“Geo-recognizing” opportunity

It’s true that boat buyers are more educated today than they’ve ever been. They’re appearing on the showroom or boat show floor with more information than their sales rep could typically provide them. We have the Internet to thank for that.

But while the Internet is certainly providing boating information, it’s not always doing so in the most convenient fashion. And as the marine industry continues its growth in online initiatives, iboats, Inc., Draper, Utah, believes it has identified a gap it can fill when it comes to providing consumers with information pertinent to boat buying decisions.

Take the new boat market, for example. Sure, every boat builder has its products online, and most of them also have a dealer locator to go with it. But consumers have always been forced to know the manufacturer and model names, prices, size options and Web site addresses of each particular boat’s corresponding competitors in order to fully comparison shop.

With the launch of its New Boat Showroom, iboats.com hopes to change that. The company has developed what it calls a dealer-based, territory-based, new boat research site for consumers and hopes it can become the “prime lead generation tool for the marine industry.” It’s fully populated with up-to-date new boat information, and is set to launch in April.

“Where do you go to research a new boat?” says Bruno Vassel IV, senior vice president. “For new boat research, classifieds are not a good resource tool. There hasn’t been a good solution out there.”

Yet there have been other attempts at solutions. Many of iboats.com’s competitors — not to mention iboats.com itself — have offered new boats in their classifieds section, making it confusing for customers who typically find used boats in the classifieds.

But to be sure, classifieds merely provide a one-perspective view of boat availability. The boats that pop up in your search may appeal to your criteria … or they may not. Other companies, such as NauticExpo.com and BoatShow-Expo.com, have offered, to some extent, online research tools. But iboats.com plans to deliver more comprehensive opportunities for consumers — and the businesses serving them.

According to Vassel, the program focuses on getting consumers to find the local dealers and brands in their area, providing them the exciting gems of boat shopping — the subtle features you find as you walk around a boat for the first time.

Perhaps the most significant feature in the initial version to be launched, the lead-based program is set to conquer the largest hurdle boating businesses face on the Internet: territory protection. Every consumer is required to enter a zip code before entering. And once inside, the site only directs consumers to a dealer in their area.

“We ‘geo-recognize’ the consumer and where they’re coming from,” explains Vassel, “and match them up with participating local dealers in their area.”

Matching them up with participating local dealers is the key component for the initial launch. If the consumer is searching for a Tracker, for example, and there’s a sponsoring Tracker dealer in that consumer’s area, the site will direct the consumer to the local Tracker dealer’s new boats and used inventory.

“We help consumers focus their research to those brands of boats where a local dealer is participating in the program,” Vassel IV says. “It doesn’t help a consumer to research a brand where the nearest dealer is 1,000 miles away. We understand and support the fact that consumers need to buy from local dealers who can service them for many years after the purchase.”

If there’s room to grow the program, however, it’s from that matching-up point on. It’s difficult, for example, for that consumer to compare that Tracker with competing brands. Vassel says, however, that future renditions of the site — it’s said to be spec’d out to version 8.0 already — will evolve toward a more powerful comparative program, “giving more to the consumer, giving them more of those smaller gems.”

“We believe we are handing today’s boating consumer a huge tool,” says Bruno Vassel III, president and CEO. “It gives consumers the opportunity to really do the research they want.”

“Our No. 1 focus with this is getting the leads to the dealers,” adds Vassel IV. “It’s perfect for gathering consumers, getting them in and sending leads out to the manufacturers and dealers.”

And just in time for the launch of this year’s Discover Boating marketing campaign.

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