By Bob McCann, Director of Client Education, ARI Network Services & Channel Blade — When we started Channel Blade years ago, most of the marine dealer Web sites we designed were focused on the lifestyle of boating. Back then, many conversations with dealers often led to a familiar phrase: “We don’t just sell boats … We sell Fun!” Over the last year and a half or so, we have seen more and more dealers shifting their focus from selling “the fun” to selling “the deal” because of huge inventories of aged units in these tough economic conditions.
As a result, Channel Blade is building more Web sites that prominently feature time-sensitive, significant savings on dealer inventory right on the homepage. We believe that current boat buyers realize that it’s a buyer’s market and that dealers whose online and offline presence caters to this buyer will win.
For instance, when we built the first MarineMax Web site eight years ago, the focus was on matching the lifestyle images properly with the region, i.e. pictures of boating on a lake in Ohio or boating around white, sandy beaches with palm trees in Florida. For the past few years, its Web site has been all about “The World’s Largest Online Boat Blowout." According to eBusiness Manager Rob Bowman, the 2009 sales event generated a 5.7 percent increase in traffic – 21,458 more visitors, and a 26.6 percent jump in leads – 345 more inquiries, compared to the previous year.
By no means are dealers out of the woods, but most have right-sized their stores and reduced inventory in order to compete in this market. For example, Crystal Pierz (CP) in Minnesota, after either closing or moving more than half of its stores, started using bad daily news, such as the Genmar bankruptcy, to sell boats, creating a sense of “positive” urgency: “Genmar’s loss; Your gain.”
In addition to consistent updates on its Web site to reflect the current selling environment, i.e. “selling the deal,” CP went outbound with creative e-mail campaigns to show that now is the time to buy a boat. This campaign was so successful that it cleared the inventory to the point where there were no more boats to sell. CP President Luke Kujawa said that his team sold over 100 Glastrons in just over one month!
Hopefully, when inventories subside and consumer confidence is restored, we will go back to selling the fun. For now, the tide has shifted and if today’s shopper lands on a dealer’s Web site and doesn’t see a deal, chances are he’ll click away to a competitor’s in search of that “their loss, your gain” kind of offer.
Fortunately, it’s easy to adjust both one’s online and offline inventory to respond to this new mindset. All dealers have to do is make sure that promotions featured in-store are also publicized online. Sadly, many simply don’t take the time to make changes that reflect the urgency and reasons to “buy now." For example, a dealership may have signage and banners promoting great deals all over the store, yet not a word of it is mentioned online, which no doubt means many missed opportunities. Who can afford that in these tough economic times?