It was just a few short months ago that we tackled the issue of manufacturer-dealer contracts on these pages. The introduction of Cobalt Boats’ dealer agreement appeared to mark the beginning of a new era, an era in which the marine industry would make gigantic steps in solidifying the true partnership between its manufacturers and dealers.
In reality, though, the foundation for those steps had already been put in place. Behind the scenes.
It was the fall of 2003 that a united manufacturer movement began to improve the agreements between the parties. And in many ways, the manufacturer-dealer guidelines established by a special task force of the National Marine Manufacturers Association resemble those created by Pack and Paxson St. Clair at Cobalt. The greatest of those similarities, just might be dealer involvement.
If you’re a dealer, don’t let the NMMA part of this task force scare you away. It’s not a one-sided deal. Thirteen dealers and a Marine Retailers Association of America representative joined 12 boat builder manufacturers on this task force. And the collaboration and compromise was so strong that, reportedly, no issue was ever forced to a vote.
The manufacturer association deserves to be commended for its efforts here. Some may argue that the manufacturers should have been helping the dealers for many years by now. But the truth of the matter is, no matter what “should have been” done, the manufacturers didn’t have to carry the torch on this one.
Manufacturer support didn’t end with the task force. The NMMA Boat Manufacturers Division Board passed resolutions supporting the premise that all dealer-manufacturer relationships should be documented in a written agreement, supporting the task force’s guidelines and encouraging all boat manufacturers to adopt them as soon as possible. More than 60 boat brands have embraced the guidelines to take effect as early as the 2006 or 2007 model years, with more than 60 percent of the board showing a desire to get it done by 2006.
Through a series of “intense,” two-day meetings, both dealers and manufacturers compromised to establish language that addressed most, if not all, of the hot buttons between the two parties: warranties, succession and transfer, territory, termination protocol, and sharing of financial data. And the contract will be available to anyone who asks for it — long-time dealers, manufacturers, new dealers, heck, they even offered a copy to the media.
In the words of long-time dealer and past chairman of the MRAA, John Underwood, “Here is a model that is a decent contract, that if we never change another word, you could move forward with.”
It’s true. Both the dealer and manufacturer representatives acknowledged that it’s not a “perfect” contract. Perhaps that’s the greatest sign that this agreement will work. Perfect, after all, would indicate a lack of compromise. And this represents anything but that.