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Seattle Boat Company's plan to train at Dealer Week

A Road Map for Success

Seattle Boat Company to incorporate Dealer Week 2020 training within its annual planning meeting

Nearly two decades ago, Seattle Boat Company began a process that involved a total commitment to excellence — one that required its executive and management teams to be completely transparent with everyone … a mission that involved incorporating continuing education and training in an effort to separate itself from its competition.

Today, that initiative has not swayed, even in the face of a global pandemic and other unforeseen challenges, because in order for Seattle Boat Company to build its road map for success, it requires full commitment towards continuous improvement.

This year, with large social gatherings restricted due to COVID-19, Seattle Boat Company decided to change how it held its annual planning meeting. While one could argue for skipping it entirely because it’s a been a long, tiring and trying year, Seattle Boat Company’s James Baker and Elizabeth Bohling insist that it’s the ideal time to meet — even if online or in smaller groups — to talk about their current situations, pains and objectives for moving ahead in 2021.

That’s why they are building a customized end-of-the-year planning event that includes attending Dealer Week 2020 as well as in-house continuing education.

Dealer Week going virtual in 2020 offered a perfect answer to their situation. After studying the speakers and educational topics, they decided to create a plan for all their team members.

“This year, obviously with COVID, gathering 80 people in the same room wasn’t a possibility, so we said we’re going to have to do something virtual,” said Baker, Vice President, Seattle Boat Company. “Dealer Week seemed to be a good format to follow. And an opportunity to bring a lot more people to Dealer Week than we would have if we require travel and things like that – a more efficient way to do it.”

Seattle Boat Company decided to break the nearly 80 employees into two evenly dispersed groups. One group consists of admin, sales, marketing and management team members that will attend Dealer Week. The other, comprised of its detailers, marina operators, and technicians, will attend in-house training. Outside vendors will be brought in to facilitate the hands-on training, while management and the rest of the internal operations teams will train with Dealer Week educators.

“We put together a plan after looking at the Dealer Week speakers and the topics,” stated Baker. “We know that service techs and detailers are not going to want to sit through those courses, so they will do their own training. We’ll shut down for two days like we normally do, but we’ll break everybody up into groups and then send the groups to their designated locations, complete with media set-up for classroom participation.”

From there, each group will then break into groups. Technicians will go to one class, Detailers will go to another class, the largest being around a dozen total. There will be five facilities where they will break into groups and a couple of the facilities may hold two groups; maybe some in the showroom and one in the service shop.

After each session, the operational groups will discuss the educational topic and what they learned. At the end of the two days, each employee will be tasked to share two action items that they learned from this two-day planning session that they are going to move forward on and implement. The plan is to have a key group attend Dealer Week live and then the following week, they will all re-watch those sessions. They expect that effort to help generate “roadmaps,” and each departmental roadmap feeds into the overall company roadmap.

Seattle Boat Company’s customized departmental and organizational roadmaps highlight budget goals and other key areas of focus.

“After our annual planning meeting, I meet with the departmental managers and we really put those action items into tangible, measurable action lists,” explained Bohling. “They check in on those quarterly and see where they are at and at the end of the year, we see if we met the goals on our list; by department.”

This year’s plan involves educational growth for all, but also participation in Seattle Boat Company’s annual state of the company address. For this, they will all be tuned into a master Seattle Boat Company channel. Baker said the plan is to make it fun, too, but hopes the paid time off from a normal work day and for getting additional applicable training is viewed as a perk. It’s also here, where the company does an employee survey to capture input it can use to improve staff and operations.

“It goes back to continuous improvement,” said Baker. “It’s never good enough. There’s always going to be a better way. It’s never our way or the highway. It’s constantly evolving, if they see a better way to service a boat and this piece of equipment it can help everybody be more efficient and a customer gets their boat back quicker. That’s what we are looking for.”

They also share customer reviews, both positive and negative in nature. The conversation oftentimes turns to a ‘what could we have done here to improve?’ conversation when they receive negative feedback. They approach a complaint as an opportunity for to grow and get better. And they use the positives to share wins together.

“It’s a huge learning week and also a celebratory week in a way,” said Baker.

Bohling also explained that having the dealership owner, Alan Bohling, share and be transparent is essential to the planning and learning together mantra.

“His goal is to be fully transparent so that the staff knows exactly what they are working towards and what their hard work has actually resulted in,” said Elizabeth. “Another huge thing is company bonding. Through team-building exercises, you meet people you have never really gotten to know before. It creates an amazing culture among us where there is just a lot more unity.”

The timing is ideal for Dealer Week 2020, Dec. 8-11, and the annual planning meeting because it leads right into the holiday break. “Then they come back the next year refreshed after Christmas,” said Bohling, “and come ready to conquer and take on the next year.”

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