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By: Alan Jones on October 15th, 2020

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How Important is Your Boat Dealer?

How Important is Your Dealer?

Having a great dealer makes the boat buying and ownership experience the best it can be. We asked Jeff Haradine, Barletta’s VP of sales, and several top dealers to identify what traits are important to look for.

How does Barletta choose the dealers it works with?

Jeff Haradine: Since day one, we have positioned ourselves to be the leader in customer service and this is the cornerstone of our dealer selection process. Because I spent 18 years in retail with my own dealership, I have a strong appreciation of how important and sometimes how difficult marine retail can be. We pack so much work into high-pressure seasonal periods that it takes a tightly choreographed effort to get it right. When you live it and get it both right and wrong enough times, you develop an understanding of who can nail retail customer service. So, when Barletta looks at entering a geographic market, we rely on our relationships and experience to dig deep and find the right cultural fit. Some markets have several great dealers, but we will stay true to our strategy and find someone that can truly help us carry the Barletta Brand. At Barletta, we don’t even necessarily want to be partnered with the biggest dealer even though we love volume. The level of customer service they provide is more important to us.

What are some of the traits that define a great dealer?

Great dealerships come in many different forms but there is a common thread among the best. Great dealers always have strong customer service-oriented teams at the core of their operations. Those dealers offer their employees careers by training, advancement, fair benefits and leveraging the awesome lifestyle of the boating business. 

The relationship with our owners starts at the dealership level and we want to nurture that bond by giving the dealer as much information about a customer’s boat as possible. Our sales team works closely with our dealers and actively helps sell boats at dealer events such as boat shows and open houses. And it’s not usual for our team to develop a personal relationship with our owners that may carry through the build process.

Great dealers not only reach out after the sale as a check-in but also strive to maintain a long-term relationship through service, parts and storage operations. Continuing a relationship with a good customer is generally much easier than acquiring a new one and our dealers know that and leverage a great buying experience for the long run to the benefit of the owner, dealer and Barletta.

Bud Cristman of Bud’s Marine Pontoonland, Huntsville, Ohio

I’ve been in the marine industry for 50 years and Barletta is the company I’ve been waiting for all my life. Their incredible commitment to the dealers and customers is on a level I’ve never seen before. When Bill Fenech, the president and co-owner, called and invited me to visit the Barletta facility, I was amazed by the number of people I recognized and knew to be some of the best in the industry. He explained to me the plan was to be better in every facet of the business: build a better product, stand behind it better than anyone else and hire the best people. One of my jobs as a dealership owner is to give my employees the ammunition to do their job and partnering with Barletta has helped me do that. They take a different approach to problems. Some companies see them as inconveniences whereas Barletta looks at them as challenges that help them to improve their “playbook.”

Having a great dealer is incredibly important to a boat buyer…especially for someone who has never bought a boat before. We try to improve the customer's experience in many different ways. Before the sale, I want my team to learn as much about the customer as possible. What are their preferences? What can they expect? I want our sales staff to encourage people to buy a boat they can grow into, not out of. A boat should have a high level of fun factor and with kids involved that means lots of horsepower to maximize the thrill of boating. It’s also better for resale value when it’s time to buy a new boat.

Unforeseen challenges can make boating less enjoyable so we make sure our customers know what to expect and how everything on the boat works. We will teach them how to do everything from driving the boat, how to dock it, launch it at the ramp and tow watersports participants. We don’t sell boats; we sell fun and the unique experience that you get with boating: the conversations you have and closeness you feel are things you don’t get with other recreational pastimes.

John Odom of Marty’s Marine, Osage Beach, Missouri

Taking care of our customers is only part of the equation. We also want to develop a personal relationship with them. We love it when they just stop by for no reason other than to just say hello. Before the sale, we want to learn as much about our customers and how they might use their boat. That way we can find the best fit for them, whether it’s a new or used boat. After the sale, Philip Pfundstein usually does the delivery and he will spend as long as is needed to not only show the customer the features of the boat and how to use it but also show them its potential so they can get the most out of it. One of our favorite things to do is show the ladies how to drive the boat; so often the guys are the only ones to touch the wheel. We’ll drop the husband off at the dock so there’s no added pressure and this often helps them relax and makes it a more conducive environment for learning. To further their education, we suggest new boaters take a U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary class and also take an online class on boater safety.

Barletta gives us many tools to make our customer’s experience a good one. They are the only company that has a hotline on holiday weekends to help our customers with the little problems that crop up when we might be closed. What makes Barletta different is I can call several people on their cell phones to help resolve an issue; I never have a problem getting in touch with them. They also come to the boat shows to help support us. The warranty is amazing. Simrad might only have a two-year warranty but Barletta extends that to 10 years. And the customers only have to deal with us to resolve any problem that might crop up, which is another reason to buy from a great dealer.

Barletta does things differently starting with choosing the dealers who represent them. I know several larger dealers in my area wanted to carry their line of pontoons, but they chose us because of our proven reputation of taking care of our customers. When a company prioritizes giving a customer a quality experience over just selling lots of boats, that speaks volumes about its culture. 

Use the Barletta dealer finder to find your closest dealer. 

About Alan Jones

Former Editor Boating World Magazine