The Smart Buyer - What you can expect from a certified dealer

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In general, boats require more service than automobiles. The engines are far more advanced than they were 15 or 20 years ago, but they still require routine maintenance.

Certified dealers are committed to bringing their businesses to the next level.

And a boat has additional components that need care — electronics, the electrical system, genset, windlass, thruster. It’s a long list. So choosing the right dealer — one capable of performing the service and taking care of you and your boat — should be a top priority for smart buyers. You are buying the dealership as well as the boat.

Dealers may tell you their business meets Marine Five Star Dealer Certification standards. This certification is different from that of the National Marine Manufacturers Association, which helps manufacturers ensure that their boats are built to applicable standards set by the American Boat & Yacht Council. So what exactly is marine dealer certification, and what does it mean to the boat buyer?

It guarantees trained and friendly employees, quality products and reliable service, says Sonja Moseley, director of certification and benefits for the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas, which manages, administers and promotes the program. “Most people would like to know they are buying from a reputable company,” Moseley says, adding that there are more than 300 certified dealers around the country. “The [Marine Industry Certified Dealership] program provides that assurance. When boaters walk into a certified dealership, they know they will be treated with respect and honesty.”

Certified dealers also consistently score high ratings for customer satisfaction and follow the Marine Industry Consumer Bill of Rights. Some of its stipulations are that all advertising and representations will be truthful and factual; that products will be properly prepared, inspected and tested before delivery; that the dealer will provide an itemized list of the service work done, whether warranty or retail; and that all employees must be professional, respectful and give accurate answers.

Launched in 2005, the dealer certification program has been one of several pillars of the boating industry’s Grow Boating effort, but a lack of dealer participation and consumer awareness has slowed its progress. “I never had a customer who knew it existed or asked about it,” says Doug Giuliana, owner of Advantage Yacht Sales in Newburyport, Mass. “So I don’t think the consumer is being educated. We’re having to tell them. I am not sure they fully understand it or trust it even after we describe it to them, so I’m not sure if it carries a lot of weight with the public.”

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Consumers are going to hear more about the certification program through a beefed-up advertising campaign, Moseley says. “We’ve completely redone the marketing kit that the dealers receive,” she says. “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.”

If dealers will be promoting certification more aggressively, it would behoove consumers to know what it all means before they attend a boat show, or walk into a showroom or boatyard. Dealers who have reached the highest level of certification are considered Five Star Certified Dealers, Moseley says. They must demonstrate to a third-party reviewer that they meet or exceed the highest level of program standards, she says. Five Star dealers are recertified on at least a biannual basis to ensure consistency of service.

Moseley says that in addition to the consumer bill of rights, certified dealers must meet four stipulations: They have customer-friendly facilities, excellent follow-up, show continuous improvement and have satisfied employees. “Because higher employee satisfaction is linked to higher customer satisfaction, employees are a focal point of the MICD program,” she says.

Consumers pay nothing for certification when they purchase a boat, Moseley says. “You do not have to worry about paying a higher price,” she says. “Certified dealers choose to make the investment because they know the program helps them deliver the best experience for the customer.”

Also, she says, the certification stamp may help boost the value of the boat on resale. “You will receive great service, even after the sale,” she says. “When you are consistently provided honest feedback and outstanding service, you can be assured your boat will be in the best condition possible when you are ready to move on to your next boat purchase.”

You can see a list of certified dealers online at http://bit.ly/J51vs7.

February 2014 issue