To Certify or Not to Certify: It’s Not Even a Question!

By Thom Dammrich

If you needed help with your taxes, would you trust just any accountant to do the job? How about if you were buying a home? Would you fork over your hard-earned cash to someone who merely claimed to inspect homes for a living?

I didn’t think so.

More than likely, you’d seek out a Certified Public Accountant or a Certified Home Inspector. Today’s consumers want piece of mind the goods and services they’re paying for are nothing short of the very best available. So it’s not at all surprising the same rings true about buying boats.

A recent survey conducted by Kansas-based research firm Left-Brain Marketing revealed that if given the choice, 79 percent of people are more likely to buy boats from Certified Dealerships than their non-Certified counterparts—particularly those individuals new to boating. Nearly eight in 10 survey respondents said assuming they were in the market for a boat, and factors such as price and brand were identical, they were more apt to select the boat sold by the Certified Dealership. In their minds, industry certification ensures they’ll receive the utmost care and concern and walk away with a positive overall buying experience.

Bottom line: Certification is not a fad. It’s what consumers have come to expect these days, and it’s what they specifically look for when hiring professional services or buying both small- and large-ticket items. Certification provides a competitive edge for the marine industry compared with other recreational activities, like RV-ing, which does not maintain a formal industry certification program for its dealers. It’s good business for our industry to capitalize on this phenomenon, as it will lead to bigger profits and happier customers for marine dealers.

The Marine Industry Dealership Certification program was first developed in 2005 by dealers, for dealers and focuses on the areas affecting consumer satisfaction and dealership excellence—operations, facilities, professional sales/service processes, customer satisfaction and employee training/satisfaction. Dealership Certification provides both consumer and dealer benefits fundamental to the industry’s Grow Boating Initiative. The program provides dealers with the necessary tools to run their businesses as effectively, efficiently and successfully as possible—which ultimately translates into increased sales and profitability.

To date, a total of 560 dealerships have enrolled in the Marine Industry Dealership Certification program, 266 of which have completed the process and earned the official “Marine Industry Certified” designation.

A major benefit of becoming Marine Industry Certified is the increased exposure dealers will receive from a marketing and promotions standpoint in particular. Beginning in 2008, Marine Industry Certified Dealerships are entitled to reap a number of added benefits through participation in the 23 consumer boat shows owned and produced by the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA)—including special show signage, “Certified” designation on boat show websites and in event directories, and free tickets to give their current and potential customers.

Certified Dealerships exhibiting at NMMA-owned and produced shows will have special signage posted inside their respective booths identifying them as such and briefly explaining what the Certified designation means. These dealerships will also be recognized in each show directory with the official Marine Industry Certified logo. Additionally, each Marine Industry Certified Dealership will receive 50 free tickets to the show(s) in which they participate that they can then distribute to current and perspective customers.

We began our consumer awareness efforts with an internet advertising campaign that launched July 13, 2007. Marine Industry Certified Dealerships advertising on boats.com, BoatTrader.com, BoatTest.com and iBoats.com are recognized with the Certification logo next to their listings. Banner ads run throughout the sites and link to the Dealership Certification pages on DiscoverBoating.com. In the first month, the campaign generated more than 3.5 million on-line impressions, and traffic on the Dealership Certification pages of DiscoverBoating.com increased 163 percent.

Research compiled in 2006 confirms the Dealership Certification program is, indeed, having an impact on consumer opinions. Using data collected from both the Marine Industry Dealership Certification program and NMMA’s Marine Industry Customer Satisfaction Index (CSI) program, it was revealed Marine Industry Certified dealerships achieved significantly higher CSI scores in 2006 than those attained by non-certified dealerships. According to the research, “Overall Satisfaction with Dealer” ratings from consumers who purchased new boats from a certified dealership averaged 93.7 percent, versus a rating of 86.6 percent from consumers who purchased new boats from non-certified dealerships.

Marine Industry Certified dealerships also improved their CSI ratings at a faster pace than their non-certified counterparts. When comparing CSI scores from 2006 with the previous year, dealerships earning Marine Industry Certified status improved their “Overall Satisfaction” score by more than double—an average of 1.2 points for certified dealerships compared to a 0.5 point improvement among non-certified dealerships. Likewise, consumers that purchased boats and engines from a Certified Dealership were more satisfied with the products they purchased. Boat CSI scores were an average of 2.2 points higher last year when sold through a Certified Dealership, and engine scores were 2.3 points higher on average. Both the certified and non-certified dealerships evaluated sold the same product; but dealerships that provided an improved customer experience made buyers feel more satisfied with the actual product overall.

The proof is in the pudding: Marine Industry Dealership Certification is having an impact. I encourage all dealerships that haven’t yet taken steps to become Certified to visit DealerCertification.org and schedule themselves to attend an upcoming Launch Workshop—the very first step in the Certification process.

Any group of 20 or more marine dealers interested in booking a Launch Workshop for their area should contact Dealer Certification program manager Elizabeth McAllister at (312) 946-6500; emcallister@DealerCertification.org.

Thom Dammrich is president of Grow Boating Inc. and the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA).

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