It’s all in the delivery

Bad dealers view the boat delivery process as the final act of a business transaction. Good dealers see it as the beginning of a lasting relationship that, ultimately, will be much more profitable for both parties.

The former want to get the boat out the door so they can get on with the next sale; the latter don’t rush. They take as long as is needed, because – as with all relationships you want to last – a good first impression is critical, which is why good dealers go out of their way to make each delivery special.

The boat delivery process has become one of the critical components Boating Industry’s 2006 Top 100 Dealers use to guarantee customers the boating dream. The following are highlights of some of the most innovative and unique boat delivery ideas we learned from this year’s Top 100.

Create an atmosphere. Many dealers deliver boats out in the back parking lot with a technician providing the overview. At Marine Center of Indiana (Ranked 50 in the 2006 Top 100) customers are wowed by an atmosphere that blows them away with both sight and sound. A light display showcases each new boat in the midst of a white room dedicated to boat delivery. Music complements the display with songs that vary by the type of boat. And a customer service representative provides the overview of the boat’s features and benefits.

Roll out the carpet. The red carpet, that is. H&S Yacht Sales/Southwestern Yacht Sales (ranked 17) literally rolls out the red carpet for its new boat buyers, bringing company executives out to congratulate and thank each customer for doing business with the dealership.

A three-hour tour. First-time boat buyers often need much more than an overview of their new boat’s operational procedures. They might also need some on-water instruction that includes gaining familiarity with local waters. At Crowe Marine (Ranked 77), the boat delivery includes a tour of the local body of water so that customers can be alerted to hazard areas and good fishing spots.

Teach a man to fish. A similar strategy is employed at Boats, Inc. (Ranked 37) where the delivery includes a trip to one of the top fishing spots. If the need arises, they’ll also teach customers how to fish.

Dock talk. Many dealers’ delivery process includes free docking lessons. Boats, Inc. takes it one step further by also providing customers with a free slip for up to two weeks after taking ownership so that as questions arise, they can be answered, literally, on the spot.

Ongoing training. Let’s be honest. Some customers just take longer to get it than others. With that in mind, Harborside Yacht Sales (Ranked 29) will travel to the customer’s dock to offer them free, ongoing training if necessary. If ongoing seems a little overwhelming, many other dealers offer a “second” delivery a week or a month after the initial delivery.

Practice makes perfect. Customers aren’t the only ones who reap the benefits of repetition and practice. At Sima Marine Sales, Inc. (Ranked 45), employees who take part in the boat delivery process practice delivering the boat to the company’s financial manager to ensure they are comfortable with their roles and that the expected level of excellence during the procedure is met. New customers are also taken through the dealership and introduced to the staff. Customers are told what the employees do and how they can help the owner enjoy his or her boat experience.

Get some sleep. The night before delivery, Staten Island Yacht Sales (Ranked 33) allows customers to sleep on their new boat so they can become acquainted with the surroundings and the operational systems. This allows them to spend time learning what it is they don’t know and better prepares them to ask meaningful questions during the delivery process rather than a day, or month, later.

Put it in writing. Delivery captains at Galati Yacht Sales (Ranked 2) come equipped with Vessel Orientation Release forms, which they are required to complete during the delivery process. With 14 different general categories – and dozens of sub-categories – to cover, from cockpit systems to engine/propulsion and sea trial, the VOR is a checklist that ensures nothing is missed.

Share the wealth. Galati also schedules follow-up orientation sessions with its engine and electronics vendors, as applicable, to provide product-specific briefings.

It takes two. Slalom Shop Boats and Yachts (Ranked 6) has the technician that rigged the boat accompany the delivery captain during the orientation. The company says this practice “goes a long way toward making sure the boat is right the first time for the customer.”

Lesson learned. Part of knowing how to use a ski or wakeboard boat is learning how to safely participate in the sport. Action Water Sports (Ranked 14) gives every buyer a free half-day of water sports lessons with their purchase. After the sale, the dealership’s in-house ski instructor contacts the customer and schedules time on the water where he will teach the family anything it wants to learn. Whether it’s instruction in the sport itself, or how to safely maneuver the boat and give proper pulls, the instructor is at the buyer’s disposal. The company says the classes bring customer service “to the next level in terms of building our relationship with our customers” and the feedback from this program has been “overwhelming.” Buckeye Marine (Ranked 28) also sends each of its ski/wakeboat buyers out with a certified instructor for a “Dream Day” 4-hour lesson to familiarize the family with the sport, both in the boat and behind it.

Hands on. Many dealerships offer buyers an on-water boat delivery, but at Buckeye Marine every buyer receives a mandatory on-water delivery and training for the entire family. Professionally trained on-water “demonstrators,” who have a minimum of 10 years operating pleasure craft, give the training.

Test drive. Boat delivery demonstrators at Buckeye Marine are also responsible for test-driving the boat before the delivery so that any problems can be addressed before the customers arrive.

Stay in touch. Constant monitoring of its boat delivery process helps Strong’s Marine (Ranked 20) fine-tune all aspects of the experience. Within seven days of the delivery, Strong’s sends out an internal delivery survey to ask what it can do to make the process more pleasurable and to catch anything that wasn’t covered to the owner’s satisfaction. When a survey comes back that is not scored to the dealership’s satisfaction, an action sheet is generated to alert the sales or service manager to take immediate action to resolve the issue. Once the problem has been addressed, another sheet is generated to make note of it.

Raise your right hand. A bottle of wine for christening the boat, as well as a cap with the company logo on it, are presented to buyers during the delivery process at Silver Lake Marine (Ranked 88). After the caps are given out, the new owners are then asked to take an oath pledging that they will wear the cap with pride and that they will never get into any trouble (such as running out of gas or getting towed in) while wearing the caps.

Say, “cheese.” A picture is worth a 1,000 words, and Mt. Dora Boating Center and Marina (Ranked 91) fully subscribes to the worth of that maxim by taking a photo of each buyer and adding it to the dealership’s “Wall of Fame,” which displays the photo with a nameplate and year the boat was purchased. Mt. Dora also displays photos of all its latest new boat buyers on its Web site, and says its customers “really like this.”

Remove doubt. Dipping your toe into a brand new world for the first time can cause apprehension. But Glenn Marine Family Boating Centers, Ltd. (Ranked 90) soothes the jangled nerves of those new to boating by letting buyers know what to expect from the outset. The dealership has produced its own instructional DVD, “Buying Your New Boat” that takes customers through the entire process and the company’s “New Boat Delivery Day” handbook walks them through that procedure in advance as well.

Keeping it “re”fresh. Not only does owner Tom Smith personally deliver each boat at Colorado Boat Center (Ranked 53), customers also receive a DVD of Smith conducting the very same presentation in case they miss something or want to refresh their knowledge later. As with Glenn Marine, the company also gives customers a “Picking up your boat” sheet before the delivery so they know what to expect when they arrive. Then, in keeping with the documentation theme, customers also receive a “Happy Boating Checklist” that takes them through what is essentially a pre-flight of the boat before they reach the launch ramp and an instruction manual once they’re there.

Set a standard. For dealers with more than one location, process mapping is essential. If you’re a multi-location dealer, gather everyone involved with boat delivery across your business, work together to determine the most efficient, effective way to deliver boats, then put that process in writing and make sure everyone follows it. Link Recreation (Ranked 22) did just that in 2005, bringing in GE Six Sigma Black Belt Rick Hersey to help map the delivery process. Now everyone has a written procedure to follow and knows exactly what’s expected of them when it comes to delivering boats.

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