By Mike Davin, Online Editor, Boating Industry magazine — My wife and I are aspiring boat owners. At least, I thought we were — until last weekend when she informed me it wasn't worth the headache.
Here's the story: My wife and I were up at my parent's cabin, where their boats had just been delivered from storage. We were the first ones up since the boats had gone in the water, so we were planning to enjoy what I thought at the time was a good thing — the inaugural ride of the season.
Before I left, I heard there had been some trouble with the carburetor in the outboard hanging off the back of the pontoon, but I didn't give it much thought. Delivery of the pontoon had been delayed until the techs could get the outboard started, but everything looked set when my wife and I arrived.
However, when we tried to start the engine — no luck. I tried all the usual methods to get it to turn over, and nothing.
So my wife called the marina where the boat was stored/repaired. An employee proceeded to tell her that whatever was wrong, she had caused it — probably by draining the battery or flooding the engine — because she didn't know what she was doing.
Granted, my wife is not a boating expert, and neither am I for that matter. That's why we were calling the experts for help. However, my wife is also not an idiot, which is what she felt like on the phone.
She reported that there had recently been a problem with the carburetor, but that was not accepted as a likely culprit. At one point in the conversation the marina employee said — quote — "if I come down there and there's nothing wrong, I'm going to be pretty mad."
Never mind that the place is all of about five miles away, and we were desperate to pay for his services.
By the time she got off the phone, her attitude was, "Forget it, let's not go boating. Boats are too much of a hassle."
At that moment, I was tempted to agree.
Will that one interaction prevent us from buying a boat? Who knows, but these days you don't want interested buyers making any extra check marks in the "cons" column.
And more than that, with boating, it shouldn't be "you're in the club, or you're not." Experienced boaters provide a great base of customers, but the market has the potential to be a lot more than that. Making newcomers feel inadequate is just about the quickest way to nip that potential in the bud.
A few things to remember: You better know what your employees are telling your customers. You never know how much future business you've thrown away with each unsatisfied customer. You also never know which customer might work for a national boating magazine.