Sunday, October 10, 1999

Boat dealer floating on air

Award recognizes Lodder's Marine

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Sonny Lodder likes to think that he's blowing his competition out of the water. The evidence he can point to?

        Boat and Motor Dealer, a monthly trade magazine dedicated to marine retailers, recently named him 1999 Dealer of the Year.

        “To be selected for this award is a great achievement,” said Mr. Lodder, owner of Lodder's Marine boat dealership in Fairfield. “I am very proud.”

        Dealers are nominated by dealer associations, boat builders, engine manufacturers, marine consultants, distributors and retailers.

        The award represents “the best example the marine retail industry has to offer in terms of management, marketing, sales, service, customer satisfaction and community and industry involvement,” said Ed Gubbins, editor of Boat and Motor Dealer.

        “The function of the award is twofold: It is an opportunity to recognize and appreciate the importance of a dealer as part of the industry, and it allows a dealer to share his ideas (with) other dealers to make them more profitable,” he said.

        Mr. Lodder opened a new 38,000-square-foot showroom in May that displays 60 boats.

        After having it on the drawing board for two years, Mr. Lodder settled on a design for the dealership, and now it attracts dealers from all over the country, he said.

        However, the award — which has been presented annually by the publication for 29 years — honors “not just a building, but what a marine dealer has done over the years,” Mr. Lodder said.

        The 64-year-old has been in the business for more than 30 years, and his experience with boating reaches back before that.

        During the '50s, Mr. Lodder performed in weekend waterskiing shows at Coney Island for five years in a row. Then, in 1965, he opened a small shop in Hamilton where he repaired outboard motors.

        For him, the business was smooth sailing. By 1979, the shop was too small for his business, so he moved the sales portion of the shop to a 5,000-square-foot building at the 6-acre Ohio 4 location. When he opened the new blue-trimmed building with the glass front last year, he brought the service portion of the store from Hamilton and combined the two businesses under one roof.

        The new service center is behind glass, so as customers peruse the showroom thay can watch mechanics service the boats. Mr. Lodder said the new showroom “gives the customer a better feeling” and has an updated look.

        Mr. Lodder's customer service is one reason he was chosen for the award, Mr. Gubbins said.

        “At a time when there is increasing competition for the consumer's discretionary dollar, the boating industry has had to settle for less and less of a piece of the pie,” he said. “Therefore, it is important for dealers to ensure quality, service and customer satisfaction.”

        Mr. Lodder offers fishing, skiing and pontoon boats, and cruisers. He leases the old building to a dealer of Fountain Boats, high-speed boats that can cost up to $100,000.

        Mr. Lodder said his location on Ohio 4 is great for a boat dealership because it is convenient for customers. Up to 50,000 cars a day drive by the dealership, he said.

        The other boat dealerships along the road also make Ohio 4 an appealing location. Customers will frequent the strip to make stops at several dealerships in one trip, Mr. Lodder said.

        Though there are only three boat dealerships there now, Mr. Lodder can remember when there were seven, which inspired a nickname for the section of road: “The Nautical Mile.”

        “I don't look at the other dealers as competitors. We need each other to convince people that boating is a fun sport. Together, we all do a better job,” he said.

        So who are his competitors? Dealers who sell recreational vehicles and motorcycles, he said.

        “The person who buys an RV is probably not going to buy a boat,” he said.

        Though Mr. Lodder loves the work, he looks forward to the day — in about six years, he said — when his sons, Matt, 23, and Kevin, 20, will come aboard and take over the business. Matt graduated from Miami University in December, and Kevin is a junior at Northern Kentucky University.

        For now, he will savor his award, which anchors his business as the industry leader.

        “It's kind of nice, after 30 years or so, to be recognized,” he said.


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