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Staging can help sell boats

In the last year or so, I’ve spent a lot of time fishing the Tampa Bay area. On my way to our boat at the Harborage Marina in downtown St. Petersburg, I pass two dealerships less than 1/2-mile apart, both with excellent frontage on the main highway. 

Beginning last November, I started noticing a very big difference between these two outlets. Specifically, one dealership appeared to change the boats displayed along the highway frontage every week or so. The other dealer, obviously, did not. Even today as I write this blog, sadly, virtually the same boats are in the same spots as they were 6 months ago!

Now, I say sadly because I feel for that dealer who, obviously, has not been able to turn that inventory in too long a time. But it’s really the difference in messages these two dealers are sending out to the drive-by traffic daily that has struck me. For all I know, the dealer who has steadfastly changed his boats may not have turned his inventory any more than the other guy, but I’ll bet he has. His attention to his image sends out a message that “we always have fresh product” every time I drive by. What he’s done is adapt a page from the real estate handbook. 

Realtors call it “staging.” For them, it refers to decorating the inside of a house to appeal to target buyers. Recently, HomeGain, a California-based online lead service, surveyed 2000 member agents nationwide about the value of staging in selling homes. Ninety-one percent recommended staging as a marketing tool.

It’s not just the real estate business that recognizes the value of staging. Long ago, auto dealers adopted a policy of consistently changing the models in the showroom and, equally important, shuffling the cars, new and used, displayed along the dealership frontage. After all, a car sitting in the same place for a time sends a “distressed sale” message and buyers assume they can low-ball us, explains John Kolenc a top auto salesman in Ohio.

Changing the boats displayed out front, as well as inside the showroom, may not be as easy as moving some cars, but if sending out the message “we’re selling boats and our models are fresh” is important, moving them around will be worth the hassle. These days, we need to employ every advantage and attention to staging can be a big one.


6 comments on “Staging can help sell boats

  1. Dan

    While staging makes sense I think for many of the dealers that I visited over the last couple of years the bigger priority should be on just getting the basics right. I cannot tell you how many boat dealers I spoke with who did NOT know much if anything about the very boats they were selling. It was truly amazing to me how many hadn’t even been out on the very boat they were selling. And the exagerations and outright lies were just incredible. If the boat they were selling had 2S outboard motors of course they were the best and they knocked 4S’s, but if it had 4S’s of course the opposite was true. Salesmen should stop playing the role of “expert” and simply admit they don’t know and will find out instead of acting like they know everything about boating. If a boat buyer is smart enough to have earned and saved the six figures it takes to buy many of the new boats nowadays I think they should realize that kind of tactic just doesn’t work with customers. Know your product and let it sell it self and treat your customers like you would want to be treated. Evidently in the boat business that is just asking too much of dealers and salesmen.

    I’m sorry to say I found the whole process very frustrating and insulting, and quite honestly the lack of integrity and professionalism in the industry was one of the main factors why I decided to give up on the idea of buying a new boat. I don’t need to pay for that kind of pain, I can get it for free most anywhere else.

  2. Jim Sabia

    You’re so right Norm…
    We rotate boats on the front line daily. Mostly because we always seem to sell the one in the back! No matter though, every dealer should see this as a labor of love! Selling is what we do! Jim Sabia, Top Notch

  3. John Wisse

    Good point Norm and it is that curbside or road frontage message that is so important. That’s the “curb appeal” of a marine dealer — to rotate product and always offer that fresh look as opposed to not doing it. Your comments made me reflect back on the famous window dressing designs that frequently changed with the seasons many years ago along Chicago’s Magnificent Mile (Michigan Avenue) and in New York City. If the retail shopping industry, as but one example, and the real estate industry as but a second example, can show success and creativity in their public imaging to passersby — then why not apply that to the retail marine industry? I also thought Dan’s comments were very poignant in that if dealers are successful in driving more traffic into their showrooms, their sales staff had better be knowledgeable, forthright and honest. It’s known as defining one’s “authenticity” and that is what customers are looking for.

  4. Terry Wood

    Norm, That dealership your talking about just filed bankruptcy. closed every store they had.

  5. Tom Mack

    We could not agree more. Simply moving boats around from high visibility spots is very helpful in determining which prospects are actually paying close attention to our inventory. It’s not uncommon for a call to come in on a particular unit that’s been moved. Human nature seems to work in a way where we sometimes want something more when there is a sense that it’s not as available? We need to remind our customers that we’re a dealership, not a museum – and keeping our prospects on their toes is really important. Sometimes the best thing for a buyer to get off center is to have something desirable slip through their fingers, which typically helps prevent that the next time the right opportunity is in front of them.

  6. dave boso

    I have on my wall a list of those that have come and gone since I sold my first boat in 1967, All have tried to get too big too quick, and not paid attention to making money. Some have tried to sell boats because they like fishing, skiing,racing,etc. not making enough money to last the winter.
    The most think how much fun it will be to be around boats and boating all day,sic summer, selling is hard work and wrought with dissapointment. Persistance is the key, lose one get another. if you can’t take the downs better get out quick, and save your sanity.
    I have never had a store on the main street although I always thought I would like to try it. we are on the river with our own ramp, and I have been told what a great location for a boat place… except I have never sold one boat to that river.

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