FB Marine Group Creates ‘Virtual Dealership’ Solution

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With marinas and launch ramps in South Florida shut down until further notice in response to social-distancing concerns—a key element of federal, state, and local municipality strategies to combat the COVID-19 pandemic—FB Marine Group is taking its act on the road, literally and figuratively. The Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-headquartered Company, has a mobile fleet of 13 service technicians making house calls to waterfront homes with boats at docks and on lifts throughout the area.

The company, which currently has most of its administrative staff working remotely, has dubbed the program its Mobile Marine Unit.

Shown here in photo taken prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the entire FB Marine is board with creative solutions to create a virtual dealership—and keep people working.

“All of their vans are equipped with parts, tools and disinfectant products,” said Kim Sweers, who operates FB Marine Group with her husband, Randy. “We assign them their jobs the night before or early in the morning and off they go.”

In addition, through its Porter Team, FB Marine Group also has created a parts and boat delivery service as part of its “Customer Experience Strategy.”

Sweers said that the company’s technology partners including Citrix, Lightspeed, Boats Group and Level 5 to name a few have made it possible for the company’s essential services—including boat sales and delivery— to go virtual. “We had a client reach out to us over the weekend,” she said. “We sent photos, came to an agreement on price quickly.  Our F&I department is handling contract paperwork and financing. The boat will be delivered, fueled up, washed, and completely sanitized at the customer’s dock by Friday.

“We currently service the area from Key Largo to Jupiter, as well as the west coast of Florida,” she added. “Our services also are offered worldwide if customers agree to cover travel expenses.”

FB Marine Group initially launched its service division as a response to the recession of 2008, when boat sales all but evaporated for the next several years. The service department played a pivotal role in the company’s survival and growth during that time, and FB Marine Group continued to grow and improve it while adding other pieces such as yacht charter, vessel management, yacht brokerage and OEM/Government Services Provider —as well as other locations—to its thriving business.

Training and ongoing education, as well as mentoring, are integral to FB Marine Group’s development program for team members.

Said Kim Sweers (shown here with her husband, Randy, and son, Chase, “COVID-19 and social distancing will open peoples’ eyes to boating and what it can offer them—freedom.”

“We put a lot of focus on nurturing the marine trade-school graduates,” said Sweers. “We create a development plan with them, which defines their career paths within our organization. We get them engaged early on, so they’re passionate about their future.”

Sweers said she believes that while the business challenges posed by the novel coronavirus are significant and require creative solutions, there will be even greater opportunities for the marine industry when the crisis has passed and the economy recovers.

Behind tourism, the marine industry is Florida’s second-largest industry, one that reportedly has a local economic impact of $12 billion. Its recovery from the current economic shutdown will be crucial for the state—a fact that is far from lost on Sweers and her husband.

“At the end of every day, I ask myself, ‘What have I learned, and what is the message I can take away from it?’” she said. “The message from COVID-19 is clear: ‘How can we be better for our customers?’ Basically, were are taking a ‘Do less, be more’ approach.

“Social distancing is important to control the virus, and boating on the big blue ocean falls into distancing yourself from others,” she continued. “If we can just get through this, our boating community and marine industry as a whole will be so much stronger. COVID-19 and social distancing will open peoples’ eyes to boating and what it can offer them—freedom.”

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