Don’t Shoot The Messenger!

In the June issue of this publication, Robert Rowe of Irwin Broh and Associates, a market research firm which, like J.D. Power and Associates, operates in the marine industry, wrote an article about the syndicated Boat Competitive Information Study that J.D. Power and Associates conducts on an annual basis within the marine industry. Mr. Rowe took a David vs. Goliath approach to his article and portrayed himself as the concerned consultant to the marine industry and J.D. Power and Associates as the big conglomerate who has no interest in helping clients, and the industry in general, improve. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I would like to address some of the comments Mr. Rowe brought up in his article. It was suggested that it is not a good thing for the industry that the study publicly declares a “winner” in each category. Since when has competition been bad for any industry? Brands compete very hard each year to improve their ranking in the J.D. Power and Associates study and they do that by building products that excel in product satisfaction and quality. The brands that rank highest in our independent study also tend to lead the industry in sales and service satisfaction. It is important to note that it is consumers of these brands that rate the products — not J.D. Power and Associates. We are simply the messengers that provide the manufacturers the data that shows them exactly how they stack up to the competition across 65 satisfaction attributes and 105 quality measurements.

The marine industry is not unlike any other industry where companies compete for business. The J.D. Power and Associates study simply adds to the competitive environment, and the end result is that quality and customer satisfaction has improved over the past 5 years by noticeable amounts. Mr. Rowe points out that sales have not improved since J.D. Power and Associates began measuring the industry — the question I ask is where would sales be today, given the current economy, if quality and customer satisfaction in the industry had not improved.

Mr. Rowe states that we have little interest in our clients and that it makes no difference to our business model that “today’s winners can become tomorrow’s also rans.” First of all, we have great interest in helping our clients improve their products. Those who truly embrace the voice of the customer have outperformed other manufacturers virtually every year on both the quality and satisfaction measurements. Brands such as Cobalt, Grady White, and Correct Craft have ranked highest in their respective segments every year the brands have been measured, which demonstrates the consistency and reliability of our study results. Our study contains responses from more than 12,300 boat owners to an eight-page questionnaire, so there is a wealth of competitive information for our clients to access.
It is interesting that Mr. Rowe describes the NMMA study as a “laudable step forward” and yet has such disdain for the J.D. Power and Associates study. This seems extremely hypercritical when you consider the facts. He criticizes the number of awards we have in the industry (11) and yet says nothing about the number of brands that receive an NMMA CSI award (64). He criticizes the sample size we strive for (150) and makes no mention that brands with a sample size as little as 25 can receive an NMMA award. All of our clients receive the same data set that contains their results and all the competitor’s results, while the NMMA clients can only compare themselves to a segment average.

As a researcher, Mr. Rowe should understand that for the majority of the brands we sample, a sample size of 150 is statistically sound given we are often census sampling — we sample every, or nearly every, boat the manufacturer produces in that segment.

The bottom line is that manufacturers certainly are a little uneasy that J.D. Power and Associates, and not the industry, controls the study. We certainly were not welcomed with open arms when we first launched the study and we are still not going to win any popularity contest given we “tell it like it is” based on the voice of the customer. Manufacturers do not have a choice in participation in our study. We incur the cost to include all manufacturers that produce enough boats, regardless of whether they purchase the study or not.

Many industry leaders such as Pack St. Clair of Cobalt and Kris Carroll of Grady White have publicly thanked J.D. Power and Associates for conducting the study and have acknowledged that our study holds all brands accountable for the products they produce and that this is very good for the industry overall. The manufacturers understand that publicly posting the results from the study educates consumers and keeps manufacturers on their toes and aware of quality issues with their boats. We have been told by several major manufacturers that they made changes to their boats as a direct result of the data in our study. The rankings benefit the consumer, the data and diagnostics information benefits the boat manufacturer.

J.D. Power and Associates founder Dave Power’s vision for the company has always been that we will only go into an industry if we feel we can make a positive impact with our research. We certainly feel we have made a positive impact on the marine industry and we plan to further assist clients with building better products for the future.

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