How did your marina come to have a relationship with Spader?
Rob Soucy: My dad started in the ’80s with them. He got into the business for all the wrong reasons and realized there was more to it then just having fun with boats and had to run a business to support a family. As the business grew he realized he was in a little bit over his head and needed some help. He was part of the MRAA and from their relationship with Spader, he got introduced to Duane [Spader]. Next thing you know he was in a 20 Group and eventually two 20 Groups at one time. There was a sales-oriented one and then there was one that was more marina-oriented and since we operate in a marina he figured that we could benefit from both of them.
So you grew up in the industry?
RS: Yeah, I grew up in it and went off to college. When I came out of college, I went to work for my dad and I remember, I think it was the fall of ’91, 20 Group was actually here. That’s when the industry was in the dumps and I remember sitting in my first 20 Group meeting and all the dealers going around the table asking me if I “learned anything in college, because why would I ever want to be in this industry?” That was sort of my baptism into the 20 Group.
When you started succession planning, was it important to have Spader, an objective third party, involved in the process?
RS: Absolutely. We couldn’t have done it on our own. There’s no way. There are too many of us. There are too many different aspects. We have two sisters who are not working in the business, there was three of us that were and we all have different roles and skill sets and things that interest us. We couldn’t have laid it all out ourselves.
We had to really have someone who came in and say, “Okay, you know what, this how you may see it. This is my experience. End of the day, you know it’s your baby, so you need to decide, but this is what the history of my experience will tell us. If we do it this way, you’ll have success. If we do it this way, you’ll have challenges. If you do it this way, you probably will fail.”
It was great. Like I said, we all have different roles in the company, like I’m the one that is the Spader guy. I do the Spader meetings and I analyze reports and I have another brother who takes from it and another who is more hands on and operational and uses a smaller portion of it. The three of us realize the ultimate importance of it.
How has Spader helped you with the human side of business?
RS: It’s the one thing that you can’t open up a business book and there are any answers for: people. Everyone’s different and you handle every situation almost differently. It’s probably the most challenging side of our business and probably any business.
How has working on the human side helped your business?
RS: It’s the greatest reason for our success. I’ve seen it – just having five locations – I’ve seen a location that we’ve had that has had a lot of failure over the years, completely do a 180 and have a lot of success and it all comes down to that location’s culture. You take a business that has the same products, the same processes, policies, best practices, rules – whatever you want to call it – and you say “this is how we do things.” You have it in two stores and you have one store have incredible success and you have another store fail, you say “okay, what does it come down to?” It comes down to the culture and the people at that store.
It doesn’t happen overnight. I can go up there tomorrow and say, “Hey, we’re going to use this form and we’re going rig these boats this way and we’re going to sell this new product.” You can do that very easily, but to go up there and change a culture, it takes years and when you start to preach your vision and your mission and your values over and over and over again, eventually you get the right people to believe in you and buy into it. The people that just don’t fit in, eventually go away or you ask them to go away and next thing you know you have a business that more is representative of who you are and what you do.
I have a store that’s forty-five miles away that you would have thought you were dealing with two completely different companies at one point. Now, it’s as in line with our original store as it’s ever been, and having tremendous success.
How has Spader played a role in helping you articulate your culture?
RS: We never had vision, mission and value statements before Spader. They were a big part of that. Dr. [Michael] O’Connor was a big part of that. We developed that. People will come up with a vision, mission, or values and they’ll make a poster or sign or they’ll put it somewhere in their employee manual and that’s where it lives. Something I’ve learned from Spader is that it can’t live there. It has to live everywhere. “Where you meet, greet and eat,” I think is what John Spader says. You come to my dealership you’ll see it. You’ll see it everywhere. We have it on our business cards, we talk about it at our meetings. At our quarterly meetings it’s the first thing we talk about.
When you look at our performance assessments or our KRAs again, our values are what guides us over everything. Ethical, quality, teamwork, success, and now we just added the value of community. Again, that’s what guides us. When you have a KRA and it doesn’t say, “Help with this, whatever the task may be,” you say “no, you do because one of our values is teamwork, so you’re going to be a team player.” All those little things that I’ve really learned from Spader, we’ve implemented here. People want to look at it and quantify it with how much money has a certain thing brought to your bottom line, but it’s all these little things that helped, sort of, shape us.
Initially, was it hard to listen to advice from outside voices?
RS: One of the things we pride ourselves on is that we’re constantly trying to get better. We recognize that there are some things that we’re just not good at ourselves. I joke all the time that pretty much everything we do here and all the neat things that we do, very few of them are original thoughts. They’re things we’ve seen elsewhere whether in a 20 Group meeting or just being a sponge for getting better and wanting to improve. You can go anywhere. You can go to a restaurant, you can go to a car dealer, you can go to Disney World and tons of things we have here … you go to Disney World, they’re called cast members. Our people are called crew members and we took that from them … again, it’s just always being open to new and creative ideas and not have that ego where you say “you know what, I’m going to do it my way.”
How would your business be different if your dad hadn’t sought out Spader?
RS: I think extremely different. I think my dad was hard-working and naïve enough that he probably would have survived, but I certainly don’t know if we would be the dealer that we are now with out it. We’re marine industry certified, we’re MRAA numbers, we’re a Top 100 dealer. Since they started that program, we’ve been in the Top 100, never lower than #27, as high as #5. We’re pretty well respected by our industry peers and not just dealers, but vendors and suppliers. Who knows, maybe we wouldn’t have been as attractive for even myself or my brothers to come into the industry or the business. It could have been much different.
What’s your relationship like with other 20 Group members?
RS: I view my 20 Group friends and members as my Board of Directors. We’re constantly bouncing ideas off them. When I came home, there was something I forgot to ask regarding usable warranties. Here we are saying, “Should we offer them? Should we have it?” I said, “Quickly, I can get thirteen or fourteen experts to tell me what they’re doing.”
The fact that we all share our numbers makes it better, because there are no secrets. There are no lies. It’s like undressing in front of somebody. There’s no secret there. If someone is doing something really well, then you can call them up and say, “Hey, what are you doing here?” You get that monthly book, that transmittal, and it’s the first thing I do: I go and I highlight my numbers compared to what the average is and what the top guys are and I’ll say, “Here’s an area where we need to improve on.” If I’m below the average line, to me that’s a real red flag, because I feel I’m better than average. We try to put a game plan together to address that. They’re invaluable. Some of those guys in that group I consider my friends and very good friends beyond being 20 Group members.
How would you summarize your history with Spader Business Management?
RS: For me, it’s been from ’91 and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. Very seldom, if ever, do I have an interaction with the 20 Group or John Spader or David Spader where I don’t feel I’ve left or come back with something that’s valuable. Every time I talk to them, I get smarter – I continue to believe in what they’re teaching.
Someone said, and it might have been my dad when people would question him about being in a Spader group or Duane Spader or John at the time, “There isn’t anything they’re going to tell you that’s going to hurt you.” They’re there to help you, so whatever they tell you is designed to help you and make you better, so how can you argue with that?