That sound you hear is the sigh of collective relief from marine dealers around the country as the boat sales environment thaws. But as dealers sell through older inventory, a new realization is dawning. The established sales model of dealers bringing in inventory and paying carrying costs until boats sell doesn’t work in a tight credit market with a longer sales process.
A handful of manufacturers have stepped in to help dealers, offering everything from a manufacturer showroom to traveling road shows of new models. The goal of these programs is simple: help the dealer network sell more boats.
“Buying a powerboat is not an impulse anymore,” says Mark Kellum, marketing manager at Regal Marine. The boat builder has opened a 15,000-square-foot indoor showroom at its headquarters and manufacturing facility in Orlando, Fla., where it has been hosting factory tours for three decades. “I come from a sailboat background, where the sales process can be two to three years. Powerboats used to be a two- to three-month process and often less, but now boat buyers are spending a lot of time researching, so the showroom is another research tool.”
Regal’s new showroom is just one exit from the international airport, through which pass nearly 33.8 million passengers yearly. It features every boat model adorned in boat show splendor. To gain access, would-be buyers fill out basic demographic information and receive a “passport” to enter.
Inside the showroom, they are free to browse or can ask questions of Frank Stoeber, who, as Regal’s captain, serves as the showroom’s point person. If a customer is ready to buy, Regal personnel only quote MSRP and refer shoppers to their home dealer for any discounts.
“We share leads, and if the person is well-qualified and ready to make a deal, we’ll get the local dealer on the phone immediately,” Kellum says.
Dealers are also encouraged to journey to Orlando with top prospects or send clients on their own. “We’re still learning how to best position this concept,” Kellum says. “This is a relaxed atmosphere — not a sales environment but a discovery environment.”
J & D Acquisitions LLC purchased the assets of Marquis and Carver Yachts from Genmar Holdings Inc. in January, and J & D Chairman Irwin Jacobs is already bringing a new sales model to the brands. He’s setting up stocking dealers in key markets to carry a breadth of product and take well-qualified customers on sea trials. So far, Singleton Marine Group, a dealer based north of Atlanta, has signed on. Jacobs says he’s in negotiations with a dealer in the northwestern and southeastern parts of Florida and a dealer in Monaco.
“We’ll also have six or seven dealers stocking one or two boats in locations remote from these showrooms,” Jacobs says. “And if we need to open more locations, we’ll open more.”
Stocking dealers receive financial considerations from the manufacturer, while dealers from other locations are responsible for costs associated with sea trials for their clients who visit a stocking dealer.
“Very few yachts are sold off the showroom floor because everyone wants their own options,” Jacobs says. “So this makes perfect sense to give customers a feel for the yachting life, then let them custom order the boat of their dreams.”
Scout Boats is taking a still different tack, parading its new 345 XSF model through a half-dozen currently scheduled or completed stops on a road show. The boat, which made headlines at the Miami International Boat Show to strong reviews, currently is sold out until September. So the Launch Event, as the road show is named, represents a way to get the boat in front of more people, explains Alan Lang, national and international sales manager.
“We sold two at the Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) event and have two strong potential customers from the Gulf Shores (Ala.) event,” Lang says. “We took the boat through Panama City (Fla.), had three or four customers walk through, with one real strong prospect.”
Lang estimates that it costs $6,000-$7,000 for each road show, accounting for fuel, personnel, lodging and related expenses. Dealers are responsible for adapting a Launch Event Web site, scheduling test rides and printing boarding passes.
“This was driven by dealer demand,” Lang says of the Launch Events. “Steve Potts, the owner, came up with the idea, and we couldn’t do it without his support. We’ll pick any dealer who wants to work with us.”