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Donít be Better, Be Different

ďWeíre different (and better) than the guy down the street — thatís why you should do business with us!Ē Itís the message we all want to send out to the market. But, if itís the same message the guy down the street is shouting (and it is) the only way to make any impact with it is to outspend him. Donít want to go there!

As I walked around the big in-water boat show at Cedar Point (Ohio) last week, I was impressed with the new products weíre still putting out in spite of the tough times weíre in. But it was also obvious thereís a great deal of product parity in our industry today. And, that got me thinking: ďIf you canít do it with products, how does a dealership differentiate itself from the rest of the pack?Ē†

After all, differentiation is one key to retail success, but itís clearly becoming harder to do. Couple that with the fact that everyone is making the same claims and words like “quality” and “great service” donít work anymore. So where do we go for answers?

Creative ideas must replace advertising claims. One source of ideas Iíve found to be very good is the newsletter from the Marine Industry Dealership Certification program. As the certification team conducts hundreds of site visits, they are able to observe best practices in sales, service, employee relations, facility and customer satisfaction. Each newsletter highlights one or more of these ideas. If over time you catalogue them, as I have, you build an interesting reference list. Here are just a couple of examples:

Sail & Ski Centers in Texas publishes their own magazine called ďLifestyle.Ē It is freely given to every prospect that visits the dealership. Itís professionally done and differentiates the dealership from its competitors.

Ingman Marine in Port Charlotte, FL, provides all customers with 20 hours of personal, fast service. No matter what time of day or the situation, an Ingman technician will come to the boat and repair it or, if necessary, even tow it in. That helps Ingman stand out in the crowd.

Differentiation, like relevance, is a moving target, however. The fact is that the more success you have, the more the guys down the street will try to claim the ground you’ve staked. There was a time when Miller Lite, for example, was the first beer to combine “tastes great” and “less filling.” But today there are dozens of light beers, and Miller Lite is no longer on top.†

So, don’t be better, be different. It’s more advantageous to be the only one that does what you do than one of many trying to outdo the other.


3 comments on “Donít be Better, Be Different

  1. John Wisse

    When asked of his company’s success year in and year out, a local motorcycle dealer simply responded “we work harder.” And when asked about another company’s success, a local car dealer replied “it’s not that we’re better, we’re just different.” Finally, when asked how sales success can be maintained in a downside market, a marine dealer replied “we care and our customers know it.” The key therefore Norm, seems to be a combination of working harder and being different in a positive manner as an expression that the reason someone is in business in the first place is because they care about customer needs and are capable of sustaining that belief among their customer base. Great column — thanks.

  2. Jim

    Good topic Norm. I think being different and standing out may be simpler than we think. When I hear from people that only one or two salespeople took the time to follow up with them, I wonder where the basics of selling have gone. We can spend thousands on boat shows and marketing, but if the people who represent our dealerships aren’t properly trained, or won’t do the work and handle our buyers properly, then we lose. The same holds true for service and parts depts that fail to return phone calls or follow up service and parts issues.
    No amount of newsletter, email, or other media campaigns will be effective until our professionalism, or lack thereof, is addressed. Successful dealers and successful managers make certain that their teams take proper care of their clients. Sure, it’s simple, but amazing how freguently it goes overlooked or unnoticed.

  3. Craig Murden

    Prospects and customers want to know the difference between dealerships and want to be reassured they are spending their money in the right place. The delivery and execution of the dealer’s promise (tagline) is the key. When the entire organization is all moving together towards this common goal — positive word of mouth news spreads fast.

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