The boat-buying experience is a simultaneously exciting and terrifying endeavor. Finding the right boat dealer to do business with can make all the difference. Here are a few questions to ask yourself as you go through the process. For each segment, the experienced Port Annapolis crew provides a “Red Flag” that could signal the dealer isn’t up to snuff and a “Good Vibe” that indicates you might be right on course to finding the right dealer for your next boat purchase.
Does the dealership staff seem happy to see you?
Buyers like to walk onto boat dealership lots or into showrooms to look around. You’d be amazed at how infrequently anyone comes to greet potential customers.
Red Flag: If no one comes out to say hello and ask if he or she can help within the first five minutes, don’t count on service getting any better in the future. Big red flag. If you eventually must ask for help and are met with confused or annoyed looks by staff, that’s also a bad sign and another red flag.
Good Vibe: If you find people in the store are attentive, engaging and genuinely happy to see you, give that dealership high marks; it bodes well for the future.
Check it out on the Internet.
Use a web search engine such as Google to look for mentions or reports of the dealer on the Internet. Or logon to related forums to ask if others have experience with the dealership.
Red Flag: Take web reports with a grain of salt. One or two negative comments should not overly influence any decision, but if you read about a rash of bad experiences, poorly handled warranty work or long delays on service or repairs, it’s definitely cause for concern and a red flag.
Good Vibe: Similarly, one or two glowing e eb reports are not the basis for judging a dealership, but if positive reports far outweigh critical posts, consider visiting the dealer in person to get a better feel.
Are the yard and showroom clean and organized?
While an unkempt facility might not seem so bad, consider this: If this is how they treat their own property, how are they going to treat your boat when it’s in for service or repairs?
Red Flag: If you find that inventory boats in the yard are dirty and dusty, the yard’s forklift is rusty and leaking oil, no one cleans up after the guard dog, or the property is cluttered with discarded parts, you might want to look for another dealership.
Good Vibe: An immaculate showroom, an organized yard, and boats that are washed daily earn the store a good vibe. Add in a well-stocked parts department, and it gets another thumbs-up.
Is the dealership staff prompt in returning phone calls and emails?
You can understand that staff might not always be able to pick up the phone when you call. After all, if it’s a good dealership, they’re liable to be busy. Still, you would think any salesperson would be highly motivated to return phone calls and emails, but it isn’t always the case.
Red Flag: Lack of prompt response is a big red flag, indicating that customer service after the sale will only get worse. Another red flag is a salesperson’s reluctance to work with you by phone or email. In this busy world, it’s not always possible to visit the store to ask questions or negotiate the deal.
Good Vibe: A salesperson’s willingness to work with you by phone or email is a great time-saver and a positive sign for the future. Make sure to ask for an email confirmation of any deals that you negotiate by phone.
Talk to the service manager.
Before you close the deal, ask to talk with the dealership service manager or, even better, one or two of the mechanics. This will give you a chance to see inside the shop and get a feel for the culture.
Red Flag: If the shop is messy, greasy, dirty and disorganized, it shows a lack of pride in the work–that’s a negative sign that reflects on the management as well as the service staff.
Good Vibe: However, if you witness a clean shop with state-of-the-art diagnostics and tools, as well as a knowledgeable staff that displays high spirits and dedication to doing good work, give them a gold prop.
Ask to talk with existing customers.
When you interview for a job, you might be asked to provide references. Why not ask the same thing of the dealer? Request a few names and emails of existing customers.
Red Flag: It’s understandable that a salesperson might be reluctant to give out names and emails of customers for fear of violating the privacy of others, but if he flatly refuses or becomes indignant, it’s a sign they’ve got something to hide. Defensiveness indicates guilt and a possible red flag.
Good Vibe: If the salesman asks if he can get back to you after he checks with the customers and then sends you the names and emails, it means he’s proud of the dealership’s reputation, as well as mindful of customer privacy. You would expect glowing reports from the salesperson’s references, but check them out anyway. You never know, a bad report could cancel out this good vibe!
Does the dealership staff keep you waiting?
You might be used to sitting in the lobby, waiting to see a doctor or dentist, even though you were on time for the appointment. But if you made an appointment with a boat salesperson, you should not have to wait.
Red Flag: If the salesman keeps you waiting more than a minute or two, it might mean that disregard for others’ time pervades the dealership’s culture. If you’re kept waiting more than once, or the salesperson interrupts your meeting to take a phone call, the store gets two red flags.
Good Vibe: If, on the other hand, you’re greeted promptly by a congenial staff and offered coffee or a refreshment before you get started, the dealership is golden. If you get a follow-up call after the meeting, give them twin props and seriously consider moving full speed ahead.
Does the service department hold manufacturer certifications?
Certain engine manufacturers such as Yamaha Outboards offer certification programs for dealer-service staff. These are ongoing programs designed to keep mechanics up to date on the latest engine technology and product developments.
Red Flag: Request documentation of the most recent manufacturer certification for the service department. If the dealership can’t produce it, or the certificates are more than five years old, they may have just earned a red flag or two.
Good Vibe: The more manufacturer certificates the service department can produce, the better. That means good vibes now and in the future.
Do you like the dealership staff?
This might sound like an irrelevant question, but it’s always nice to work with people you like. Once you buy the boat, you’ll be returning to the dealership time and again for motor service and possibly warranty work.
Red Flag: If you find yourself with a grin-and-bear-it attitude as you try to negotiate a deal, it might mean you really don’t care for or trust the salesperson. Check out the rest of the staff to see if they strike you the same way. If so, slap the store with a red flag.
Good Vibe: When you look forward to talking with salespeople and staff, it means you like them (and they probably like you), and that earns the store a good vibe.
Is the dealer conveniently located?
Choosing a dealer far from the location where you plan to keep your boat is a huge disadvantage. Even if you can tow the boat, who wants a 130-mile round trip each time you visit the dealer for service or repairs?
Red Flag: If the dealer is more than 40 miles away, every trip will be a hate mission. Remember that you can rarely get a boat serviced or repaired while you wait, so you have to make two round trips for each service visit. A geographically undesirable dealer is a big red flag–not against the dealer, but against your overall choice.
Good Vibe: A dealership that’s close by, whether by water or land, is a godsend. One that will come to your marina or dock to service and repair the boat in the water is better yet. Give that dealer a major good vibe!
For most, a boat is a major investment that pays back with years of fun and memories. The process of selecting and purchasing the right boat can be made substantially easier by choosing the right dealer. Follow the steps above to optimize your experience prior to, during, and after, your boat purchase. And, be sure to check out the award-winning NauticStar boats we sell at Port Annapolis.