Boat dealer certification program focuses on customer satisfaction

By Soundings Trade Only staff

Industry officials say the dealer certification program is a success and has already gone far in improving customer service and introducing dealerships to more efficient and effective business practices. Today, 264 dealerships across the country have earned this distinction, and an additional 307 are in the process of earning their certification.

Among manufacturers, 26 offer incentives for certification, or reimbursement for a portion of the nearly $4,000 cost of the program. In addition, Grow Boating Inc. is offering a $1,500 subsidy for dealers through the end of the year.

While the programs and offerings differ from manufacturer to manufacturer, only one boatbuilder has announced its plans to mandate certification for its dealers.

Sailfish set a goal for 100 percent of its dealers to be enrolled in the certification program in this model year, with 75 percent completing the process before the close of the model year. All Sailfish dealerships are required to become certified by the change of model year 2009.

Phil Keeter, president of the Marine Retailers Association of America, said he wishes all manufacturers would follow Sailfish’s lead.

“I think it enhances the industry,” he said. “Every one of the dealers that have been certified so far will tell you they gained a lot. I wish we had 2,000 or 3,000 dealers certified.”

The industry is suffering from a loss of customers and during the certification process dealers learn what they can do to bring people into showrooms, he said.

“If we do a better job at keeping the customers we’ve got, or do a better job with getting new customers, then the certification will have been well worth the money,” said Keeter, who also serves as vice president of Marine Certification Inc., a 501c3 corporation that oversees certification.

Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association, said the extent to which each manufacturer encourages its dealers to participate in the program is an individual decision.

“There certainly have been a number of manufacturers who have made the decision that they want their dealer networks to be the best in the industry and they view certification as a valuable tool in achieving that,” he said.

Dammrich expects close to 400-450 certified dealers, or about 25 percent of all marine dealers, to be certified by the end of 2008.

“By the end of five or six years, we can be approaching 800-1,000 certified dealers,” he said.

Dealers have mixed reactions to mandatory certification and the program in general.

Joe Lewis, general manager of Mt. Dora Boating Center in Florida, said his dealership was one of the first to go through the certification process and he sees the benefits with higher Customer Service Index scores and more input by his employees in solving customer issues.

But, he said, mandatory involvement is not the way to go.

“I don’t think you can force it,” he said. “Unless a dealership wants to be certified and they want to become certified because they want to do better, anything that’s a push down from the manufacturer is not going to be a true benefit.”

The dealer certification program is part of the Grow Boating Initiative and was developed by dealers, for dealers. It focuses on areas such as customer satisfaction, sales/services processes, employee training/satisfaction and operations.

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