Even in slow-changing industries, SMBs need to embrace technology

While the boating industry is far from the most agile industry in the nation, that hasn't stopped St Kilda Boats Sales and Service leading the charge and using technology to drive sales and improve the business.
Written by Andrew Griffiths, Contributor

Small business owners often lament that they're limited in what they can do to grow their business simply because they are a small business. Perhaps this kind of thinking is the actual limitation. One small business that is certainly challenging convention and embracing technology is St Kilda Boats Sales and Service.

Dealer principal of St Kilda Boat Sales and Service, Darren Finkelstein, has been incorporating technology into his business for the past 12 years and it has reaped extraordinary results.

Darren Finkelstein, St Kilda Boat Sales and Service
Image: Darren Finkelstein

Finkelstein says that the boating industry, while fantastic and rewarding, is in many ways, an old-fashioned industry that is proving slow to adopt new technology, and cites second hand boat sales as an example.

"When I bought this business with my business partner, 12 years ago, boat sales really only consisted of taking a photo of the vessel, sticking it on the window of the sales office and hoping someone would come along and buy it," he said. "Today we have totally transformed that process."

"We take an extensive array of digital photos and a video walkthrough of the boat, we put it online with all of the key sales features, making it easy for people to really get a very clear picture of the vessel.

"This means that we can sell our boats around Australia — and we do. We have also sold boats internationally, with the entire transaction happening online. This relatively simple concept has helped to increase our sales by over three hundred percent."

Another example of how the company has utilised technology to grow their business, is in the purchase of new boats.

In the past buying a new boat traditionally required a visit to a boat dealer. It could prove to be a fairly long and drawn out process, that sometimes took a month to get a final quote to the customer, mainly due to the huge number of optional extras that required costing.

Realising that this process needed to be dramatically streamlined, Finkelstein set about building an online system which would enable potential buyers to look through the range of approximately 100 boats available, choose from the multitude of optional extras available for each vessel and receive a firm quote within a matter of minutes instead of weeks. This resulted in quicker sales, greater control and understanding of pricing and a greatly improved customer experience.

We understand that we have to be prepared to spend money and time and to seek outside expertise

It may seem like an obvious thing to do, but in many industries, being obvious isn't always enough to make it happen. The kind of technology introduced at St Kilda Boat Sales and Service is considered extremely revolutionary for the industry, and the results continue to prove the value of implementing ideas like this.

When it comes to marketing, this is also an area where Finkelstein has embraced technology. One very clever idea was the introduction of a live video cam feed overlooking Port Phillip Bay. This video can be accessed directly from the website, providing a 24 hour a day live feed showcasing exactly what the water looks like from St Kilda Marine. At the same time Finkelstein started taking his own videos and providing a weekend weather forecast, which is distributed via a subscriber email base every Thursday morning.

These two initiatives alone have helped add between 8,000 and 20,000 unique visitors per month to the website.  Once again, this extra traffic translates to increased sales of products and services.

Whilst offering a traditional range of marine services, the company is constantly reviewing every aspect of its operations for ways to incorporate technology: to improve customer service, to allow a greater flow of information, to build relationships, and to better manage both the operational and financial elements of the business.

Even writing a book has proven to be an innovative boom for the business. Finkelstein's book entitled "Honey let's buy a boat" (which has become a number one bestseller on iTunes) has turned into a powerful sales and marketing tool. Apart from the direct sale of thousands of copies of this book, Finkelstein is now a professional speaker, travelling around Australia, talking about his passion for boating, how to choose a boat, and getting the family involved in boating.

The latest innovation in the business has been the development of a St Kilda Boats app. This enables ease of access to all of the online offerings made by the business, along with a text message service regarding any boats for sale that the user may be interested in.

Finkelstein says business owners can sit around each day and keep doing the same thing, or they can look to other industries that are embracing change, such as technology, and ask themselves how they can use the same tools to grow their business.

"Our business is constantly evolving, we gladly invest in technology, we understand that we have to be prepared to spend money and time and to seek outside expertise," he said.

"To us the pay-off has been enormous. Who knows what we will be doing next, but rest assured it will continue to position us at the cutting edge of the marine industry."

In an industry that could be considered slow to change, there are always a handful of businesses that lead the way — it is clear that St Kilda Boat Sales and Service is one of these businesses.

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