Issaquah boat dealer honored at Seattle show

March 2, 2009

By Jeff Richards

Bakes Marine owner Bill Baker (left) poses with Malibu Northwest Sales Manager Mark Gibbs, who presented an award and the leather jacket Baker is wearing at the Seattle Boat Show.Contributed

Bakes Marine owner Bill Baker (left) poses with Malibu Northwest Sales Manager Mark Gibbs, who presented an award and the leather jacket Baker is wearing at the Seattle Boat Show.Contributed

Before Microsoft came to Issaquah, before Costco arrived and before anything existed on the plateau save for trees and wildlife, there was Bakes Marine boat shop.

For the past 20 years, Bill Baker has been a part of the Issaquah community selling Malibu boats at 6424 E. Lake Sammamish Parkway S.E. Now, at 53, he still sees no end in sight.

“People would say I’m not a workaholic, but that’s only because what I do is fun,” he said. “The only way to survive for me is I gotta do more, different things, and maybe that’s why I’ve done well.”On Jan. 23, the first day of the Seattle Boat Show, Baker was awarded for his years of service as a Malibu boats dealer. Baker is one of only three Malibu dealers that have operated for more than 20 years.

Malibu Northwest Sales Manager Mark Gibbs, who traveled from Colorado to present the award to Baker, said it added a tinge of excitement to the boat show despite the current, tough economic climate.

“All of us are just grabbing onto little victories,” he said. “It makes us all feel like we’re a part of something, something we’ve earned.”

Baker bought his first Malibu boat in 1988, and he was soon approached to become a Malibu dealer. A year later, Bakes Marine opened in January at the Issaquah Auto Stop.

“I figured, ‘Well, I’ll do this for about 10 years, then move on,’” he said. “I never though it would be a career.”

At first, Baker did everything himself at the shop, from selling and servicing the boats to keeping the books.

After a year of relying on part-time help, Baker brought in Karen Audett as his first full-time employee. She has been there ever since.

“We’ve been together so long,” she said. “When he’s not here, I know what he wants and expects from everything.”

One of the main reasons the business has lasted so long is because of Baker’s uniquely effective attitude toward sales, she said.

“He’s so good with the customer, and that trickles down to all of us, so we’re good with customers,” she said. “We communicate with the customer and take a lot of time with them. It’s just being more their friends than just a salesperson.”

The friendly atmosphere of the shop has gotten to the point where customers come by just to hang out. Just recently, Baker said a customer came in on his birthday to “just say hi to my favorite store.”

Audett said one of her best friends of the past 17 years was first a customer at the store.

From the beginning, Baker said he wanted his shop to be atypical of most boat dealerships that have high-pressure sales and close-the-deal-at-all-costs mentalities.

“We’re supposed to be selling fun. What kind of place is this for our customer if it isn’t fun?” he said. “You try to not make business with your friends but try to be friends with the people you do business with.”

Baker admits he’s not sure how this mentality has kept him in business, but it has and more.

Gibbs said the award was not only for Baker’s longevity but also his strong sales, which have helped Malibu boats reach No. 1 in market share in Washington state.

Baker said much of his success can be attributed to the people he’s hired.

“They may not feel this way, but I don’t feel like they work for me. They work with me,” he said. “Every one of them does what they do better than I could do it.”

In the early years of the business, when work was slow and free time was plentiful, Baker wrote down his business’ mission statement.

The first line reads like a childhood lesson: “Treat our customer as we would like to be treated.”

After 20 years in Issaquah, Baker has shown this still holds up for adults, even in business.

Reach intern Jeff Richards at 392-6434, ext. 236, or isspress@isspress.com. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.

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