A strong start

The Marine Industry Certified Dealership program is exceeding organizers’ expectations.

That’s good news for the marine industry because it means more business for those dealers that meet and exceed the standards.

When this year’s Dealership Certification Launch meetings began in mid-January, organizers said the goal they were setting for the program was to have 250 dealerships certified by the end of the year.

Any fears about being able to reach that goal were allayed by a very strong spring season of certification meetings, which saw some 263 dealerships enrolled in the program by the time the last was held April 27 in Minneapolis.
Although only 34 of those dealerships had been certified by then, with another full slate of certification meetings planned for this fall – which should bring an influx of even more dealerships into the program – officials are already happy with the results certification has achieved.

“We’re ahead of where we thought we would be,” says Terry Leitz, director of CSI Programs for the National Marine Manufacturers Association, which is working to help get the program off and running. “We’re pleased with how it has gone.”
Dealers from around the country have enrolled in the program, but interest and participation have been especially strong on the East Coast. Jim Edwards of Five Star Solutions – the company that administers the program, holds the workshops and makes the site visits – says the largest number of dealers to attend a certification meeting at a single location this spring was in Atlantic City, where it was necessary to schedule a second workshop to accommodate demand. Eighteen dealerships took part on the first day and 27 attended the next day’s event.

However, one area where organizers say they would like to see more participation is in Florida, where several dealerships have signed on to the program, but not as many as might be expected given the number of dealerships in the state. Organizers say that gaining the help of the state’s marine associations will play a big role in trying to boost participation there.

The process
Once a dealership decides to join the program and has attended one of the meetings, achieving certification is actually not that difficult or time consuming. Edwards says most dealerships become certified within 60 days of the meeting.
However, with the boating season now in full swing that may change.

Dealers, understandably, are busy selling and servicing, and may not have much time to spend on becoming certified. But as business slows, and dealers again turn their attention to the process, things could become a bit hectic for Five Star if dealers all try to schedule site visits at the same time.

In anticipation of that, Edwards says Five Star is currently training another person to complete the site visits necessary to ensure dealers are in compliance with the certification requirements. Those visits usually take about five hours.

But the company – which has worked with Chrysler on its certification program for many years – says any extra effort the process entails is well worth it.

“The dealers that have embraced this are already starting to see the results,” Edwards says. “History has shown us that if you do this program you will, guaranteed, sell more boats and do more service.”

The pitfalls
Now that dozens of boat dealerships have gone through the certification process, certain trends have begun to emerge. It appears, for example, that some areas of business are proving more challenging than others for dealers.

The follow-up process has been the most common trouble spot.

One of the requirements for certification is that a dealership conduct 100 percent customer follow-up within 7 days for sales or service. Dealers must follow mapped sales and service follow-up processes, using at least one open-ended question – something a customer must answer beyond a “yes” or “no.” Dealers must also document, review and respond to customer issues, identify trends, document corrective actions and process improvements and communicate any improvements or changes to employees.

Of the 28 dealerships that were certified in the pilot program, 10 had significant problems with follow-up on the initial certification visit. Two dealerships weren’t doing it at all.
The next most common problem area was with dealership facilities; not identifying customer parking areas, for example, or keeping a clean showroom. And drawing up maps of sales or service processes has also caused some dealers trouble.

However, those problems are not hard to correct, and if a dealership fails to become certified on Five Star’s first visit, it is given time to work on any shortcomings before the return trip.
Edwards mentions Hellier Yacht Sales, Inc. as an example of a dealership that did a lot of work to become certified. In the beginning, owner Vince Petrella was concerned his dealership wouldn’t be able to meet all the requirements. But it did. And Petrella says he believes boat dealers must work to make sure they can compete with dealers in other industries to help set boating apart.

“I think, clearly, [certification] is the survival of our industry,” he says. “If we don’t do it somebody else will.”

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