A modified Marine Industry Dealership Certification program costs less, will be accessible to more dealers and holds more value for those who enroll: That’s the message the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas is spreading, heading into 2014.
“It’s a brand-new approach to the program, building on what we had previously,” says association director of certification and benefits Sonja Moseley. “We’ve integrated all the feedback we got from the dealers. We had 100-plus people who contributed to that feedback. These dealers included those who were in the program, have dropped out of the program or have never been in the program. We really collected the good, the bad and the ugly.”
The association promoted the program aggressively at the Marine Dealer Conference & Expo in November. Twenty-three dealerships enrolled or were recertified at the conference in Orlando, Fla. About 300 dealers are enrolled in the program, Moseley says.
“Some of them were overdue or had fallen out of the program … but liked the changes that were being made,” Moseley says. “We really believe there is potential for massive growth there. There are 3,000 dealers in North America.”
The MRAA earlier this year began managing, administering and promoting dealership certification, working with Five Star Solutions, the third-party group that helped to create the program and implements it.
Launched in 2005, the dealer certification program has been one of several pillars of the industry’s Grow Boating effort. The program is designed to offer dealerships methods for continuous improvement through the adoption of processes and systems that make them and their employees more efficient, more professional and more profitable.
Bill’s Marine Inc. in Portsmouth, Md., has just signed up for the first time, says Bill Noell, who has owned the business since 1985.
“It’s something we have wanted to do — and, in fact, we were doing a lot of processes on our own — but in the last five years we have been in survival mode,” says Noell, whose dealership carries Premier, Cobalt, Stingray and Tige powerboats.
Noell and other dealers who signed up at MDCE are participating in the pilot program, which brings the total number of pilot participants close to 30, Moseley says. “The pilot program will allow us to get feedback from dealers on the changes and any tweaks that need to be made,” she says. “We plan to do a full launch of the program during the first quarter of 2014.”
Jon Kukuk, owner of Nestegg Marine in Marinette, Wis., dropped out of the program because of the cost and what he perceived as a lack of value. At the dealer conference he talked to Moseley about the changes and was considering rejoining.
“I was on the ground floor when this first started, and I held on to it for about five years,” Kukuk says. “So when I heard it was coming, that these changes were coming, it was sort of a ‘hallelujah.’ ”
Three participation tiers
Moseley says the association has tackled the old program’s top three gripes: It’s too expensive, its cost and requirements make it inaccessible to many dealers and the actual “certification” lacks value.
“We are making the new program accessible,” she says. “Instead of 72 requirements and an all-or-nothing option, you have the ability to get involved in steps — tiers I, II and III. And the program is significantly less expensive. It is $575 to enter the first tier, which is a huge improvement because it was $3,000 to enroll and then it was $1,595 every year to recertify.”
Doug Giuliana, owner of Advantage Yacht Sales in Newburyport, Mass., likes the changes. “We are a very small company and there were a lot of sections that did not apply to us, given our size,” says Giuliana, whose business sells Hunter, Gemini, Hobie and other sailboats. “The changes allow us to pick the level that is appropriate for us.”
The revamped curriculum now requires recertification every two years instead of annually, Moseley says.
Giuliana is fond of some of the financial benefits that are new to the program, such as discounts on insurance. “We use CNA insurance that is part of the program, and they’ll be giving us a discount every year we are certified,” he says.
Certification carried marginal value previously, says Giuliana, who has been certified since 2009.
“It helped in our selling process to say we were certified and we were following this set of processes,” he says. “That was sort of calming to the customer to know that there was someone looking over us and we had systems and programs in place geared toward their satisfaction. I think that helped a little, but not a ton, because it is still not very well understood by the consumer.”
But the association has stepped up its marketing, which will heighten awareness, Moseley says.
“We’ve completely redone the marketing kit that the dealers receive themselves,” Moseley says. “So they’re getting all these great ads for their website; great print ads they can use; and press releases. They’re also getting tips on how to market themselves as a certified dealer.”
The two-year period gives members more time to implement all aspects, Moseley says. “They’ll have more of an opportunity to see the effects of what they’re doing with certification or through certification,” she adds.
Bravo, says Kukuk, but he’ll be satisfied when that value starts to materialize. “The jury is still out on whether the marketing is going to be good,” he says. “I wish all dealers would get certified because it makes them better. I would like to see marketing that is going to drive people to our doorstep, as opposed to a non-certified dealership. Why wouldn’t people want to do business with a certified dealership that has all its ducks in a row?”
Once consumers start to become aware of certification, good things will happen, Giuliana says. “I would really love it if someone came to me and said we’re shopping with you because you are a certified dealer and your competition isn’t,” he says. “That would be a huge win for us.”
This article originally appeared in the January 2014 issue.