Dealer Outlook

Trade Only Dealer Outlook Blog

Are we screwed up or what?

Has the current boat sales slump so diminished our expectations that we’re now manning our fall boat shows with a “why bother” attitude? The actual letter below should shake us all! It’s from Mr. Jon Eckel, age 50, a boat owner since he was 15 and Director of Public Service for the City of Perrysburg, Ohio. In other words, a prime boomer customer every dealer should rush to talk with.  

“My two friends and I (all boat owners) attended the Cedar Point Boat Show on September 12. As we entered we were enthusiastically greeted by Harry Burrough’s (Burroughs Marine) who showed us some of his boats. That is where the hospitality stopped for quite some time. We started with a cold beer on the party barge and proceeded down to P Dock. Upon entering our first boat we put our beers down on a dock box as instructed on the sign and, upon returning to the dock, found they had been poured out by a salesperson trying to get to her information. An honest mistake but a fitting start to our experience.

We proceeded down F dock to G dock and not once did anyone greet us or even  acknowledge our presence. I have boated all my life and the three of us dock together in the Maumee River.  I don’t know what the overall psyche of a boat salesman is, but apparently we didn’t fit the mold of a perspective boat buyer. Not once did someone say “welcome to the show”, “come aboard”, “can I show you something”, until we came to the Albin (Harbor North Marine.) Apparently this gentleman hadn’t noticed we weren’t wearing a Rollex, he just wanted to show us his boat!

We than proceeded down H dock and finally a nice young salesman named Ryan from Sima Marine showed us the $1.6 million Marquis Yacht. He obviously knew we weren’t in the market, but went overboard to show us the yacht. A nice young man that I will go to when we are looking for a new boat. Once again, that was our last “hello” of the show.

It seems to me in an economy like we have today, these people need a reality check. I’ve seen better personalities at a license bureau. The show was not busy Wednesday afternoon which I heard from the sales people on at least three occasions, yet most did not have the time to acknowledge us. They were, however, busy visiting each other. I get a few boating magazines and constantly read how the boating industry is hurting. I can tell you after Wednesday that I wouldn’t blame it entirely on the economy. We all left with the impression that many boating sales people are aloof and treat you as if they are doing you a favor to talk to you. Maybe another slow year will bring some people to the reality that you need to treat everyone with courtesy because they very well may be your next customer.”



19 comments on “Are we screwed up or what?

  1. Warren Lally

    You think that`s bad!! If you bother to buy a boat from these so called sales persons wait till you need to get it serviced ! HA That is a big part of the problem in my opinion . Good salespeople are leaving the industry because they take too much grief after making a sale from an angry customer trying to get quality service AFTER the sale .Also these salespersons “profile” as you say prospective buyers and that is a huge mistake! I was called to a boat show one year to repair a large boat that was in the water being displayed and was abruptly stopped by a salesman when I attempted to board the vessel. I informed him I was there to “look at the boat” His response was “This is a million dollar + boat” My dress was not casual but work dress,tan kahki shorts blue shortsleeve golf shirt w/logo and boat shoes .I then informed him I was there to address a problem with the electrical system on the boat (I was a mechanic) The so called salesman(he corrected me and said he was a yacht broker) allowed me to proceed sans boat shoes to investigate the electrical issue with the boat. The problem was a lack of sufficient voltage on the dock side due to the excessive consumption of electricity at the show and the breakers were doing their job and tripping.I told him he would have to limit his use of the A/C systems + accessories or the problem would continue. He then informed me that HE needed the air conditioning because he was too hot and he needed to run the flat screen and stereo because it would help him sell the boat . My suggestion was to fill the fridge with malt liquor,put MTV on the flat screen and put in a gangster wrap CD in the stereo and perhaps then he would sell some boats and left! By the way the boat was a 70 foot Viking sport cruiser(nice rig)

  2. Doug Reimel

    I am so thankful that a retail purchaser took the time to express his displeasure in a positive way. I have been trying to tell my guys that no matter how tough time are, there is always somebody with money to spend. I can use this letter in my weekly meeting. Thank You

  3. Jim

    Though I appreciate this man’s comments and the fact that he took time to write; I hope he just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. If we as an industry are snubbing our clientele then shame on us. But I have a difficult time believing that on the first day of a major boat show that marine professionals were ignoring the people that were at the show that day. Or maybe I just hit the nail on the head?

  4. John Martini

    Maybe they had read something you had written before and knew if you couldn’t spell you couldn’t buy. Fourth paragraph, it’s then not than – and look at your watch and count the L’s.

  5. Chris Aruta

    Well Norm, Mr Eckel has it right. A true salesman not only knows his product and is good at follow-up; he has to never ever qualify his customer before he talks to them.

    Twenty plus years ago when I got in this industry my sales manager, Bud Campbell of Brockway Marine in Ashtabula, Ohio told me a story about a customer that would come into a Lincoln Mercury dealership he worked at. Bud loved this story because he would see this guy pull up in his pickup truck and enter the show room wearing some old farm cloths. Usually some old boots, flannel shirt and jeans. The costumer would be looking around at the big Lincoln Continentals and not one of the newer / younger sales people would take the time to get up out of the office chair and say hello to this good ole boy. Little did they know that this customer who comes from a family that engineered and founded the first earthmovers and off road trucks, just happen to also be an avid car collector.

    Bud would give the other salesmen a chance, but none would take the time. He soon would go over and great George and within the hour Bud had sold two Lincoln’s to one guy. This had happen on more than one occasion with that good ole farm boy.

    It just goes to show, if that customer is present in your show or dealership, they have a desire to buy what you are selling. Just take a minute and great the customer. A real salemen like Ryan of Sima Marine will do well in the long run. Mr. Eckel will remember Ryan for a long time and refer his buying friends to him.

  6. Devon

    The behavior exhibited in the story is nothing new. I have been attending boat shows (Norwalk in particular for 30 YEARS) and received the cold shoulder consistently. When I was a kid I knew it was my age. However the poor attitude persists to this day (maybe I’m too ugly or have chronic halitosis). I have spent over $400K through my current broker and when I was touring his latest model at the Norwalk show, I left not with thoughts about the boat but the memory of his peer yelling at my sons for attempting to descend down to the engine well where I was touring. Nothing in a non-running engine room is remotely dangerous to an 8 year old. I loved the boat but the boat has equal competitors – he lost a sale. Not to be outdone, I visited the booth of a builder from whom I’ve purchased 3 progressively larger models. At the time of my visit I was the only customer and there were 4 builder reps at the booth – two of whom I had worked with in the past. Not one of them bothered to approach me much less excuse themselves from their expletive laden conversation to engage me. I like the manufacturer so I will refrain from naming the company. I don’t need a boat – I want a boat. Those of you in the industry do not make it easy for the customer. Only thing keeping the industry going is the boat lovers obsessive desire.

  7. Kyle Damron

    I don’t think picking on the author of the letter is necessary. He obviously had a negative experience and shame on the people who blew him off! You never know when the next buyer will walk up. You certainly cannot always tell by their appearance, or grammar.

  8. Scott

    I had the same experience at the NYC show during the Christmas holidays. No interest on the part of representing dealers or manufacturers at a high percentage of the booths to attempt to sell. I felt like I was a consumer intruding on an industry trade show during social hour.

    I am a very high net worth individual who does not flaunt my success, but instead I choose to take on a very unassuming appearance. Most in my social circle who are also high net worth individuals take this same approach (Timex over Rolex, Blue Jeans over Polo, etc.). None of us, by appearance would fit the “mold”.

    Holding a 50 ton masters license, 40 years of boat ownership including several 50+ foot Motor Yachts and always a cash buyer isn’t easily detected by the sales force by not talking to a potential customer.

    In a competitive environment if you don’t try to sell, you won’t sell.

  9. Veteranboatsalesman

    For many of the reasons the gentleman stated above, boat shows are a contradiction in function. Attendees, such as this fellow and his buddies go to look at all the cool boats and expect to get their $7.50 worth (if they didn’t get FREE tickets from their dealer!) Dealers are usually there after putting out huge amounts of cash to secure their spot at the show. Add to this the stress and cost of transportation and set up, gas, payroll for set up personel, etc.,etc.,. So all this money is laid out for what reason? To SELL boats. Do you think there is one dealer out there anywhere that looks out at his beautiful display and at the Wednesday morning SALES meeting before the show opens gathers his people together and says..”Ok, folks, We have set up a beautiful display for the people. Be sure to spend as much time with each and every person as they want, and answer every question they have. After all, they paid $7.50 to get in! And remember, be nice! You never know, maybe someday they will remember how nice you were and come back and buy a boat from you.
    Sorry, but that isn’t the speech I’ve ever gotten. More like, GREET (nicely)and QUALIFY. Not buying at the show? MOVE ON to the next potential BUYER. Dealers need to SELL boats to pay for being there. You may not like the process, but you WOULD want me MAKING MONEY for you! In a non-boat show situation, I’ll be your best buddy. On a Tuesday afternoon, mosey on down to the showroom and I’ll be happy to show you every pop-up cleat, dedicated anchor locker, motorized engine hatch, whatever. Boat Shows are a limited time venue for selling product, and sales people are made to understand that. Sorry if that doesn’t bring warm fuzzies to your heart. And a word of advice to the gentleman. Save the beer drinking ’til after you’ve done your shopping. (If you ARE shopping!) Professional salespeople will take you more seriously! As for the premise that people have given up and are complacent…maybe some hired-on part timers at the boatshow that don’t work on commission could care less, but any full time professional boat salesman that EARNS a commission and is hurting in the wallet. That’s not them.

  10. James Skok

    I have experienced both sides of the aisle of the aisle at boat shows both as an attendee and an exhibitor. As an exhibitor, I only ever had one customer; the one I was talking to at the time. That was my personal rule. I gave that individual my full attention if they wanted it not if they warranted it. If I was selling a boat or a boat loan, that person was my CUSTOMER. I always believed in delivering excellent service. That’s what I was there for; to make an impression that might lead to a sale. We’ve lost that feeling I’m sad to learn. Too many salesmen have forgotten or never learned that a good sale is basically establishing a rapport with the customer. You don’t know WHEN that person is going to buy a boating product, but you hope you make a good impression that that person will come back to you when he or she wants to buy. People especially boaters LIKE to look. That’s what the boat show is about after all. These people should be treated as guests. We’ve forgotten that! I hope my spelling is OK.

  11. Kimbra Sargent

    Mr. Martini should prequalify prospective (you missed one) purchasers with a spelling test and refuse to sell to those who fail. He should also read Mr. Eckel’s last sentence again.
    Attitudes like his could be the reason people are buying boat parts instead of new boats.

  12. Anonymous Bob

    I’d say Mr. Martini (appropriate last name for boating!) is choosing to focus on the wrong issue. Yes, the letter has grammatical errors. Yippee! Give the man a drink. Martini?? Dry? Shaken or Stirred?

    Anyway, the consumer’s point is very well taken and should be required reading at every dealership by every dealership employee in every retail industry. In good times, and bad, the lack of attention or outright condescending looks from salespeople towards customers amazes me. I’ve been on the receiving end of that when attending car or RV shows and I had the exact same thoughts as Mr. Eckel. The boating industry is a self-defeating industry because of issues like this. These incidents happen way too often to be considered isolated. I hope this post wakes up enough people to make a difference.

    Thanks for the post, Norm.

  13. Ron Longman

    The same kind of experience can be found at ato shows. We will be attending the Ft. lauderdale show looking for seats, electronics, and other items for ur 1986 Bertram. We will be living on board next year for 8 to 9 months. We hope to encounter enthusiastic and knowlegable sales persons to answer our questions and guide us toward the correct products.

    Maybe we are not buying a new boat, but several thousands of doooars will be spent…with those who care enough to be interested.

  14. Tom

    Kudos to you Jon; That’s exactly why I bought at Sima Marine years ago. The Sea Ray dealer “sized” me up as a “can’t afford it” type of guy. too……I bought a new Carver instead of a used Sea Ray the very next day; all because John Sima took the time to say “hello”. (And he probably didn’t mind that I misspelled ‘thousand’ on my check) -Good Luck, Ryan

  15. sylvia

    I understand 100%…as in the Business for over 30 years, year after year I continue to view our competiton. Unless someone new and fresh is hired, the veterans remain seated and wait for the approach of a customer. No urgency, no excitment. I am so grateful that I have a team of salespeople that are never “too seasoned” to do common courtesy and expand on the Boating Lifestyles that we all are trying to save. I guess as an Industry, we should be grateful that they did not drive directly to the nearest RV Dealer!

  16. Patrick Turner

    I attended the Boston show yesterday. Went on board a 2M boat and notice the lack of boat decorations. Not too excited about selling a boat. Dealers & Manufacturers need to wake up.

  17. Gordon McKelvey

    After spending 30 years in the Marine Industry which has included sales, service, retail owner and manufactueres rep I can honestly say you meet some of the most arrogant, uninterested, boring, uneducated(boat wise), tight (cheap) know it alls at boat shows and I’m not talking about the dealers.
    I have wasted a young lifetime talking to and being nice to people who just show up for something to do in the winter. After 20 years, I started to recognize them a booth away. I always sucked it up and said hello, how may I help you tonight thanks for coming by. Knowing full well what their response would be. Naw, don’t need no hep, jest lookin’. But the folks that really made my blood boil was the father who brought his kids and their friends and felt for his $7.50 ticket (kids under 12 get in free) his children had purchased the right to use our boats has their own personal jungle gym. I’m so glad those days are over. Good luck guys!!!!!

  18. Jim Glus

    Gentlemen, Mr. Eckel pretty much nails it in his letter. After over 30yrs of selling fiberglass, I can say the Industry is going to H%#* in a handbasket pretty quick. In general, the fun and professionalism that use to exist (And Chris Aruta can relate to what I mean) has been replaced with negativety, pressure, and greed driven by big corporate machines. This is basically why I’ve chosen to get out (but not completely) and pursure other endeavors. If the business ever returned to what it was in the mid-80’s, I’d jump back in with both feet, and I’m not talking about numbers.

    As for Mr. Martini, sounds to me like he must have been one those “salesman” who was located on F and G dock.

    To Chris Aruda, thank you for mentioning Bud Campbell, he was a fantastic guy and one of my best friends and help me make the move from the GL to Florida by boat. What a great 3 weeks. We all miss him dearly.

  19. Jim Glus

    Just to add a bit more wood to the fire. Just got off the phone with a past client of mine from the Florida Keys who called me to tell me that he wants to sell his boat and wanted me to list it for him. I had to tell him that I am no longer working in that market. He proceeded to tell me that he had contacted the local Carver dealer to list it and they pretty much blew him off. Numerous phone calls resulted in no returned calls to him. Bottom line (he said) was that they were down right rude. Is this the result and way of big corporate dealerships? If it is, then it’s time for a complete and deep look into our Industry and then go back to basics.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive. For more information, please see our Comments Policy.