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Mercury Dealer in Alaska Effectively Adjusts to COVID-19

"COVID-19 will not define our mission to provide an extraordinary customer service experience, but it has changed the way in which we accomplish it."

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The Bay Company - Mercury Marine

The Bay Company is Mercury Marine's largest dealer in southeast Alaska, providing service from three locations: Ketchikan, Wrangell and Craig. Each day, news agencies report on the toll COVID-19 inflicts on major cities, but Mercury Marine dealers in remote areas have not been spared and face their own distinctive set of circumstances.

The Bay Company caters to recreational and commercial boating markets but, like most things in Alaska, the boating markets here are truly unique. Recreational boaters use their boats for transportation to neighboring islands and to travel to and from work. Most importantly, however, boats are their primary means of putting food on the table, capitalizing on the area's bounty of salmon, halibut and various cod species.

Commercial industries, including power and forestry companies, along with Alaska's extensive tourism industry (chartered fishing and eco-tourism adventures), all rely heavily on boats to conduct business and sustain the local communities. This genuinely makes The Bay Company an "essential service" to these markets.

To ensure the safety of its employees, The Bay Company has aggressively adjusted the way it does business due to COVID-19. Because the closest major emergency hospital is in Seattle, Washington – a flight of two hours or longer – keeping staff members safe and healthy is paramount. Major airlines that serve the region have decreased flights by 70 percent due to reduced volume, adding weight to The Bay Company's emphasis on employee safety.

"Our company's greatest asset is our people, and our remote location amplifies this,” said Michael Villarma, co-owner of The Bay Company.  “That’s why now, more than ever, we will make every effort to protect employees' health and safety.”

Villarma and co‑owner Chet Powell said they are also committed to serving their customers while doing their part to combat the spread of COVID-19. Although not mandated by state edicts, The Bay Company closed the front end of the dealership and suspended all walk-in traffic. Also, employee-distancing strategies have been implemented according to business functions and customer relations.

All sales and service interactions between employees and customers are now conducted "virtually" over the phone and by email. Customers can schedule specific times to pick up their orders of parts and accessories in a secured area at each dealership, with no person-to-person interaction. Additionally, The Bay Company is offering free delivery and drop-off of parts and accessories within a specified distance from each store.

Boat and engine service represents a massive part of The Bay Company's business, and customers can schedule specific times to drop off and pick up their boat without human interaction. Critical areas of the boat, helm and engine are first disinfected, then serviced, and then disinfected again before being returned to the customer. Service employees are working in shifts to limit the number of staff members at the dealership, providing considerable personal working space.

"Our customers are so appreciative of the efforts we are making to remain open,” said Powell. “We have not had any pushback to this new and, we hope, temporary way of conducting business. It has brought the importance of our business to the communities that we serve front and center. We are grateful for all their support and understanding.”

In addition to the revisions to customer‑interaction procedures, the company has assigned all office functions as work-from-home duties, including accessing MercNet to package reports, register engine sales, submit warranty claims and place parts orders.

Although 2020 will be a challenging year for The Bay Company – with tourism from cruise ships to chartered fishing and eco-tourism expected to be severely affected – The Bay Company recognizes it is not "business as usual." The stakeholders from each dealership meet daily – virtually, rather than in-person – to review newly implemented strategies and to consider additional changes to ensure they provide essential service to residents and commercial businesses that depend on them.

"COVID-19 will not define our mission to provide an extraordinary customer service experience, but it has changed the way in which we accomplish it," Villarma said.

*Mercury recognizes the challenges – from sales to service to logistics – faced by all dealerships due to COVID-19, regardless of their location. Mercury Marine employees stand united and committed, as we also adjust the way we do business to offer our dealer network best-in-class service during these unprecedented times.


Top Image: This is the fleet at El Capitan Lodge, a premier fishing lodge in Southeast Alaska. El Capitan is a customer of The Bay Company, having recently rigged its boats with Mercury outboards after 25 years of using a different outboard-engine brand.
Middle image: Dave Creighton of Shelter Cove Lodge in Craig, Alaska, is a customer of The Bay Company. Here, he shows off an impressive lingcod that he recently caught.
Bottom image: The Bay Company has three locations in Southeast Alaska.
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