If you answer "raise slip rate by $3 a foot" you are correct!
Bruce Swabb, CPA
Your customers want to love you and your marina. No kidding. They want to have a special feeling for the place they keep their boat and they want to feel good every time they drive up the gravel drive to the marina.
You’d be surprised how many marina operators have forgotten how to make their customers feel at home. I completely understand how this happens because you have a number of big concerns facing you every single day. The electrical posts are acting “funny”, you’re wondering how to reverse the silting that is slowly filling in the slips, the dockmaster really does need a raise and the charcoal grill just went kaput for crying out loud!
I also completely understand that you’ve been chewed on pretty thoroughly by quite a few of these customers over the years, and that really does get old.
Susan and I have lived in many marinas over the years and have liked most and really loved a few. Sadly, one of the marinas we loved the most was so poorly and unprofessionally operated, that we were always on the edge of moving our boat. In short, the marina manager made the customers feel as if they were lucky to even have a spot and that if they were to leave, the marina could quickly fill the open slip.
But I am convinced that there are few businesses that have better customer retention than a marina IF just a few commonsense needs are met. And if these needs are met, the slip rental rate is pretty low on the “last straw” list for your customers.
· Welcoming feel – keep top of mind that each of these customers will put several thousand dollars a year in the till. If you can keep a customer for 3 to 5 years, their business is worth quite a bit to you. Make sure that every staff member stays focused on customer satisfaction and creating that welcoming feeling. Give your staff a place to blow off steam in private when they get a load of grief from a customer.
· Security – Our marina is located within a gated community (with real guards expecting to see real identification) and has the best security I’ve seen yet. Few marinas have that type of security but you should ensure that steps are taken to protect your customers’ property. Surveillance cameras have come a long way over the last few years, and on-site nightly security is very important. Especially where marinas are nestled into the dense urban landscape of a city like Fort Lauderdale.
· Clean, modern and ample bathroom/shower facilities – Keep the ladies happy with the shower and bathroom facilities and she will remember your marina and spread the word to other boaters. And of course, if your bathrooms are a horror show – she will ABSOLUTELY spread the word. But why not just knock her socks off with a really nice facility. Oh, and please – spend the extra $200 per year and offer real toilet paper, rather than the 2-inch wide stuff that comes on a 1,000-foot spool.
· Quality amenities – Each marina is unique and most have real limitations in what they can offer. The important thing is to make sure that what you offer is of high quality and well maintained. We have always loved marinas with an open air gathering place for boaters to hold their much loved pot luck gatherings. At our current marina, we all sit under the shade of a giant live oak tree. A covered pavilion would be great, but we don’t expect the marina to go that far. A commercial grade grill (propane or charcoal) will stand up to heavy use. A laundry room with ample washers and dryers will save a ton of time for your customers.
· WiFi – I think marinas have now realized that boaters are heavy wifi users. Hey, Netflix needs lots of speed! Internet access is one of those amenities that will earn your marina negative remarks for not having enough bandwidth.
· Clear policies and rules, fairly applied – You should have as few policies as possible and be strict and matter of fact in enforcing them. You certainly don’t want your customers to feel browbeaten, or that the rules are applied to some and not others. Worse yet, you don’t want them to feel as if they can be asked to leave the marina at any time for violation of some rule they may not even be aware of. Your customers should see your marina as a haven from oppression. Payment policies are one area that you show no tolerance. If you are providing all the great things listed above, you should demand the customer live up to their side of the bargain.
· Reasonable rates – Obviously, I’ve saved this item for last. Do you know the competitive slip and dry storage rates of the marinas in your area? Where are your rates in the spectrum? Market and economic forces have a big impact on what you can charge, but if you keep your customers warm, fuzzy and satisfied, you will have much more acceptance of your slip rates. Your long-term customers also know that there will be times when you must raise their slip rate. Communicate your need and show them that you are maintaining the property – and that you do not take their patronage for granted – and you will retain most of those customers.
You know all of this already – but sometimes it helps to be reminded. Now get out there and create some warm and fuzzy shelter from the madness outside your marina gates.