Air Date: January 22, 2013
Listen in now as we have a conversation with Fred Pace, managing partner and founder of Legendary Marine, named North America’s #1 Boat Dealer in 2012 as voted by the editors of Boating Industry magazine.
Under Pace’s direction and leadership, Legendary Marine has consistently earned top national and regional performance ranking, capping with this most recent pinnacle of achievement.
We begin by talking about how Legendary Marine became Boating Industry’s Dealer of the Year for 2012. Pace says anyone who has received a similar award knows the credit goes to the great people who surround him and who are passionate about the industry.
Legendary Marine was started in 2001, located in a single trailer, “in simple days.” Pace says, “We’ve been very fortunate to have terrific growth.” The company now has four primary locations as well as a value center.
As well as having a winning team, Legendary has become a good student of the industry, says Pace. “We’ve become adept at implementing new ideas into our program. We’ve been fortunate to become involved in a number of groups where we’ve been exposed to what other companies have done successfully.”
One of the lines carried by Legendary is Cobalt, and Pace comments that Cobalt’s 20 Group has had a huge impact on the dealership. “They’ve been an open book for us. The other members have all helped us become a better dealership.”
Legendary also carries boats from Sea Hunt, Everglades, Hurricane, Marquis, Skeeter, Xcursion, Carver, Rinker, Godfrey, Scout and Chris-Craft.
The largest volume line is Sea Hunt, a great value product that works well for families that want to fish but also have a platform out on the water. The Hurricane deck boat lends itself very well to the NW Gulf Coast area with its shallow water capabilities. The Everglades product has also done well, appreciated by more affluent customers who are moving out of larger sport fisherman.
Legendary recently became a Scout dealer, and that fills another niche for the dealership. In addition, the Marquis offers a premium brand capable of long-range cruising.
For the Legendary Marine team, the variety of boats encourages sales people to become brand champions. “It’s definitely a challenge for sales,” says Pace, “and even more so for our the parts and service department.”
The company’s customer base is starting to change as new people come into the market. “Our experience is that if those people have the water gene, they’ll become enamored of boating and they’ll stay with it.“
What attracts these new people?
Pace says they have a “pretty robust” schedule of events and an active schedule that reaches out to the military and to other groups in the area. Store managers have been very supportive, especially in bringing in military families.
For all new customers, first it’s getting them to come around the water, and then in the water. “We’re also aware of how families change, and we want to keep reminding them about how much fun boating can be.”
At Legendary Marine, the service department is key. “Boats have more service issues than cars do, and we try to be very proactive about maintenance.”
The company’s CSI program has been very successful. “We find that customers are more likely to give information to a third party and our real-time program has been successful. People typically will get a phone call the same day of service, or at least within 24 hours. And that type of format provides information very fast.”
Previous CSI programs involved mail surveys and by the time the information was received at the dealership, the time lag made that information almost too late.
“Now the information is relayed right away, and we have the time to fix problems immediately,” says Pace.
Valerie Ziebron sent in a question for Pace: “How do you embrace negative feedback, and how do you keep from taking it personally?”
He replies, “It’s not pleasant to find out that you are doing something that’s not good, but that’s how you improve. And we embrace it as a team. We share the CSI reports with the individuals and with appropriate manager. We realize that we sell something that nobody needs, and if we don’t do a good job, then customers don’t come back.”
And how do you not take criticism personally?
“Some of our customers are very used to high-end automobile service. And when they are critical, we do take it personally, but without customers we don’t have jobs. We have to develop thick skins, and realize that they are buying some boats that cost more than a home, and when the boats don’t function perfectly, they have the right to be critical.”
What is Legendary Marine doing for training?
“We are learning a lot from the automotive industry, and we understand that training is just part of what we have to do here to maintain our position here on the Gulf Coast. It’s practice, drill, and rehearse. Not just something you can for a month and think you’ll remember it. We do it on a daily basis, and on a formal basis with our trainer. We have also switched our monthly management meetings to a weekly format to allow us to react more quickly to market conditions. We also getting together more with our technicians to empower them to tell us what they would change. When employees see things change based on something they said, they give a better buy in. And then everything improves for employees and customers alike.”
Pace’s service team has quite a bit of interaction with the sales team. “It’s a process,” he says, “and we may change some processes every four to six months if necessary to make them more efficient. I think for the most part our staff believes we make changes for the customers and to streamline things for ourselves. The whole thing can be a balancing act.”
Among the new stuff coming up is the LEGENDS Boating Club to encourage people to get out on the water even if they cannot on do not want to own a boat. They can pay a fee and we take care of everything else for them. “We think some of these people will buy boats, but some will just continue in the boat club, and that’s fine, too,” says Pace.
Finally, what advice does Pace have for other dealers?
“Be passionate about your business,” he says. “It’s a challenging business and you really have to love it, and you need to surround yourself by other people who love the water also, and have a similar mindset.”
Besides the coveted ‘best dealer’ award for the U.S. and Canada, Legendary Marine is an eight-time consecutive Boating Industry Top 100-ranked dealership, former recipient of Boat & Motor Dealer magazine’s prestigious annual “Dealer of the Year” designation, ten-year “Best of the Emerald Coast” winner for boat sales & service, two-time recipient of “Finest on the Emerald Coast for Boat Sales and Service” by the readers of the Northwest Florida Daily News and most recently, winner in the BEST IN DESTIN magazine for boat sales and service.
Legendary Marine is the largest dealership on the Gulf Coast of Florida, with locations in Destin, Ft. Walton Beach and Panama City, FL, Gulf Shores, AL. Legendary Marine is the #1 Sea Hunt dealer in the nation and the #1 dealer for Everglades boats; the dealership also took home the #1 Regional Customer Service award this year for Cobalt Boats. The dealership consistently earns outstanding scores in third-party CSI (customer service index) rankings.
Prior to assuming the helm at Legendary Marine in 2001, Fred managed Adventure Marine with locations in Ft. Walton Beach and Key Largo, FL for 10 years. Additionally, he managed the sales operations for Marine Centers of California with seven stores between San Diego and San Francisco in 1998 and 1999. After a successful sale of the Marine Center stores to Olympic Marine, Fred was hired as Dealer Development Manager in 2000, primarily directing the training efforts of existing Proline and Donzi dealers. His career also includes multiple years in automotive sales management.
Fred is tapped regularly for media feedback on marine industry initiatives and evelopments, serves on panels at key industry events and has participated as an expert dealer representing the marine division in two national conferences for GE Finance.