Avoiding a boater shortage

The fishing season is underway and it’s supposed to be great weather to get out on the water here in Minnesota this weekend – warm and sunny. There should be lots of boats on area lakes and rivers, and a friend here at work hopes his family’s 21-foot runabout is among them. But there’s a problem.

After picking up his boat a couple weeks ago from the company that had winterized and stored it for him, he took it out for the first time a few days later only to have the engine die about 30 seconds from the launch ramp. Try as he might, he couldn’t get the motor restarted and his day at the lake was done.

It’s not unusual to have a mechanical problem the first-time out after a boat hasn’t been used in several months. This guy has been a boat owner long enough to know that, and he took the problem in stride.

What surprised him was the news that followed. Although he had a relatively minor engine problem, he was told by his dealer that it would take several weeks for him to get the necessary part, and that his family wouldn’t have their boat to use over the Memorial Day weekend.

Not satisfied with that answer, our co-worker called his local NAPA Auto Parts store and was told they didn’t have what he needed, but could get him the same part by 3:00 that afternoon.

The good news for our friend is that he’s picking his boat up today and will be on the water this weekend. The bad news for our industry is that there are lots of boaters out there who aren’t going to be so fortunate.

Why the marine dealer needed such a long time to get the same part NAPA could produce in a matter of hours is a larger question for another time. But everyone realizes that production was, necessarily, reduced during the downturn, as was inventory. However, as demand increases once more, adjusting supply to keep pace is going to be a fine line to walk, and there will be times when customers are inconvenienced. It’s at those times that customer service is most important.

Our friend’s dealership worked with him on the problem, didn’t get its nose out of joint that he had contacted NAPA for a part, and now has a satisfied customer as a result.

Product shortages happen, even during the best of times. But they don’t have to drive away boaters if each situation is handled with a good-faith effort to make things right. Businesses that use these kinds of problems to forge a stronger relationship with customers are setting themselves up for the future. Those that don’t likely won’t have a tomorrow to worry about.

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