At The Helm: One step forward

One year ago this issue, we highlighted the just-introduced Cobalt Boats dealer agreement and its significance to the marine industry. Many people hoped it would signal the beginning of the end to the age-old debate between the manufacturers and those who sell their products to the end user. I hoped, out loud, that in one year manufacturers and dealers would be partners, conducting business with contracts.

Today, we can consider ourselves closer, but we’re still months, if not years, from being there. Things looked promising for a while. There were secret, behind-the-scenes meetings, which culminated in the introduction of a contract template that addressed most of the pertinent issues that had added fuel to the heated debate.

The industry went so far as to celebrate this introduction, and admittedly, I took part in the celebration. There was incredible promise, not to mention the assurance that 60-plus percent of the boat builders on the National Marine Manufacturers Association’s boat manufacturers division board were going to have the contract implemented by the 2006 model year.

Sixty percent may seem like a lot on the surface. In reality, that’s only 14 boat builders, so the magnitude of this statement may not have warranted as much celebration as it received. NMMA President Thom Dammrich says that there are “a dozen or so” builders offering the contract language for 2006, so while the 60-percent goal may not have been reached, the final number isn’t that far off.

Dealers, however, are up in arms. Marine Retailers Association of America President Phil Keeter has fielded a number of calls from irate dealers who are upset over not seeing the language in their contracts. And as it turns out, a number of dealers are also upset about “having to pay” the engine fee to fund the Grow Boating Initiative — something they really aren’t expected to pay out of their own pocket, and something they should have known was coming.

There are myriad opportunities to point the finger in both directions here. The fact of the matter is that despite the pomp and circumstance surrounding the Grow Boating Initiative and the cohesiveness it was to bring, our industry is still not clicking. Dealers are still expecting, and in some cases, demanding the world from the manufacturers. And for their part, manufacturers sure could be communicating better with their dealers.

As we sit back and wait for the GBI to unite this industry as we’d hoped it would, two forces are working to tear it apart: Michigan’s pending Senate Bill 531, which hopes to legislate dealer contracts, and the promise that a similar bill will soon be introduced in Florida. Nothing — not secret meetings, not the promise of a better tomorrow through Grow Boating, and not the celebration of what the future may hold — can make up for the fact that we’re still not treating each other as true business partners.

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