Builders provide advice for the season ahead

What will 2010 bring for boat dealers and how can they succeed in today’s environment? Everyone has an opinion and Boating Industry wanted to learn what boat builders’ believe. We contacted a cross-section of manufacturers and asked them to share their insights. Here are the responses we received.

What advice do you have for dealers as they approach the coming boating season?

Jeff Behan, president, Bayliner Boats: Our better dealers, even in the current market conditions, succeed by continuing to positively engage the boating consumer in their market. This can be done in many ways including sales events, Web marketing, demo days and engaging consumers every day in their showroom. The common theme in all these interactions is they are helping consumers enjoy the boating lifestyle in a way that works for their family and friends. Building a community of owners is a powerful way to develop lasting relationships with customers and encourage powerful referral business with their friends. While there may not be as many boating consumers out there as in years past, successful dealers attract those consumers who are in the market.

Rick Gasaway, chief sales officer, Nautic Global Group: Be prepared, there are boat buyers out there and there is pent up demand! Stocking the right product and the right amount of product is the most important thing a dealer can do. You do not want to lose a sale because you don’t have the right availability. Understanding the customer is key and being there with high-perceived product value will win in today’s market. Use available data and market experience to help maximize sales opportunities in their areas. Utilize every resource available to find the buyers and differentiate your dealership.

Rob Parmentier, president, Sea Ray Boats: Be smart business operators. Take care of your customers. Make sure consumers get the first-class treatment that completes the Sea Ray experience. They are your best source of future business! Promote your business and the boating lifestyle, that is the way to bring more people into boating. Be creative and put your business in front of new audiences any way you can through events like demo days. Make sure you encourage boaters to get out on the water. We need to keep people active in the sport to reinforce the joys of boating.

Skip Braver, president and CEO, Cigarette Racing Team: Remember that you represent the highest quality and the most recognized brand in the world and to maintain that image by the service you provide.

The best advice I can give a dealer today is to learn from past mistakes and be prepared for the opportunities that you may have in the future. Align your business with a manufacturer that has the ability and financial stability to weather any storm; partner with a leader not a follower. What sells today is new and innovative products. You are no different than us. We need to learn how to do more with less.

Stay away from promises and don’t be afraid of change or to change. The old marine dealer models will no longer work. The consumer is so much smarter now and we live in a competitive world. The technology filled world we are in today is here to stay. The Internet is a tool that must carefully be exploited. Most importantly … stay focused.

Duane Kuck, president, Regal Marine: Diversify your revenue streams. Dealers’ business models have changed because in most cases they’re faced with less revenue and fewer staff. Some dealerships have developed diverse revenue streams so that they have that diversity of income, which is a really great strategy. Others were doing a good job of that already.

Continue to focus on providing exceptional customer satisfaction or an exceptional experience. Part of that is adding value to the boating experience through on-water events, cruises and meeting for lunch: the things that build community within the dealer’s customer base. It’s challenging at time to do that when we’re all so busy, but that type of effort and marketing pays off well.

It’s sort of segues me a little bit into my other point, which is we need to do things that may not result in a sale today, but is helping to nurture folks along the various stages of the buying process. Building community, getting people out on boats, inviting friends out on boats, these sorts of activities are ultimately going to help boost sales. But you may not get a sale today doing that. As an industry, we tend to be fairly impatient. Even when you’re thinking about boat shows, we all measure what we sold at the show. And that’s important. We should measure that. But we don’t measure enough what we sold six months after the show from a lead we got at the show. We all need to do more to nurture the folks along the various stages of the buying process, whether they have a current boat or not. That’s something the dealers and the manufacturers can do better.

Also, we can diversify who we sell to or market to. There are probably some opportunities there. We have a pretty diverse country, and we could do a better job capitalizing on that.

Bill Yeargin, president and CEO, Correct Craft: We want our dealers to operate smart, like we have tried to do. We want them to carry wise inventory levels and don’t get caught up in either side of the pendulum; in other words, make sure you have enough to show and sell, but not too much. We want our dealers to make wise sales and marketing decisions in order to be in business for the long-term.

In general, dealers should be very selective who they choose to be a partner. Dealers should connect with strong marine manufacturers who are consistent, wise, have integrity and understand how to navigate in a difficult economic environment. Make the right choice; the road to recovery will be paved with profits and a lot less sleepless nights.

Greg VanWagenen, director of marketing and communications, Manitou Pontoon Boats: Sell on more than price alone. In the good years it was easy to become an “order taker” and as times got tougher it was easy to start selling on price alone. Dealers need to get back to basics and sharply hone their sales skills. In these tougher economic times, it is more imperative than ever that dealers and their sales staff work with the manufacturers to educate themselves on the benefits of their specific brands. Consumers are more cautious with their money than ever before, they are also more educated. Thanks to the Internet, consumers can learn about every brand of boat they are interested just by clicking a mouse. Your sales staff needs to know more than that consumer, not only about the products they sell, also competing brands the consumer is considering.

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