The boating industry is on fire. Sales have returned to levels not seen since before the Global Financial Crisis. The industry, for the most part cannot build boats fast enough to keep up with growing demand. By many accounts 50-70% of new boat buyers are first time boat buyers. If we can retain them it bodes well for industry growth for many years as the average boater will own 4-5 boats in their lifetime. Life is great.
Also part of the good old days were complaints from dealers that manufacturers shipped them boats that were not finished and the dealer became the last fifty feet of the production line. Aside from the problems this caused the dealer, it created new customer satisfaction issues as well.
This winter I recommended a friend to buy a new boat from a top brand and made sure I referred him to a dealer I was confident would serve him well and make sure he had a good experience. Recently, he was called to say his boat was ready for delivery and he should come in to sign the paperwork.
Very excited, he drove 90 minutes with a friend to pick up the boat. His family of four is looking forward to many fun days on the water this summer. The finance department took good care of him. He gave them a certified check for $20,000 and signed the paperwork to borrow the balance of the purchase price. He could have paid cash, but the dealer gave him a little better deal to finance.
That all settled, they took him to see his new boat, and unfortunately had to inform him that several parts and accessories he ordered did not come in with the boat. Frustrated and angry, he would not take delivery of the incomplete boat and when he got home wrote the dealer to tell them he wanted a complete list of what was missing and when it would be provided in writing in 24 hours or he would call the bank and cancel the deal.
The dealer’s service manager, who had spoken to my friend on the day of “delivery” called him over the objections of other dealer personnel who said no one should call him. Did they not believe he would cancel the deal? This is a top Top 100 dealer! The service manager explained all they were doing to get the parts to finish the boat and hoped to have it ready by Memorial Day weekend. My friend would be happy if the dealer could accomplish that.
I know manufacturers experiencing supply chain disruptions like many industries. And, are working very hard to satisfy consumer and dealer demand for new boats. But, I would have hoped we had matured as an industry to leave these kind of practices in our history. The manufacturer didn’t want a partially finished boat sitting on his lot in inventory. By shipping an incomplete boat he could recognize revenue. The boat dealer should have discussed the problems with the missing parts before the customer paid and signed all the paperwork. But, the dealer wanted his payday and to get the boat off his inventory.
So, who here was thinking about the customer and the customer experience? No one! I hope this was a one off, but I fear the industry is slipping back into some bad habits from the good old days. If we don’t provide good experiences for these first-time boat buyers, they will leave boating with a bad taste and instead of many years of prosperity, the current prosperity will be short lived. Unfortunately, this first-time boat buyers experience with one manufacture and one dealer color his perception of the whole industry. He said to me, “When I leave the dealership that day I felt that I was dealing with a shady used car dealer.”
I am sure if this dealer gets him his boat by Memorial Day, these bad memories will fade as great new memories with family are made. Of course, much of that will depend on this dealer being there to support this first-time boat buyer throughout his first year of ownership.
On a more positive note, I bought my first boat this winter too. It is a one-year old luxury pontoon boat. It is being delivered tomorrow. And, next week the salesman will spend 90 minutes with me on the water acclimating me to the boat. The boat manufacturer and engine manufacturer have both transferred the remaining warranty to me at no cost. Or, at least no cost I saw. I bought a premium brand from a top Top 100 dealer too. And, I am delighted and looking forward to creating memories with my kids and grandkids–#12 is on the way in June.
I still have many friends in the marine industry. I know we can do better than we did for my friend. And, we must do better to ensure a bright and prosperous future for the boating industry. Let’s make the customer our top priority!
Dr. Thomas J. Dammrich, DBA
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