Boat owner satisfaction on the rise

WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif. — Boat owners’ overall satisfaction with their new boat shows a year-over-year increase, with two of the larger-sized-boat segments, express cruiser and coastal fishing, showing the greatest increase in product satisfaction, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2003 Boat Competitive Information Study released at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show this morning.

The study covers seven segments: fiberglass bass boats, small runabouts (16-19 feet), large runabouts (20-29 feet), express cruisers (24-33 feet), coastal fishing (17-28 feet), pontoons and ski/wakeboard boats. These seven segments represent a large majority of the total number of power boats sold in the United States, the company reported.

In addition to providing an analysis of product satisfaction and quality problems, the study measures several product factors, including the boat’s exterior styling and craftsmanship; various features offered by each boat brand; helm and instrument panel; how well the boat rides and handles; comfort and convenience items; engine and propulsion system performance; seats; and ease of maintenance.

“The fact that satisfaction has increased across all seven boat segments surveyed, and increased significantly in a few, is a very good sign that many more boat manufacturers are beginning to place a premium on satisfying their customers,” said Frank Forkin, partner at J.D. Power and Associates. “Those boat companies savvy enough to understand the link between customer satisfaction and financial indicators such as consumer loyalty and advocacy have the best chance of being successful in the very competitive powerboat business sector.”

Though the actual number of problems per boat has remained fairly consistent from prior years, consumer perceptions regarding the quality of boats has improved as more and more consumers indicate they had fewer problems than they had anticipated, said the company.

“This may be due, in part, to sales staff working closer with consumers to better manager customer expectations,” Forkin said.

Room for improvement

One area where boat manufacturers can increase overall customer satisfaction is in the dealership experience, and in particular, the sales and service process, the company reported. Boat owners consistently report lower levels of satisfaction with the sales and service experience than do their counterparts purchasing new automobiles or motorcycles. Among boat owners who took their boat in for service, 28 percent had to take it back a second time, with a small percentage actually reporting their boat was returned with a new problem caused by the repair shop, according to the company.

“Boat owners who have to take their boat to the service shop are probably not very happy,” said Eric Sorensen, director of the marine practice at J.D. Power and Associates. “But, the problem is compounded if they have to take it back because the problem wasn’t fixed properly the first time, or if it takes longer than expected to get their boat back on the water.”

Ranger ranked highest in the fiberglass bass boat segment for the third consecutive year, receiving high marks for exterior, maintenance and features. For a second consecutive year, Triton and Skeeter, respectively, closely follow Ranger in the segment rankings.

In the small runabout segment, with a substantial year-over-year improvement in overall satisfaction, Crownline received strong marks in the small runabout segment for the boat’s exterior and ride and handling. Chaparral and Four Winns, respectively, follow Crownline in the segment rankings.

Cobalt leads the large runabout segment in every major factor for all major boat satisfaction components measured, with particularly high marks for exterior styling and quality. Crownline, which showed a large year-over-year customer satisfaction improvement, and Sea Ray, respectively, follow Cobalt in the segment rankings.

Sea Ray ranked highest among express cruiser boats for a second consecutive year. Sea Ray, which made the largest year-over-year customer satisfaction improvement among cruisers, received high ratings from customers for areas including ride and handling, exterior, and safety and maintenance.

Grady-White ranked highest in the coastal fishing boat segment for the third consecutive year. Grady-White performs particularly well for the boat’s exterior and engine and propulsion. Following Grady-White in the rankings were Boston Whaler and Scout Boats, respectively. Boston Whaler showed a remarkable year-over-year improvement in customer satisfaction.

For the second consecutive year, Bennington ranked highest in the pontoon boat segment. Bennington’s success in the pontoon segment is attributed to strong performance for features, maintenance, safety and warranty. Manitou and Premier closely followed Bennington in the rankings. Odyssey made a dramatic year-over-year overall satisfaction improvement.

Correct Craft performed well in every major factor of overall satisfaction in the ski/wakeboard segment. Correct Craft received very high scores in engine and propulsion, maintenance and boat warranty coverage. Malibu followed Correct Craft in overall satisfaction.

A bright future?

For the first time in the study, consumers were asked if in the future they would continue boating as a recreational activity. Nearly all, 96 percent, indicate they would do so, said the company.

“Given the ever-growing number of leisure activities available to consumers, this is certainly good news for the boating industry,” said Sorensen

The 2003 Boat Competitive Information Study is based on responses from 10,734 consumers who purchased a new 2002 or 2003 model-year boat between January 2002 and February 2003. Seventy boat brands were included in the study.

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