Raising Standards

As I write, I’m literally just two days into reviewing applications for Boating Industry’s 2008 Top 100 Dealers Program. Already, I’m energized by the sheer disregard for the doom and gloom that has become so prevalent around the industry of late.
There are numerous dealers who have added locations, acquired their competition, built new facilities or increased their year-over-year revenues significantly. There’s acknowledgement of the tougher times; but there’s also a common buckling-down attitude that screams of confidence.
Obviously, it’s not that way everywhere. On a daily basis, we’re getting more and more news of dealers who, as one person not-so-eloquently phrased it today, are “dropping left and right.”
It’s sad, but it’s true. And while this industry has witnessed such trends in the past, some believe that when this one is through, it will have been the worst downturn in the history of the industry.
But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. And that light resides in the passion that our boating consumers have for this pastime. The lure of the water attracts many people, and when industry downturns expire, true enthusiasts come back to what they love.
Before that happens, though, we need to, as an industry, do what many of these top-performing dealers are doing. As their competition suffers through tough times, closing up their businesses at an alarmingly increasing rate, they are standing firm by striving for, and attaining, higher standards.
That’s truly the key: The standards they set and expect themselves to reach. As an industry, I think we should learn from them. Our collective standards are not high enough.
Consider, for instance, the 73 boat and engine manufacturers who will be receiving awards this fall for their high levels of customer satisfaction. These manufacturers are leading the way for the industry by hitting at least 90 percent CSI, and the industry should be proud that their numbers are growing, but it’s my opinion that when two-thirds of the total eligible companies are receiving awards, the bar is set too low.
Dealers are rewarded — in many cases — for hitting the same number. Yet there remain entire boat builder dealer networks whose collective, average CSI scores are less than 85 percent. That’s embarrassing.
Those companies who set the bar higher typically outpace the competition in CSI scores, revenues and profitability. Sea Ray’s Master Dealer Program, which considers CSI scores among many criteria, is the perfect example of that. And to reach the coveted Ambassador Dealer status, dealers must score 9.5 out of 10 for sales CSI and 9.2 out of 10 for service CSI.
Now, I realize that the debate over the validity of CSI will rage on for years to come. But the fact remains that CSI is currently one of the only tools we have that measures our businesses on a level playing field.
The best companies on both ends of the supply chain make the most of that. They set their standards to exceed their customers’ expectations, and they use the number as a barometer for their success. When the boating market begins to grow again, I hope our industry as a whole can strive for higher standards.

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