Boat Dealers Turn To 20 Groups To Improve Their Businesses

To get a leg up on other area dealers, many industry leaders have turned to 20 Groups as a way to improve their business.

John Spader, of South Dakota-based Spader Business Management, has been running 20 Groups for more than 30 years. These groups began in other industries, such as RV and auto, and expanded to marine in the late 1970s.

Spader, who believes he was the first to do them in the marine industry, said 20 Groups are groups of non-competing dealers who gather a few times a year to discuss their businesses, find solutions to problems and share ideas of how to improve and become more efficient.

“You get an outside board of directors,” said Spader. “You get some accountability. You don’t have to reinvent he wheel. Rarely are you going to run into a problem one of the other dealers has not already had.

“You get a lot and you give a lot,” he added.

David Parker, of Florida-based Parker Business Planning, used to lead Spader 20 Groups until he set out on his own in 1999.

His first 20 Group met nearly 10 years ago. At the time of its first meeting, the average sales of the group were $5.6 million, new and used boat margins averaged 15.9 percent and net profit averaged $207,684 or 3 percent of sales.

Two years later, the average sales of the same group were $7.2 million, gross margins had increased to 21 percent and net profit had increased to $471,911, or 5.2 percent of sales.

“Members of a 20 Group have higher highs and higher lows than dealers who are not in a 20 Group,” Parker said. “If two heads are better than one, how about 20.”

Spader noted that many dealers will push their direct competitors to get into 20 Groups, as well.

“We’re all going to have competitors…having good competitors is better than having bad competitors,” he said. “Having a competitor who knows they should have labor rates in the $90 to $100 range, is way better than having a competitor that doesn’t know what he’s doing and has a $50 labor rate.

“People that are running bad businesses, that don’t know the margins, that don’t know the costs of doing business, are not good for anybody because they lost money, the customer ends up not being served and that makes it hard for dealers that know what it takes to run a good business,” Spader added.

Phil Miklo, owner of Iowa’s Oak Hill Marina, says he joined a Spader 20 Group to survive in this business and the knowledge he’s gained has been invaluable.

“It’s amazing (how) some of the most simple things can make us more efficient, make us more sales, make us better people and help our people be better for the customer,” he said. “You can’t stop learning because business is evolving yearly. There’s always a new challenge around the corner.”


  1. boat repair says:

    >Sounds like a great way to get an insight into how other boat dealers handle similar problems. This type of information sharing can really help smaller business compete.

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