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Surviving during the challenges

A change in the way people spend their money during Covid-19 may have helped a local business stay successful, but it is the experience of overcoming economic downturns combined with smart business acumen that has made Bills Marine the success it is today.

Running a local business is tough enough, but surviving the 1989 Australian pilot strike, the GFC in 2007 and now Covid has made it extremely challenging for long-standing businesses. For Bills Marine, the credit for its 45-year longevity is given to the staff, their knowledge, the business model and the quality of products the business provides.

“We’ve never cut staff at all during the hard times,” says Bills Marine Co-Owner Neil Heinemann,
who joined the business in 1980, became a Director in 1994 and retired in in 2017. “We’ve cut costs
in other ways, but we have always retained our staff.

“Good staff are too hard to get, so we found other ways to cut costs. Our staff are all mad-keen boating enthusiasts, and their knowledge contributes greatly to the success of the business.”

Bills Marine was established in 1975 by Bill Woodbridge when he was appointed the Mariner Outboard dealer for Cairns. When Yamaha Outboards first came to Australia in 1982 Bills was one of the first appointed dealerships in Queensland and has been one of Yamaha’s top three dealerships for the last five years. Neil’s son Scott is the company’s Co-Owner and Director.

“We have many long-term staff members, including Bill’s son Greg Woodbridge, who has been here for about 30 years,” says Scott. “Our Spare Parts and Accessory Manager Paul Bellamy has been here
25 years. Their knowledge is invaluable.

“Running your own business is no easy feat as most business owners will tell you. If you don’t work hard, you won’t last. You have to run a pretty tight ship and be conscious of how the future might look. You’ve just got to be on top of things. If things go pear shaped, you’ve got to have plans in place that will help you cut costs.”

Scott says the fact that the business has maintained its business model all these years has also contributed to its success.

“It’s all about consistency,” he says. “We have always been very conscious of providing quality products and delivering the best customer service. We are locals. We are not fly-in-fly out businesspeople.
This has been our life.”

One of the biggest surprises of COVID has been the increase in boat sales.

“We’ve learned that it’s not unusual in this environment for an increase in car, boat and caravan sales,” says Scott. “We have been absolutely flat out. I think people are looking for more localised family adventures and holidays.”

Both Scott and Neil believe boating also teaches conservation to all ages.

“Most fishermen and boaters are also conservationists because they love what they see and do,” says Scott. “They understand you can’t pillage and pollute the environment. And they’re the eyes of the conservationists because they’re out there every week seeing what’s going on.”

Neil admits he has always owned a boat and always will.

“Anyone who goes boating will tell you are that no matter how stressful your week has been the minute you push the boat off the trailer and you hear the splashing of the water on the side of the boat, you can’t think of work and you can’t think of the things that cause you grief,” he says. “Boating makes you relax. It puts you in a far better environment.

“It’s good for the soul. And sometimes the freezer!”

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