Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

I was sitting in the back of the room at a dealer certification workshop, joking with a boat builder representative that whenever a marine dealer has a problem, somehow his builder is always to blame.
Is it always true? Of course not, but in the case of the discussion going on around the room, the suggestion might have been warranted.
The discussion revolved around CSI, that telltale number that describes how happy our boating public is. And while many boat builders have CSI programs that offer a glimpse at how the end user perceives their product, they also indicate — at least in part — how the boaters perceive their dealers.
My question is: Where’s the number that grades the manufacturer, particularly from the dealers’ vantage point? It doesn’t exist.
Industry leaders have instituted certification programs to improve products on the manufacturing side and professionalism on the dealer side. But without formally addressing the relationship between the dealer and manufacturer, there’s a gaping hole in reaching our potential as an industry.
Let’s be honest: We can all acknowledge that there are some pretty poor dealers out there. And although we don’t hear it as often, there are also some crappy manufacturers. Despite all of these efforts to improve the consumer’s experience, there’s nothing to regulate, let alone monitor, what could be the most vital part of any boater’s experience: the relationship between the builders and their dealers. There’s nothing that sets standards for contracts, trust, management, understanding of the supply chain or other opportunities for improvement.
Oh, sure – there was the Dealer-Manufacturer Agreements Task Force. But what has happened since the task force introduced with great fanfare the “model” agreement language? Painfully little.
And what about Phase 2 of that task force’s efforts? Does anyone even remember that 100 NMMA boat builders were supposed to be on board by the end of Phase 2? There was also a Phase 3, which was supposed to be completed by October 1, which leads me to believe that Phase 2 was originally set to be achieved prior to that date. NMMA says it plans to reach that 100-builder mark next summer.
In the meantime, the only thing I’ve witnessed is an unbelievable increase in the number of dealers calling our offices to complain about being unjustly – in their minds — cancelled. Phase 3 was planned to be the development of a report card to monitor the program, but NMMA’s legal counsel has vetoed that idea, sinking hopes for a quantifiable and trackable improvement action plan.
Whether it comes to contracts or other less black-and-white aspects of the relationship, we need a starting point for improvement.
The longer we wait to create a realistic barometer of the successes and failures of these incredibly vital relationships, the longer it will take to correct the issues that are tearing them apart.

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