Loyalty and the Marine Dealer

Sometimes I feel like an old dog who is supposed to be loyal to everybody — even if they beat me and forget my food. The truth of the matter is that loyalty is one of those qualities that makes the civilized world go ’round. Being a boat dealer, one of the most civilized professions on the planet, I’m particularly attuned. Each of you has your own ideas, but let me outline where I see our loyalties lying — at least as far as the industry is concerned.
Most successful dealers have a pretty high capacity for loyalty to their customers. They enjoy looking out for them, or they would be in some other less people-oriented business. It is both a business necessity and a personal satisfaction to have my customers speak well of their experiences at Lockwood. This includes all of their experiences.
The service experience is the absolute first priority for me. Nothing can torpedo your business faster than unhappy service customers. I am blessed with an outstanding service manager who manages to tell it like it is and yet conveys to customers that he is loyally looking out for their interests. He really is, or he wouldn’t be able to bring it off. The Customer Bill of Rights extolled in the coming Marine Industry Dealer Certification Program is an excellent guide, and it will help us target our customer loyalties more accurately.
The sales process is probably where our industry tends to shine best, and shine we must. It is important that our “captains to be” feel a part of the boating fraternity and know that a knowledgeable guide is leading them deeper into its inner sanctums by helping put them in absolutely the best boat for them. Hopefully, we all realize that a lack of genuine customer loyalty while the relationship is in its infancy will show up like pink shoes on a pig.
Parts and accessory advisers at your dealership can be great ambassadors of your customer loyalty, too. We have a “junque table” for lightly used, scratch and dent, and discontinued merchandise. Our parts and accessory folks are encouraged to suggest this venue when a substitute might well be there at a better price. Since they put most of the stuff on the table, they know its contents well. Even if the customer opts for the high dollar scratchless chrome gizmo, he knows we are looking out for him. These advisers see the customer on a much more regular basis than the rest of us. Boaters are always looking for that one last gadget that makes theirs the most unique and perfect boat. I hope I am not being disloyal when I say that I pray that they never find it — and keep on trying. It’s part of my business plan.
Our supplier-manufacturers deserve our loyalty, too. This loyalty to the brands we offer must saturate the organization. One wiseass saying, “Those guys make crap with a fancy finish” can kill your most wonderful and expensive marketing efforts. Your loyalty to your customers must be kind of like your love for your children— you may have to maintain it in the face of some pretty stiff flack. With your boat, engine and accessory companies, however, it has got to be a two-way street. My loyalty should last at least as long as theirs, but they can’t count on it forever without reciprocation. Fortunately, most of the good ones know this as well as we do. Gravitate toward them in picking lines. The good ones probably are or soon will be NMMA certified. Unfortunately loyalty to their dealers is not on the requirement list, but surely it is implied.
Employees and co-workers need to come pretty high in our loyalty scheme, too. They are suppliers of a sort, and the two-way street rule applies. Andrew Carnegie once said, “Take away my factories, my plants, take away my railroads, my transportation; take away my money; strip me of all these, but leave me my people, and in two or three years I will have them all again.” He was probably even smarter than your average boat dealer.
Industry associations should command our loyalty. They give us word of problems and opportunities on the horizon, best practices and a host of opportunities to test our decisions before we commit. Dealers can’t go wrong with Marine Retailers Association of America and their local marine trade association.
The concept of making a decent and consistent profit is a really critical loyalty for me. I am fortunate in both my suppliers and co-workers that this is a given. Even my customers say the right words sometimes. All understand that none of the rest matters much if you go out of business. Even if you stay in business, you won’t be giving the kind of service that our industry’s growth depends on. You may actually be hurting the rest of us.
I’ll leave comment on the rest of your loyalty needs (spousal, fraternal, theological, etc.) to Dr. Phil or someone better qualified than I. Don’t forget them, though. They too can sink your ship.

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