Sherwood Speaks Out

The Internet is a marvelous tool that is used by millions of people for product information and shopping for the best deals. In the past four months I have used the Internet to shop for a new car and buy office supplies and furniture.
Last week I received the following e-mail from a dealer friend of mine, Chad Taylor, South Shore Marina, Wilmington, Ohio, regarding Internet pricing.
“My dealership will no longer quote pricing through e-mails unless we have dealt with the customer and he is from our territory. We will continue to show boats on our Web site, but no e-mail pricing will be done. I hope all dealers adapt the same policy.”
Following is the reply that Chad sent to a customer wanting a “bottom line” price on a new boat:
“Sir: I cannot give you a price when I don't know where you live. It is not our policy to quote pricing via e-mail. All dealers have assigned territories and I don’t wish to quote prices to someone in another dealer’s territory.”
Chad’s new policy made me wonder how other dealers were dealing with the issue of quoting prices over the Internet. So I decided to contact a few of my dealer friends around the country to get their input.
Greg and Gerry Warner, Warner’s Dock, Richmond, Wis., said their Web site has generated 30 to 40 percent additional business for the company. “We get a lot of e-mail inquiries for our best price on boats and motors,” Gerry Warner said. “On our Web site, all used boats have prices. But we don’t show prices of our new boats on our Web site.
“When we get requests for a new boat price, we send all the features of the rig before quoting a price. We want to make sure they know what they are getting for the price, so we list all the things that are included, like the prop, oil, out-the-door prep, sales tax and registration fee. Often, when dealers quote prices on the Internet, they don’t include things like props, prep and other things.
“If the inquiry for a new boat comes from someone out of my area, we respond by telling them the dealer’s name closest to them. I will quote bottom-line prices on used boats no matter where the prospect lives.”
Greg Warner added, “We very closely track our total traffic to our Web site. For the first time, we have tracked over 1,000 visitors for four consecutive days.”
Paul Cusson, Atlantic Outboard, Westbrook, Conn., also doesn’t quote new boat prices via e-mail unless he has already dealt with the person on the phone and they are from his market area. “We have specials priced on our Web site (leftovers, used, trades, close-outs),” he said. “But I don’t see an advantage to someone from across the country to shop with a dealer who is unable to service them and who may or may not deliver what was promised. I think it is unhealthy for the industry to have dealers across the country competing via the Internet.”
Another East Coast dealer friend who didn’t want his name mentioned said, “Our policy is to quote list prices only on new boats by e-mail. We will quote our ‘everyday price’ to anyone who contacts our company, but we will not negotiate until we are assured the prospect will use the boat in our defined sales and service area.”
Kevin Knouse, Towne Marine, Bloomsberg, Pa., told me that his Web site has generated at least a 12-percent increase in business. “We get requests for bottom-line prices on new boats all the time. Some people try to get our best price so they can go back and beat up their local dealer with it. Some e-mail requests are a local dealer shopping us. We try to get those making e-mail inquiries to phone us so we can qualify them.”
Rick Cayton, Texas Boat World, Harker Heights, Texas said he sells at least 15 percent of his boats as a result of his Web site. “When we get e-mail requests for prices we ask for their phone number so we can call them,” Cayton said. “If the prospect is out of our territory, we refer them to their local dealer.”
My last call was to Ken Cope, who has stores in O’Fallon, Ill., in the St. Louis market and Branson West, Mo., near Table Rock Lake. “We don’t post prices on the Web site or Internet except for used boats,” Cope said. “We don’t care where the customer comes from if they walk in our store to buy a boat. We give people who come to our store from other states the same price as those who live in our town. But we don’t try to entice people from other parts of the country to come to us to buy boats.”
I highlight these dealers because I believe they are using sound strategies. Dealers have enough competition in their own areas, let alone dealers from outside the area (who won’t be able to service the boats) underselling them to make an extra buck.

Ben Sherwood, a marine industry veteran, was head of sales and marketing for Johnson and Evinrude outboards before retirement. After retirement he owned and operated a Chevrolet dealership, which he later sold. He now operates Sherwood Marine Marketing, a marine industry consulting firm in Pleasant Prairie, Wis.; 262-694-6636. E-mail address is and Web site is

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