Firm targets dealer-builder relations

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Two Suzuki veterans form marketing venture to arrange good matches and build relationships

Two marine industry veterans have teamed up to form a marketing group dedicated to bringing together builders and dealers and helping the two work to establish profitable relationships.

The new company, Mid Atlantic Marine Marketing Group, was launched in September by Terry Chones of Annapolis, Md., and Ron Purser of Blacksburg, S.C. The pair, who formerly worked for American Suzuki Motor Corp.'s marine division, have 20 years each of industry experience and were in charge of building districts and working with dealers for Suzuki, Chones says.

When Suzuki offered a buyout option in June 2008, both took it. "Neither one of us were ready to give it up yet, so we thought this would be the next best thing," he says.

Their new company wants to help builders identify, recruit and manage relationships with quality dealers. They say they can also help dealers develop local marketing strategies, set up internal systems for prospect qualification, and make the most of boat shows and other events.

Chones says builders and dealers need to learn to work together in the new marine industry environment. "In the past a guy might have ordered 20 to 50 boats a year. Those days, I believe, are pretty well gone," he says. "The guys are going to be looking in the area of two to eight boats. The industry's going to have to change in that a dealer maybe gets three boats. If he doesn't have exactly what the customer wants ... they're going to have to order them. So the boatbuilders are going to have to change the way that they do business.

"[Builders] can't just have a dealer meeting and think they sold 400 boats and start building them," Chones adds. "They may have a dealer meeting and sell 75 to 100 boats, and they're going to have to have the ability to speed up the [building] process."

In years past, it might take a builder six to 12 weeks to build a boat, he says, in part because the slots were filled. Because volume is down, builders should be able to deliver boats much more quickly.

Some builders have moved from dealer networks to factory-direct selling during the current downturn. For those who want to work with qualified dealers, Chones and Purser say they can help. "What we do is we can help with the preplanning of a boat show," says Chones. "We can help with promotions, cross promotions, just some basic strategy." For example, a good cross promotion may be getting a local boat dealer and auto dealer to work together, with the car dealer showcasing a truck with a trailer and boat on his lot.

He also stresses the importance of builders working with their dealer networks to manage inventory and costs. In the late 1980s and early '90s, when the pipeline was full of inventory, Chones says Suzuki worked with its dealers to help them sell. For example, he says, the company offered to pay a dealer's floorplan for two to five months if the dealer bought a certain amount of inventory.

"So what we're trying to do is find the right builder, find some quality dealers that are not only financially able to handle the market but also have some marketing skills," he says. "We're just trying to get some ducks in a row and get started so we can have a line that we work with or a couple of lines that we can work with so we can go to the boat shows, talk to the dealers, and have something in place rather than doing it on speculation."

The industry, Chones says, will never be like it was four or five years ago, and dealers and builders need to live in the new reality. "It's a rough time here. It will never be like it was," he says. "It's an open slate right now."

For information, contact Chones at (410) 562-3399, or Purser at (704) 574-9581.

This article originally appeared in the December 2009 issue.

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