MRAA panel sends message to manufacturers

LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Dealers at the Marine Retailers Association of America (MRAA) Convention in Las Vegas sent a message to industry manufacturers during the last of three of Jerry Martin’s Shirtsleeve Sessions yesterday.

The Shirtsleeve panel took on the topics of dealer agreements and the shortage of industry talent, among other things.

Legislation the only answer?

Speaking on dealer agreements was Tom Stidham of Norris Marine, Norman, Okla., who described himself as “both a bomb thrower and a peacemaker.”

He said the subject of dealer agreements keeps resurfacing because they haven’t changed; however, the dealer body has changed, and he feels the agreements need to evolve to reflect that.

“It’s insanity we haven’t moved beyond this issue,” he stated.

The boating industry used to be a handshake business; however, at that point, most dealerships carried products from multiple industries and had limited capital invested in their facilities, according to Stidham.

With many dealers investing millions in their dealership and focusing exclusively on the boating business, the industry ought to have matured past a handshake by now, he commented.

Not just any agreement will do, though. “Surely we can do better” than 3-year agreements that are cancelable in 30 days, he exclaimed.

Part of the problem is that current agreements are driven entirely by sales, not CSI or service, according to Stidham, who said that he has tried to negotiate directly with the manufacturers to create an agreement that is fair for both parties and been unsuccessful.

While he describes the pursuit of legislation as difficult, he said he has come to the conclusion that “it’s the only way to keep the pressure on” and “force the hand.”

Despite this, Stidham said he does see light at the end of the tunnel in the form of rolling agreements and automatic renewal, and he predicts that the dealer agreement problem will be solved, “hopefully in my lifetime.”

Solving the shortage – together

Speaking on the topic of attracting professional talent to the industry was Rob Youker of The Sportsman, San Benito, Texas.

“Without a plan for new blood, the industry can’t grow,” he stated. However, he added that dealers and manufacturers have created the difficulty attracting professional talent, and they must solve it together.

It isn’t a surprise that most dealers are having trouble, Youker said. Other industries are easily outperforming marine retailers in the areas of year-round employment, fair pay, benefits, professional encouragement, recognition and the creation of a career path.

To solve this problem, dealers must raise the shop labor rate, allowing them to pay their technicians a higher salary and offer their employees better benefits, suggested Youker. In turn, by attracting more professional, talented staff, the dealership will be more likely to fix it the first time. With this higher level of service, the dealership will set itself apart in the eyes of the consumers, he explained, and thus rise to more profitable level.

The role of the manufacturers in this, he explained, is to pay their dealers the retail labor rate for warranty work so that they can fix the problems with the manufacturers’ products and remain profitable. Not only is this the right thing to do, it encourages customer satisfaction and keeps techs in the marine industry, Youker said.

The other expectation is that manufacturers raise the standards for their dealer body, not in terms of units sold, but in regards to integrity and customer satisfaction, he added.

“Manufacturers should think more of their product” than having it displayed in dirty, dumpy dealerships, he said. They should “give up today’s greed for tomorrow’s future,” he added.

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— Liz Walz

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