A New Way to Buy Boats

Some big name boatbuilders are breaking ground with new ways to sell boats. They are also ramping-up customer service in the process. Is it for you?

Ask Formula Boats president, Scott Porter about the company's Factory Regional Showrooms and he'll tell you they are a success. Formula currently has three such locations: Freeport, New York; St. Petersburg, Florida and Decatur, Indiana--at the company's plant and headquarters. And he intimated that they are looking at more locations, perhaps with an eye on the Pacific Northwest.

The concept is straightforward. Your local dealer may not have the boat model you want in stock. Moreover, northern tier boaters seeking a sea trial may not be able to ride a boat when shopping in winter. So instead of waiting, you approach your local dealer and he travels with you to one of the Factory Regional Showrooms where you can see and possibly even demo the boat. If you close a deal, the new boat is delivered to you through your local dealer, and serviced by him as well. The program is well-suited to those seeking larger boats. Vessels over 30-feet are built in lesser quantity and available with a wider variety of options, than smaller craft. That means stocking the "right" boat can be a problem for a dealer, and frustrating for the shopper. This program addresses both issues.

Suppose you want a Formula but there is no local dealer where you boat or live? Over the last five years Formula has set up a network of Authorized Service Centers to fill in the gaps between full-line dealers.

Four Winns version of this new way to buy boats is based on the premise that a sea trial is key to a confident boat purchase, especially when boaters are looking at a cruiser. Product demonstrations are known to be a successful link in convincing consumers to buy. And we at Boating heartily recommend a sea trial before purchasing a boat. However, demos are not always possible due to location, facility and personnel resources. Not to mention the vagaries of winter weather in most of the country. So Four Winns parent company, Rec Boat Holdings, entered into an agreement with one of their larger dealers to help boaters over those hurdles.

Legendary Marine, with four locations in the Florida panhandle and Alabama, is a perfect fit for the Four Winns strategy to appoint dealers in the right location with the right resources to conduct product demonstrations. Any cruiser dealer in the Four Winns network can send a V.I.P. prospect--that's you, gentle reader-- to Legendary Marine for first class accommodations and an on-water demonstration with a product specialist and licensed captain. Those accommodations include swimming pools and other recreational activities so that the trip can be fun for the whole family, though the emphasis is on the boat-buying process. Hey, I love my kids too. And I boat with them. But I'd welcome the opportunity to talk turkey while they were otherwise occupied. Enough said.

“We are always looking for new and innovative ways to enhance the consumer buying experience,” stated Roch Lambert, Group President, Rec Boat Holdings.

Regal Boats opened its factory store at its Orlando, Florida headquarters and hasn't looked back. As with Formula's factory-located, Factory Showroom, not only can you see the boat you want, but you can see how its put together. Speaking as one who's toured most of the major boat company's plants over the course of two decades I can assure you that walking "the line" and seeing a boat go from molded parts through assembly and rigging and testing gives you a perspective you just cant gain when aboard the finished boat floating in a slip or blocked-up on the lot or in the showroom.

Unlike a boat show, the Regal's Factory Showroom has every model from bowriders to yachts on display, under 15,000 square-feet of roofed space. That means you wont miss the model you were hoping to see. Treatment is first-class, and you can visit the showroom either in the company of your local dealer, or by arranging for a "boarding pass" online at Regal's website, or by simply stopping by at the location. Note though, that an advance notice of the boat model you wish to see helps to guarantee said boat will be on display during your visit.

Another facet of Regal's Factory Showroom is the pre-production program they have in place for those seeking a larger yacht. Here, you can pre-select your fabrics, patterns, tops, and accessories to personalize your new boat. Actually seeing and physically handling these items does make more sense to us than having to make selections "on faith" out of a catalogue.

So, is the factory showroom a good thing? We'll reiterate the value we believe inherent in touring a boat plant and seeing how your prospective new boat is put together. Some companies, such as Hunt Yachts, Intrepid Boats, and SeaVee Boats, have always encouraged this approach. We also believe at least some of you will be happy to see boat builders emulating retailers in other markets, where shopping is now more of an experience than a task. And these venues may provide an opportunity to develop contacts with those who actually build your boat. Think of them as your own personal boat show.

Let us know what you think, by commenting below.