Industrywide Certification Helps Boat Retailers And Customers

The September issue of Soundings Trade Only features a story on the benefits of industrywide certification for boat retailers.

According to Soundings Trade Only, Joe Zahler, a sales consultant at Wayzata Marine in Orono, Minn., says industrywide certification has given customers the best possible experience, which ultimately leads to closing a deal on boats. The sales reps use the certification as a sales tool with their potential buyers. The decades-old retailer also proudly displays its five-star, certified designation logo on its Web site and in its ads.

“I think it gives [customers] a comfort level, knowing we’re certified,” says Zahler. Wayzata and others who have gotten on board with the three-year-old Marine Industry Certification Program say they now have a clear focus on day-to-day operations, first dibs on regional leads, advertising rights and, equally important, a competitive edge. Yet, despite the advantages, one dealer says business is so tough he may not recertify this fall.

Since the program’s inception, only two other certified dealerships have chosen not to recertify, citing economic strains, according to Phil Keeter, president of the Marine Retailers Association of America and president of Marine Certification Inc. The significant advantages associated with certification; namely, customer follow-up, a build-up of consumer confidence and the jump on leads for potential buyers are well worth the expense, some dealers say. But they also say it is difficult to gauge whether certification has increased sales because of the distressed economy.

“Certainly, as we do a better job with customers and their overall experience, that’s going to translate into additional referrals from customers and repeat business from customers,” says Fred Pace, managing partner of Legendary Marine in Destin, Fla. “Because sales have been off in general in the last couple of years, it’s hard to give a quantifiable number, but I think, overall, it’s had a very positive impact on the dealership.” He says two of Legendary’s four dealerships are certified and the remaining two are in the process of getting certified. The latter would probably have reached that achievement earlier, but allocating time and resources is a costly venture.

“It is a fairly time-consuming process, but we do plan to implement all the procedures in all the stores and we have been working on that,” Pace says. “Some of those people who would have worked with these processes have had full plates because their duties have expanded, so that’s certainly a big driver for the delay.”

It is expensive because of the time involved in all the staff participating, but it is a “very, very worthwhile expense,” says Pace.

Simple things such as printed job descriptions, dress codes and overall policy and procedures at the dealership were among the immediate advantages of certification, Pace says.
“It made us examine what we were doing and, in doing that, we were able to see the things that needed to change and raise the bar for customer service and make the dealership run more smoothly,” he says.

A little more than 600 dealerships have enrolled in the certification program. Of those, close to 400 have completed the process and the remaining are headed toward reaching that goal.

That number likely would have risen dramatically if it had not been for troubles in the economy.

See the full story in the September issue of Soundings Trade Only

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