On the surface, a boat show is like a movie trailer, a collection of perfect scenes all carefully selected and arranged so that you see only what the producer wants you to see. Fiberglass is glistening, prices are attractive, and salespeople are all knowledgeable professionals just waiting to help you make a deal.
Everybody wants to buy that ticket.
Behind the scenes, however, there’s a lot more to the plot — and the process. How valuable would it be if you knew the sales games, the subtle marketing tricks and the pricing realities that make up the whole feature, and not just the teaser?
Jack’s a 20-year industry pro who’s acted in this drama for years. From the opening act to the end credits, he knows how things work, and he’s willing to open up about his craft. Together, we walked a prominent boat show, me watching the main feature while Jack almost simultaneously gave me the behind-the- scenes exposé.
I’m sharing his best lines, along with the motivation behind them. Trust me — they’re not only worth the price of admission, but they may also help you get a real deal.
“First lesson? Get someone who knows what the hell he’s talking about.”
Boat shows produce a lot of traffic. In today’s economy, many dealers just don’t have that many salespeople, so they load up on bodies, not all of whom extensively know the product. Some may even be consumers themselves. Ask the wrong one for help and you may be basing your buying decision on a lot of misinformation.
“Dealers are trying to fill space for free,” Jack explains. “They need people in there to do the work. Ask up front: are you a Brand X specialist? Have you been to the company’s sales training? Do you have certification? If [the salesman] says, ‘Well, I’m really only helping out,’ that’s not the guy you want to be talking to. He can say the boat is great, but it’s an opinion. And if he says something mistakenly, it could be misconstrued as fact.”
Don’t be afraid to ask salesmen what kind of training they have in the product. Qualify who they are, what they know and how long they’ve been with the company.
“There’s a huge difference between what the experienced specialist knows and what Joe Blow would know,” Jack cautions. “Don’t assume the first person you talk to knows everything about the boat.”
“No one knows a brand and model better than the experienced salesman...who has to sell against it.”
Don’t visit just qualified representatives of the boats you’re interested in. Take the time to visit their competition as well.
“Tell competitors what you’re considering, and then step back and listen,” Jack says. “You’ll get a lot of info to consider.”
As proof, he guides me to a nearby wakeboard and ski boat dealer and does just that. Soon, we’re hearing an interesting collection of cons to match the pros touted by our “favored” dealer, everything from the downsides of that manufacturer’s unique take on boosting wake size to a suggestion that the manufacturer lower the boat’s tower on the spot. (“He knows the other guy’s tower is a real pain in the ass,” Jack says under his breath. “That’s why he’s pushing us to get a demo.”) In another instance, a dealer suggests we go back to the manufacturer in question and challenge its claim of 100 percent fiberglass construction. “Check out the coaming panels, and pick up a few seats and peel back the vinyl,” he urges. “You’ll see that there’s wood in there.”
“Sure, some of what they tell you may just be salesman BS,” Jack says, “but if you go to several competitors, you’ll start to find some common ground in what they reveal. Then, with all the cards on the table, you can weigh the value of that info to you as a consumer.
“It just gives you some balance to make a more educated decision.”
The challenge for the consumer, however, is deciding what’s real and what’s BS. Competitive dealers may feed you a litany of all the common knocks they have against the boat you are considering. Absorb them, and then go back to the boat you’re comparing against and verify.