The other day, I took my daughter on her first car-shopping trip. I was there strictly in the background, ready to pounce if I felt she was being taken advantage of. I sat in the service areas evaluating each dealership’s free beverages and snacks.
After each visit, she gave me the pros and cons of the car, and I gave her my opinion of the dealer’s operations. In jest, I said all dealerships should be judged based on the quality of their snacks. As it turns out, that was not that far from the truth: Service is where the magic, or the manic, happens. She ended up choosing a model at one dealership, but buying it 15 miles away from the dealership that had a better service reputation — and better snacks.
If only it were that easy choosing a boat or RV. The problem is, in the RV and marine industries, if you don’t fall in love with the dealership, you probably aren’t going to fall in love with the brand. During the past 12 months, Austin, Texas-based Rollick Inc. did a series of research studies to understand the differences among the marine, RV and powersports segments, relative to the automotive market. Those studies revealed 10 realities:
1. Outside of work-based niche vehicles, no one needs a recreational product.
2. The purchase cycle is long.
3. Dealers sell multiple brands from multiple, competing OEMs.
4. Many dealer territories are protected, eliminating consumer choice.
5. There are competing technology solutions from OEMs and dealers.
6. Leads are still defined as a name or email, not as digital footprints.
7. OEMs and dealers are looking for ways to grow leads and convert digital engagements to leads.
8. The consumer is highly educated about the product before he engages with an OEM or dealer.
9. The feedback loop is either overwhelming or underwhelming.
10. Consumers want user-generated content and personalized follow-up.
The first study, “Dealer Marketing and Technology,” included interviews with nearly 400 dealers, including 300 from the RV and marine markets. When asked what technology is most needed for better consumer engagement, those dealers listed, in order, the ability to show more inventory online; respond online to leads within an hour; show pricing online; negotiate a price online and deliver in-store; and use online chat and text messaging.
Hmm. Sounds a lot like the automotive model. So why aren’t marine and RV dealers delivering? A couple of potential reasons are that more than 50 percent of marine dealers and more than 70 percent of RV dealers carry more than four brands; technology suppliers tend to represent the dealer or the OEM, but rarely both; and presale and post-sale communications are not connected.
For a look at how those things affect customers, the second study was a “Purchased Lapse Study,” with interviews from nearly 3,000 RV and marine prospects who entered a manufacturer lead system but did not purchase. The average purchase cycle was 221 days in marine, 198 days in RV, eight days in powersports and seven days in automotive. But despite the long cycles for marine and RV, some 45 percent of dealers followed up with prospects only once.
The third study Rollick conducted was a “Long-term Satisfaction Study” of nearly 2,000 RV and marine customers who became buyers three to seven years ago. Depending upon the type of RV or marine brand, 20 to 30 percent of customers who had a declining level of satisfaction (below 80 percent satisfied) after dealer service also dropped their overall satisfaction rating of the boat by 20 points or more, opening the door to brand and dealer defections.
By contrast, customers who were happy with both their brand and dealer provided a net promoter score (NPS), which measures customer loyalty, as high as 85 (see charts above).
It’s important for both manufacturers and dealers to understand how correlated brands and dealerships are.
This article originally appeared in the March 2020 issue.