New Data To Help Boating Compete?

Several new marine industry studies have been launched in recent months with the hope that more detailed industry data will help boating businesses compete with other forms of recreation.
Among them is J.D. Power & Associates’ dealer attitude questionnaire, which will be used to survey boat and engine dealers about their relationships with the manufacturers they represent.
As part of the questionnaire, dealers are asked to rate three boat brands and two engine brands that they inventory on product quality, sales and service, parts and warranty programs, and the performance of the manufacturers’ field representatives.
The results will be announced at the Miami International Boat Show, February 13-18, which will give the industry time to consider them and take action before the summer season begins, said Eric Sorenson, director of marine practice for J.D. Power & Associates.
Study expected to improve dealer-manufacturer relations
Phil Keeter, president of the Marine Retailers Association of America (MRAA), said he expects the results of the survey to push manufacturers toward better relationships with their dealers.
Those companies who obtain a low ranking in the boat dealer survey will have a hard time attracting new dealers and retaining current ones, he explained, while those at the top of the list will have a tool to help them keep their current dealers, make them work harder and attract new ones.
Better relationships between manufacturers and dealers result in a higher level of customer service, which Keeter said the industry needs to pursue. Some of boating businesses’ best customers are long-time boaters, and to keep them, the industry needs to learn to respond to consumer needs better and more quickly, he added.
In fact, the MRAA president said the decline in the boating industry’s customer base is part of what’s driving a push for more data.
Sorenson suggested the survey also will help dealers and manufacturers improve their profitability. As their relationships with each other improve, consumers will want to spend more money with them, he explained.
Outlook program to combine intelligence of each sector
MRAA is one of several associations that is working with the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) on its new Marine Business Leaders Outlook program, the result of a partnership with Michigan State University.
The national, web-based program is intended to provide industry-wide trend data and eventually will include manufacturers, marinas, dealerships, boatyards/boat service facilities, retailers, marine bankers and other industry segments as participants.
As MSU’s Ed Mahoney pointed out, it is prohibitive for any one business or organization to collect and analyze this data themselves. However, in a fragmented industry, each segment needs to be able to gauge the performance of the other sectors to plan for its own future.
Keeter said the combined intelligence from the program will benefit the whole industry.
“Instead of being fragmented and isolated in our approach, if we have a better look at the whole picture, maybe we can do a better job of competing,” Keeter said.
On the horizon is also the formation of a national Recreational Marine Research Center, according to Thom Dammrich, NMMA president.
The center intends to address the need for a centralized clearing house on industry information on the market and its consumer, boating resources and infrastructure, the economic impact of boating at both the local and national levels, as well as government related issue studies that could be used by all segments.
— By Liz Walz

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