Boat dealers share their best ideas for selling more
The marine industry may be recovering, but there’s still plenty of room for growth. As more buyers come back into the market, the best dealers are positioning their companies to get a bigger share of the pie.
We gathered information from dealers across North America about how they’re increasing sales of boats, engines and more. We’ve organized the tips by different parts of the business, but one thing they all have in common is that they’re helping dealers sell more. These ideas aren’t just theory — they’re all steps that dealers have taken to successfully boost sales.
With the rise of the Internet and decline in boat sales, shows have taken a hit. Most are smaller and dealers usually report fewer deals being made at shows than in the past. They’re still an important part of the sales process, though, as shows give prospective buyers a chance to see and feel the boats – and to get excited about boating in the dead of winter (especially in the Midwest and Northeast).
1. With the advent of the internet, Kelly’s Port, located on Lake of the Ozarks, found that many of the buyers that come to the shows are just as — if not more — informed on the different makes and models they are interested in. That prompted the Osage Beach, Mo., dealer to start using “model specialists” at its boat shows, assigning specific boats models to specific salespeople. Whenever a prospect is spending time on a specific boat the respective model specialist jumps on the lead. If a lead is more qualified for another boat they are then taken to the other boat and that model specialist is introduced.
2. Model specialist assignments are made in the fall to give the individual salespeople time to get to know their specific model of Regal or Bennington boats. That research includes not only getting to know the boats Kelly’s Port carries, but also seeing how the competitive brands sell and learning their strengths and weaknesses.
3. Traverse Bay Marine opted to go small in its boat show approach. Instead of displaying boats, the Traverse City, Mich.-based dealer rented a 10x10 booth at its local boat show in 2012 and ran its annual in-house boat show the same days and hours of the boat show.
The booth was manned by a salesperson and consisted of a display of pictures of new and used boats. Using an iPad connected to a flat-screen television, the salesperson could show off more products and “build a boat” functions.
“There were many times our little booth had more people at it than other dealers that had six boats on display,” said Traverse Bay CEO Jim Rautio. “We then invited them to visit our showroom only 15 minutes away to see all the brands and models at one stop.”
4. Traverse Bay also offered customers a refund of their boat show admission fee when they visited the showroom. The approach drove people to the showroom, where Traverse Bay could display more than they ever could at the show. The dealership closed nine more units during that time than they had the previous year.
5. In fact, the booth concept worked so well that Traverse Bay leased a 10x10 booth at the Detroit Boat Show, 250 miles south of the dealership. The exhibit allowed Traverse Bay to reach large number of boaters and boat prospects that have summer homes up north but live in the south Michigan area, and resulted in five units sold, plus marketing exposure.
Great customer service aims for more that satisfaction – it’s about creating those raving fans that will tell their friends, family and coworkers all about you and drive more business your way.
6. Davey Marine, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., started taking video of the prep and delivery of clients’ new boats. Those videos can then be shared by the buyers with their friends, social media networks and more.
“Our clients, especially the ones that are waiting to have their new boat shipped to them, have told us how much they appreciated these simple videos,” said marketing director Rosanna Aiello.
7. Pride Marine Group, a 10-location dealer headquartered in Bracebridge, Ontario, launched the Pride Passport program to stimulate customer loyalty. The Pride Passport is included with every new boat sale, to give the customer “worry-free boating” through the first boating year. The passport includes storage, maintenance and various discounts from Pride and third-party suppliers.
“The customers get in the habit of coming to us in their first year of boating so that they are now coming back in subsequent years to have Pride maintain their boating needs,” said owner Paul Nickel.
8. Alberta Marina, Nanton, Alberta, created a VIP Program to encourage its customers to do more business with them. Customers that join the program get a VIP card, notice of special sales, welcome gift, storage and service discount and more.
“The storage itself makes us little money, but the boats are here so we get fall winterizing and winter service,” said president Greg Beauchamp. “We also will be using a tag, with a string to tie onto winches on trailers parked at the area lakes. When the boaters get back from a day on the lake, they will find a coupon attached to their trailer, with a special on it.”
9. Rambo Marine approaches each customer as a new boater.
“Even if the customer has been around boats their entire life, we feel it is our responsibility to give a thorough introduction and explanation of operating procedures,” said Bennett Rambo, owner of the Hazel Green, Ala.-based dealer.
That means a complete demonstration of everything from trailer hookup and towing to docking and pulling skiers. Demos are at either Rambo’s private lake or at the buyer’s home lake. The training creates a more confident boater. Rambo reinforces the training – and keeps in touch with the buyer – through follow-up phone calls and paper and electronic newsletters.
“There is a lot of information for a new boater to take in, and we feel that constant reminders in the newsletters and calls help to keep them knowledgeable on operating and towing their boat safely,” Rambo said.
10. At Ski & Sports in Rogers, Ark., the first oil change and check out on all new boats sold is free.
“This brings the customer back initially and keeps them coming back,” said owner Kim Williams. “We offer boat detailing and fiberglass repair while the boat is here for other repairs.”
11. Glencove Marina added an upholstery and canvas shop to enhance the service capabilities for its existing customers as well as new ones. The upholsterer makes custom mooring covers and cockpit covers, replaces carpeting, and recovers seats, among other projects. The new addition helps keep Glencove front of mind for its customers.
“This has become a great accent to our service department as our customers appreciate that we can repair something for them while their boat is already in the shop,” said owner and general manager Sherry Jackson.
12. The Lake Ozark dealer also opened a prop shop in the summer of 2012. With a local prop shop going out of business, the venture began as a project for Glencove’s service manager who had always wanted to do prop repair. He learned from the seller and then taught one of the company’s other techs how to do the work.
This has become a great source of revenue for the service department and the quick turnaround time keeps customers happy, with Glencove now able to return a prop in hours or perhaps a day vs. a week, Jackson said.
13. At Quebec’s Marina Fortin, customers that buy their boat from the dealer in the popular boating area of Saint-Paul-de-l’Île-aux-Noix get “customer privilege,” which gives them special rates on docks, parts and storage; a special maintenance package; free use of the boat ramp; and access to the pool area.
The program has helped convince boaters to buy from Marina Fortin rather than buy from dealers outside the area, said administrator Pierre Fortin.
Finding creative ways to get the word out about your products, whether through events, digital or traditional methods, is crucial.
14. Traverse Bay Marine jumpstarted its social media marketing by partnering with the local NBC station in giving away a Sea-Doo personal watercraft in 2012 and following that up with a second giveaway of a PWC and Lund fishing boat in 2013.
To win, entrants had to register and like the company on Facebook. If they share this with someone else on Facebook, they get another entry and so on.
Traverse Bay received more than 2,000 likes in 15 days with the Sea-Doo and more than 1,000 likes for the same timeframe with the Lund. The TV station sent out four email blasts of 54,000 each about Traverse Bay Marine and the Sea-Doo and Lund contest, for a total of 216,000 impressions in 15 days. The program also included 70 TV commercials as well as live mentions five times daily about Traverse Bay Marine and the contest by the NBC TV news anchor.
15. Ontario’s Port Sandfield Marina puts its money where its mouth is with its “Dare to Compare” program comparing its Sea Ray boats against the competition. The company brings in the competitive boat, docks it next to the Sea Ray in the in-water showroom and points out the differences. Port Sandfield spent $100,000 to set up the first display buying a Cobalt A25 to compare with the its Sea Ray 250 SLX. The company uses indicator arrows to label almost 50 points of difference between the boats along with creating a website and brochures to highlight them.
“It was one of those things that I said I’d put my money where my mouth was, so I went and spent $100,000 and bought the competitor’s product to put there, and it’s been the talk of the town around the region here,” said owner Jonathan Blair. “It got people talking about us, and then the people came into see it because they couldn’t believe it.”
16. Making sure its customers know it’s a destination for parts and accessories has been a big boon for South Austin Marine. The Austin, Texas, dealer has a boating accessory catalog that is given to every customer that purchases a boat from it. The catalog is also mailed out to boat owners in certain targeted ZIP codes.
“This catalog has discounts on both items we stock and can order,” said Wayne Black, South Austin’s president. “This helps us compete with some of the discount chains such as WalMart and Academy and drives the customers into our store.”
The dealership also gets the word out with a big sale every fall on close out items such as wakeboards, skis, vests, and clothing, and by setting up a booth at Waketober Fest every year to sell merchandise and have drawings for free goods.
17. Town & Country Marine focuses its efforts on getting non-boaters on the water with its weekly “Family Fun on the Water” activities with a local resort. These programs, offered over an eight-week period, covers every weekend during the prime boating season in the Lakefield, Ontario, area and include other family boating partners to make a complete full day event: boating safety seminars from the local Power Squadron, fun water toys for the families provided by a cottage toys retailer and boat operator licensing seminars and testing. Town & Country brings a minimum of four boats and qualified operators to each event so that the entire family can experience the real lifestyle of boating.
18. Austin, Texas-based The Sail & Ski Center was looking to capitalize on the hot wake surf segment and wanted to demonstrate its new Nautique Surf System. At the same time, the dealership didn’t want to attract unqualified participants just looking for a free ride.
“We decided to disguise our surf demo event by creating a Surf Day,” said company president Rod Malone. “The idea is to run an event where our customers sign up for a specific time slot to wake surf behind a new boat for $40. Then we gave our salespeople the leeway to offer the time slots to their prospects at no charge.”
The event was marketed using a combination of social media, email and direct mail. The company filled all the time slots for the three boats at the event, with 60 percent of participants paying and 40 percent being invited by the sales team.
“We sold three boats directly from the event,” Malone said. “Harder to measure, but equally important is the residual value of the awareness of Nautique’s products we created during the promotion of the event.”
For more information on increasing sales and improving every aspect of your business, be sure to visit our downloads page where you can download the free 2014 Best Ideas White Paper.