Be certified or be gone?

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It was announced last week that Sailfish Boats and Tracker Marine Group are the latest to join 23 other brands in providing financial assistance to their dealers completing the industry’s dealer certification program. (Go to www.dealercertification.org) for complete list of 25 brands.)

Those of you who regularly read this Blog know I am a strong supporter of the dealer certification Program. I believe it has value for every dealership that successfully completes it. But today I have some mixed feelings brought on by the announcement by Sailfish Boats.

Specifically, Sailfish dealerships may co-op up to 50 percent of certification expenses. That’s good. Tracker dealers will receive a special allowance of $500 each model year to offset certification program fees. That’s also good. But here’s where I start to get uneasy. Additionally, the announcement said Sailfish Boats has set a goal for 100 percent of its dealerships to enroll in the dealership certification program in this model year, with 75 percent completing the certification process before the close of the model year. Moreover, all Sailfish dealerships are required to become certified by the change of model year 2009. Now, there are those feelings!

On one hand, wanting to see all Sailfish dealers achieve certified status is an exciting goal. It will likely strengthen all Sailfish dealerships and even Sailfish’s position in the marketplace.

On the other hand, Sailfish’s decision to require all its dealers to become certified raises some interesting questions. For example, should we now expect other boatbuilders to follow this precedent? Should it even be a requirement, presumably included in the Dealer Agreement, in the first place? What will happen to a dealer who is unable to meet the deadline - cancelled? If the manufacturer requires it, should that builder pay all the costs of dealer certification?

How about re-certification? What happens if a dealer becomes de-certified in the future? Is mandatory certification by a deadline more preferable in the long run than voluntary participation with financial supports and incentives for those that enroll?

I’m guessing many of you have already thought of other questions and/or have some clear opinions swirling around in your mind on this surprise move by Sailfish. Are we looking at one-upmanship here or the start of a trend?

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