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“We’re different (and better) than the guy down the street -- that’s why you should do business with us!” It’s the message we all want to send out to the market. But, if it’s 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. Don’t 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 we’re still putting out in spite of the tough times we’re in. But it was also obvious there’s a great deal of product parity in our industry today. And, that got me thinking: “If you can’t do it with products, how does a dealership differentiate itself from the rest of the pack?” 

After all, differentiation is one key to retail success, but it’s clearly becoming harder to do. Couple that with the fact that everyone is making the same claims and words like "quality" and "great service" don’t work anymore. So where do we go for answers?

Creative ideas must replace advertising claims. One source of ideas I’ve 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 “Lifestyle.” It is freely given to every prospect that visits the dealership. It’s 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.

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