What constitutes real excellence?

The marine industry is moving right along on its goal of “raising the bar of excellence.” We deserve to be proud of ourselves. I'd give us a hand, but I can’t type at the same time.

Manufacturer certification as devised by National Marine Manufacturers Association and American Boat & Yacht Council is taking hold, and a lot of products are getting better. A few haven’t made it yet, but I have high hopes for them. Upward movement of the bar among dealers is easily seen in the numerous applications for their certification program as devised by Marine Retailers Association of America and NMMA, and implemented by Five Star Solutions. Boating Industry has even started us competing to be in the “Top 100 Dealers” each year. Since there are somewhere between five and ten thousand of us out there, we can’t all be in the first 100 all the time, but we can all benefit by trying.

There is no question that we all need to partcipate in all of these programs as well as we possibly can. When we do, are we at the promised land? Don’t pitch the big tents yet. There are some other things to check. I don’t think there are many new ideas, but we can’t forget some of the old skills that gave us a chance to be great.

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve indulged more than usual in buying stuff. The biggest item was a new car, and the smallest (but maybe the most difficult) was a 5¼8 inch chuck key lost off our drill press. Both buying experiences illustrated some grievous marketing sins that we must avoid.

With the car, I bought from a major dealer with a gorgeous showroom, knowledgeable sales people and a desire to please. This dealer could probably be certified where he sat by our industry standards. He had all the systems. Unfortunately, he didn’t do some of the basics of “doing business as it ought to be done.” My experience was far less pleasant than at the mom and pop style dealership where I have always bought my trucks. (As an aside, GM just cancelled them and put them out of business — go figure.)

My gripe was in the paperwork preparation. Not only did they want endless signatures on unnecessary documents, they got the price wrong three times (always in their favor). If I hadn’t had a deposit on a special order car, I would probably have walked out. The manufacturer sent me an email CSI survey the next day — probably not the best timing for the dealer’s score, but a good time to find out why they lose some deals. Folks in general (and me in particular) are sensitive when somebody tries to mess with them financially.

On the chuck key purchase, I fortunately took the old chuck with me on my rounds. It’s a common size on drill presses. I even found we had two more using the same key. Three retail tool houses tried to give me smaller keys, assuring me they would work (until I brought out the chuck). A phone order house tried to book the order before I even got the size out of my mouth, assuring me credit if it didn’t work. Maybe they were all on some sort of piece-work program, and making sure I got the right item was not one of the counted parameters.

In both cases, the sellers depended on “the system” to fix problems. Neither wanted to get in my shoes and own my needs. All the companies involved are big companies that spend fortunes trying to achieve high levels of customer satisfaction. What’s wrong? Even though their systems may eventually self correct, this isn’t what the customer wants. He wants knowledgeable people who understand how to do business right the first time, at every contact. Trainees should be neither seen nor heard from if the task exceeds their known competence. This applies to accounting and parts just as much as to sales and service.

Traditionally, we marine dealers have been way ahead of the auto folks and most others on expertise. Our field has too many variables and eccentricities for us not to be. We’ve counted heavily on mom and pop, as well as Ed, Bubba, Lefty and Diane, who knew just about everything there was to know about our boats, past and present. Yes, things may be more complicated mechanically and electronically now. No, that’s not an acceptable excuse. There isn’t one. If an employee doesn’t know, he needs to start digging and call for backup.

When a customer is kind enough to open our door and enter, we need to always justify his trust. I see absolutely no need to be the least expensive guy around. The customers I want will pay reasonably for confidence in the product and in the dealership. I strongly deserve a whackin’ any time I let someone working over his head deal with them in my name.

Remember, Murphy’s law applies doubly at a boat dealership.

If anything can go wrong, it will.

1st Corollary: It will go wrong at the worst possible time and in the worst possible way.

Without enough training and care in personnel application, it can go wrong.

Editor's Note: John Underwood is CEO of Lockwood Marine on the Georgia coast. He has served as chairman of the Marine Retailers Association of America (2001 and 2002) and on boards for the American Boatbuilders and Repairers Association and American Boat & Yacht Council. He can be reached at ftlockwood@cs.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *