120 columns in 11 years (but who’s counting?)

Not too long ago I read that another industry trade columnist had just published his 100th column. That prompted me to count how many I had written and was surprised at the number: 120. In 11 years.

Being semi-retired, I am sometimes asked when I am going to stop writing and consulting and fully retire. I answer this question by jokingly saying, “When it is either no longer fun and enjoyable, or when I no longer make sense.” I then tell them that I will decide when consulting and writing is no longer fun, and my wife has promised to tell me when she thinks I no longer make sense. So far she hasn’t dropped any hints. I am also confident that my dealer friends will let me know if they think I am not making sense anymore in my columns. No doubt some of the boat builders I have picked on in my columns over the years decided a long time ago that, from their perspective, I wasn’t making sense.

In my first column in 1994, I opened with the point that nothing happens in this industry until a dealer sells a boat. Unfortunately, too many manufacturers ignore or overlook this basic fundamental, judging from the way so many dealers are treated. This is a very service-intensive business and dealers are the backbone of the industry. We must treat them accordingly and keep them healthy and profitable.

Over the past 11 years, I have been a pretty strong dealer advocate. This resulted from my becoming a dealer myself, after 30 years on the other side of the fence in the corporate world. I learned what it was like to be in the trenches as a retailer of big ticket, engine-powered products when I became a Chevrolet dealer.

Regrettably, over the past 11 years, many of the problems in this industry that I have written about have not changed much. Larger dealers still get volume-pricing discounts, unlike the auto industry, where all dealers, large and small, pay the same for cars and trucks. And most boat builders are still having annual dealer meetings and product introductions in the peak of the season. These summer dealer meetings and model introductions pretty much led to the demise of IMTEC, the big annual trade show. The loss of this show was a sad thing for the industry.

On a positive note, however, I must say I have seen some encouraging things recently, the most recent of which is the introduction of an industry-wide written boatbuilder-dealer agreement. Although I haven’t seen the actual contract, the fact that dealers and manufacturers worked together to create this is a positive. Another is the Grow Boating initiative, which finally seems to be surfacing from years of committee meetings and moving forward. It has been gratifying to see companies and people rally together on this plan by supporting it with their financial contributions.

Another encouraging movement in the industry is the Certified Dealer program. This is something I hope all manufacturers will support financially, in addition to encouraging their dealers to participate. The following is quoted from the introduction of this program: “The profitability and long-term growth of each dealership, and of boating in general, ultimately depends on how well we satisfy the wants and needs of our customers.

“In order to achieve the goal of satisfied customers throughout the boating industry, a set of standards is needed that will provide the basic necessities to achieve customer satisfaction. These standards are presented as the minimum requirements to be a Certified Dealer.

“A Certified Dealer will have to operate at the minimum standards in four areas of their dealership. These standards are not suggestions or a future goal. All of the following items are required in order to be approved as a Certified Dealer.”

The four areas listed are: Human Resource Management/Employee Improvement, Dealership Operations and Facility, Sales Process and Service Process. I firmly believe that all dealers should get on board with this.

The third encouraging thing I have seen is Boating Industry magazine’s “Top 100 Dealers” award and recognition program. This is a program that will identify and recognize those top 100 dealers in North America who are unsurpassed in overall business operations, customer service, marketing and, of course, delivering on the dream that the boating lifestyle promises. All dealers will have an opportunity to apply for this elite ranking. The top 100 selected will be recognized at a gala event at the fall MRAA convention in Las Vegas.

So that concludes the 120th “Sherwood Speaks Out” column. Writing it was enjoyable, so I guess I’ll go for 121 … and more.

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