Cultivating Trust with Custom Events

A Q&A session with Kelsey Ketcham, Marketing Manager, Strong’s Marine about the intricacies of creating its educational “Women on the Water” events

Events usually start out as a concept. Many exist out of necessity or were made to fill a void and provide an opportunity for your dealership.

For instance, when your team isn’t engaging your new customers enough, you plan a customer-appreciation event with food, fun and boating. But events vary in size, scope and their reason for being. Harmonizing your event planning and creation with your mission, vision and values is essential for event success. This approach means you are committed, with purpose and integrity, to going beyond the sale.  

Custom Events Cultivate Trust
The listed core values for Strong’s Marine spell out the word S.T.R.O.N.G.S. and break down as follows: Super Service, Teamwork, Respect, Ownership, Nurture, Growth, and Seek Fun. The letter “N” embodies developing lifetime relationships with teammates, clients, suppliers and the community. It’s about relationship building, being neighborly around the water and giving back to co-workers, customers and other boat owners.

Strong’s Marine, a Certified and family-owned dealership with eight locations in New York, addressed a growing need a few years ago when it created its first Strong’s “Women on the Water” event for its staff. Three seasons later, this comfortable, educational event has grown into a rewarding and highly anticipated happening for team members, customers and other boaters.

Cultivating Trust with Custom Events
Kelsey Ketcham, Marketing Manager, Strong’s Marine (supplied photo)

I recently visited with Kelsey Ketcham, Marketing Manager at Strong’s Marine, to learn more about their Women on the Water events, which have been held every spring for the last three years. The events empower women clients and team members, help them feel comfortable on the water and support opportunities to advance education and experience.  

MRAA: Why did Strong’s focus on this type of event?

Ketcham: “In 2022, Strong’s Marine hosted our very first Women’s Summit for our female team members to honor International Women’s Day and celebrate the women that make up 30 percent of our team. During the Summit, we discussed how to better support our women teammates in their roles and we overwhelmingly heard that our team needed more on-water time to gain knowledge and experience. We began ‘Women on the Water’ small-group lessons with one of our captains for our team members that spring. It was so successful and valuable that we extended the concept to our clients and community members.”

MRAA: How many women on staff and customers have gone through the courses? 

Ketcham: “Nearly all the women on our team have participated in at least one session in the last three years. For our public events, we have around 30 customers annually who participate in one, a few, or all sessions.”

Cultivating Trust with Custom Events - Strong's Women on the Water
Strong’s Marine will host four Women on the Water classes in 2024. (Photo by Strong’s Marine)

MRAA: Who trains them during the event?

Ketcham: “We work with our team of captains who usually work on boat and yacht deliveries and private lessons. Each captain brings a fresh perspective to each featured topic and varies content and instruction. They help us create the curriculum based on topics we heard are most important to our clients.”

MRAA: Is the sole purpose education and safety, or also hard/soft selling to family decision-makers and non-clients?

Ketcham: “The primary purpose is for education and to get women dedicated time at the helm with a captain so they can ask any question they want and get it answered or try out a new skill. This is also an opportunity for those who are on the fence of boat ownership to get a taste of what it’s like to operate a boat and if it’s something they’d like to explore. We have had some Boat Club clients participate who ultimately went on to purchase a new boat the following season. We also host a lot of wives and daughters of primary ‘owners’ who need some instruction and opportunities at the helm.”

MRAA: Why did you feel it was necessary to include other boaters or non-clients?

Ketcham: “We wanted to open these events up to non-clients to promote safety on the water to our community members and invite them to our marinas and experience our dedication to boating safety.”

MRAA: How did you determine the cost? How have customers reacted to the pricing?

Ketcham: “We determined cost with a basic cost analysis of the use of our Boat Club fleet boats, fuel and captain’s compensation. We discounted for our clients ($50 per two-hour session) as a benefit of doing business with us; non-clients are $100 per two-hour session. Clients and non-clients alike have not had any adverse reactions to cost.”

MRAA: What have you heard from customers about the training? 

Ketcham: “Customers love these courses! They are glad to get some facetime with a captain and time at the helm. We keep each session with the ratio of four clients to one boat and captain (4:1:1) so that the boat is not crowded and maximizes time for each participant to have their individual needs addressed. We often hear from clients that they would like intermediate or advanced sessions in the future and additional sessions. In 2024, we offered four classes across two locations after offering only three classes at one location in the past.”

Cultivating Trust with Customer Events - Strong's Marine Women on the Water
Since debuting its Women on the Water events, Strong’s Marine has already expanded to hosting events at two of its locations. (Photo by Strong’s Marine)

MRAA: How have these classes helped improve customer service and care and build relationships through shared boating experiences?

Ketcham: “These classes have increased interaction with our customers between our marina and sales team. These educational courses are perfect opportunities for our sales team to reach out to clients, check in and invite them to our marinas to participate in this unique event. Our marina team interacts with each participant to complete registration and welcome them on the day of the event. It helps our clients meet more members of our entire team and get the full Strong’s ‘Super Service’ experience. It also connects our captains with our clients to book additional time through private lessons to learn on their own boat.”

MRAA: What challenges arise from hosting multiple events like this at different locations? And how do you overcome those issues?

Ketcham: “Weather is always a challenge, especially early in our boating season! We hold these events in April and May so that we can utilize our rental fleet boats for the sessions before our Boat Club season begins. Weather is obviously unpredictable but we saw an unprecedented number of rainy and windy weekends in 2023, so it was a puzzle trying to find a rain date that would work for our clients, our boats and our captains! Our team is very adaptable. When the weather isn’t looking good the morning before the event, we make a rain plan and confirm with our captains then work with each client to reschedule.”

MRAA: What changes have you made from the first event that have improved them?

Ketcham: “In our first year, we offered just the course as a broad, all-encompassing session. In our second year, we added unique topics for each date to really hone in on what our captains would focus their instruction on and also to allow clients to participate in which topic they felt they needed the most experience in. In our third year, we are now offering it at two of our marina locations to cater to more clients and more availability for each session. We also work more closely with our captains when creating the curriculum for each course to ensure they are clear on expectations and goals.”

What tips do you have for other dealers for hosting customer experience-elevating demos/training events like this?

Ketcham: “Start with the basics! Create one course with a broad offering to gauge interest, participation and any additional needs. Once the first event is held, reach out to participants to get their feedback on what worked, what didn’t and what they would like to see with the next event, then build from there. Make sure to include all team members who will need to be involved from the beginning as stakeholders. The more collaborative these kinds of events are, the better! Your marina teams that are at the front lines are experts on your clients and what they are looking for.”

For additional dealership event ideas and best practices, visit the MRAA Spotlight page: “Dealership Events That Deliver.”