Docks Expo Hosts Fifth Annual Conference in Nashville

Editors Note: Find more photos, presentations and highlights from The Docks Expo here

Marina Dock Age magazine hosted The Docks Expo in Nashville, from December 3 to 5. Marina and boatyard professionals, and industry suppliers, manufacturers and consultants gathered at the Music City Center for education and networking. One-hundred-and-ten exhibitors made up the trade show floor with 137 booths, and the education program featured more than 20 education sessions and panel discussions. In total, nearly 40 speakers shared their professional expertise. Marinas attended from 45 U.S. states, and international attendees and exhibitors came from Mexico, Canada, France, New Zealand and Australia.

In addition to education, Docks featured awards for the 2019 Marina of the Year. For more on the small and large Marina of the Year winners, see page 6, and see page 29 for photos of all the winner from the awards ceremony.

Keynote: Building Innovation
Dan Cowens, CEO and founder of Oasis Marinas, presented a keynote speech on Wednesday morning, December 4. Cowens’ presentation “Navigating the New Age of Transformation (Without Losing Your Marina Identity)” talked about an important message for the industry, regarding partnership and collaboration, and competition and consolidation. He outlined technology and innovation trends for the marina industry, as well as a look at other industries that have innovated and those that have not.

“I was known as the guy that was always coloring outside the lines. I was called the renegade,” Cowens said. “So that’s the framework that I operate in. I always thought I was a trouble maker because I always asked questions.” Cowens started Oasis Marinas and Snag-a-Slip in business school and launched them four years ago.

Cowens discussed other innovative companies and what the marine industry could learn from them. “Toyota did not become a success story in the U.S. by chance or by accident. Toyota has one of the most innovative processes and systems out there, and many emulate it,” Cowens said. Toyota Production System (TPS) has become a benchmark for lean management. Cowens said it might sound complicated or time consuming, but it’s not. TPS is based on two basic philosophies: the elimination of waste and respect for people.

“Waste is anything other than the minimum amount of equipment, materials, parts, space and worker’s time, which is absolutely essential to add value to the product,” Cowens said. “It’s every aspect, even space.” Imagine a service bay far away from the equipment shed and parts inventory. TPS would ensure those were spaced closely to maximize efficiency and eliminate waste.

As an example, Cowens gave the fictional example about a mechanic named Benji, based on experiences with Oasis properties and its partners. “Benji is one of the best. His reputation proceeds him. He is an exceptional mechanic,” Cowens said. “He’s a high comped employee.” When Benji is out on the yard moving boats and travel lifts, work that could be done by lower pay grade employees, that’s costing the business money. Benji should come into working with the boat he’s working on staged in the work area and ready to go. “If Benji has to then diagnose and order parts, he moves onto the next job that’s ready to go,” Cowens said. “And none of that takes technology. But what does that do for your business? You’re much more efficient and you’re making more money.”

Who benefits from innovation, Cowens asked? Customers benefit the most, but most are shocked to learn that imitators benefit too. “When you put together a stellar process, people will copy it. You have to know that. People will copy whatever you do. Continue to innovate because your competition will catch up,” Cowens said. Innovation is important to differentiate a facility from its competition. And competition can grow the industry.

“I believe that together we can all make the industry better. We have to collaborate. Don’t fear your competitor,” Cowens said. “If the customer wins, what happens to our business? People buy more boats. If somebody comes to your location and has a bad experience, they’re one phone call from getting out of boating.”

Cowens said your employees are your best innovators. “You have to create a culture that’s open,” he said, and reward employees that think innovatively. It will also encourage others to do the same.

“Innovation will happen with or without you. You get to decide whether you will be a part of the innovation or you will be a customer of innovation,” Cowens said.

He concluded in part by congratulating the Young Leader award winners, commenting on how many of them were CEOs and owners.

The keynote session opened with the Young Leader awards. For the second year in a row, The Docks Expo recognized a group of young leaders, under the age of 40, who have made significant contributions to the industry. MDA takes nominations for the Young Leader awards annually in the spring. See the photo of the 2019 Young Leader award winner on the previous page.