase a new or certified, pre-owned boat from Kelly’s Port and your boat breaks down, we will send out a mobile service unit and have a certified tech in your boat working on it, anywhere in the Lake of the Ozarks, by the end of the day’s business.  It’s also backed up with a $500 guarantee.  We are open throughout the weekend and holidays, so you can call us any day if your boat isn’t running.  Whether you’re at the 20 mile marker or 90 mile marker of the lake, we will be on your boat by the end of the day’s business.  If we don’t make it, we’ll send our tech out the next day with a $500 check.  That’s our commitment to our customers.

Our customers obviously make an investment with us, so we feel it’s important to back it up with our name as well.  We feel that service is often times more of a perception.  What one person considers great service isn’t necessarily great to someone else.  In an effort to separate ourselves, we decided to qualitatively define what great service is to us.  If your boat breaks down and we don’t have a technician inside your boat that day, we don’t feel like we are living up to our commitment.  It’s not fair to the customer because they only have so many summer weekends where they are on the lake.  For them to miss out on a time boating because our best practices aren’t in line isn’t fair to the customer.”

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IDS:  With that kind of commitment, how many mobile service units do you have on call during your peak season to ensure you meet expectations?

Kyle:  “We have seven mobile units in the water ready to go, two on back-up, and four trucks.  It works out extremely well.  I would say that 98% of the time, or better, our mobile service team is able to fix a boat right on the spot.  We don’t hire 16 year olds that go out and tow your boat back.  When we go out on a call, the expectation is that your boat will be fixed at your location.”

IDS:  One big change your business experienced this year is that you implemented IDS as your dealer management system after using another system since the 90s.  What made you decide that this was the year to upgrade to a new system, and what features have helped you the most?

Kyle:  “It all ties in with our commitment and service to our customers.  The biggest deciding factor in us looking at, and ultimately choosing, IDS was the Service Scheduler.  For us to be able to schedule jobs and our workload more effectively really makes a difference.  It helps us, from an internal process and logistics standpoint, on what boats to pick up and not pick up. It’s also saved us time on handling and storage.

One thing that we’re also working on, now that we have IDS, is giving our customers the sense they are part of the family.  If you buy a boat from Kelly’s Port we give you special discounts, and with IDS we can track it much easier.  We have it set up now so our customer base is categorized as A, B, C, and D customers.  Category A customers have bought a boat from us, Category B customers store their boats with us, Category C customers are cash off the water and Category D customers are warranty that wasn’t purchased from us.

We offer a 10% discount to our category A customers on all service they have done as well as a 10 cent discount on fuel.  With IDS, it shows their loyalty discount on the invoice and our commitment to them.  The IDS Service Scheduler also helps us prioritize according to their customer code.  Category A customer obviously have top priority.  We feel that IDS gives us the tools necessary to offer our customers the best service and is the best fit for our company.”

IDS: Having been accustomed to another software system for so long, how has the transition been getting your team trained and utilizing a new system?

Kyle: “There’s no perfect software out there and there’s no operation that won’t experience challenges.  That being said, the team at IDS has been above and beyond what our initial expectations were. One of the bigger motivating factors for us choosing IDS was their implementation team and business practices.  Now that we’re with them, I can say everything they told us they were going to do has been done and they all have been extremely helpful.  Just the fact they have an implementation team puts them light years ahead of the competition.  We hear about so many different software companies through our Dealer 20 groups where people have a hard time just getting a live person on the phone and we don’t have that problem.

During the sales process Greg Dewalt, who has real-world experience working in a dealership, came to our business and told us how we’d have advantages on the operations side of the business.  It turned out to be 100% correct.  They’ve done an excellent job for us so I can’t compliment them enough.”

IDS: What advice would you give to dealers who are looking to grow their business and reach a new level of success?

Kyle:  “Commitment to service is important.  Just like the farm or auto industry, service is one of, if not the most important, aspect of your business that will allow you to survive.  I know it’s what helped us make it through the recession.  It’s been our commitment and we encourage other dealers throughout the nation to continue with it as well.  There’s a battle not only within the boat business, but also outside the boat business, competing for discretionary income.  We as a marine industry need to continue to strive and fight for our customers and make sure they are happy with their investment.”

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