Everyone has some experience with riding on the road, whether it’s a car, motorcycle, golf cart or something else. However, many people have little to no experience riding on the water, whether that’s in a boat or a personal watercraft (PWC). According to quicknav.com, only 11.9% of U.S. households own a recreational watercraft (which includes powerboats, houseboats, sailboats and PWC). Conversely, according to the Federal Highway Administration, 93% of U.S. households in 2019 had access to at least one car.
If you’re a PWC dealer, you’re likely to be faced with more than your fair share of first-time marine buyers. Here are some ways you can help these customers understand the marine industry and sell to them so that you earn their patronage for life.
Common Misconceptions About PWCs
The first step for dealers is to educate the customer base and clear them of any misconceptions about PWCs. According to Cj Lammers, president of SBT Inc., many people, for instance, have this preconceived notion that PWCs are hard to ride. However, he counters, “Their engines are very similar to motorcycle engines, and although stand-ups take some time to master, sit-down PWCs can be ridden with a quick boater safety review and common sense. They are a lot of fun for little ramp-up time!”
“A big misconception is that consumers news to PWC riding don’t know how versatile watercraft have become,” adds Bryan Seti, general manager of Yamaha Watercraft Group. While they’re often used for water sports, such as wakeboarding and tubing, they’re also popular for exploring and sightseeing on the water, since they can navigate shallower and narrower areas that boats can’t access. This also makes them useful in search-and-rescue operations.
“Additionally, PWCs are used for fishing, as they can quickly and easily get anglers to their desired fishing spots,” Seti explains. He notes that there are PWC accessories specifically for anglers, such as decks that feature rod holders and a place to secure a cooler to store caught fish.
To that end, Tim McKercher, Sea-Doo media relations, believes that fishing-specific PWC models and accessories have the greatest opportunity to grow the industry. “Fishing is the most popular recreational activity in the world, and fishing from a [PWC] is a unique, special way to catch fish. We are going to fish more,” he says.
Share Your Expertise
If you’re faced with a first-time PWC/marine buyer, you want to be a part of their research. First, know what your local laws stipulate about boating. If riders need to take an online safety course to meet state requirements for operating PWCs, inform them of such; you can even direct them to certain OEM websites, where they can take these online safety courses for free.
“The PWC industry is challenged to educate all the new-to-sport buyers on boating etiquette and local regulations, where to ride and proper preventative maintenance and operation,” McKercher asserts. After all, since every PWC requires different operating parameters from cars, dealers need to educate customers on the unique aspects of the watercraft so customers can experience maximum enjoyment. “We all need to commit that time to properly educate our new customers,” McKercher reinforces.
Education also extends to understanding the features, capabilities and limitations of not just the brand of PWC you sell but of each type of PWC on the market. Certainly, you’ll aim to have expert knowledge of your own brand(s), but it can’t hurt to know what the competition offers, so that you can compare your vehicles to theirs. Since first-time buyers may not know which questions to ask, they may be relying on you and your insight.
“Customers expect salespeople to be knowledgeable about the products they are selling. If a salesperson cannot answer their questions or does not know the details about the product they are selling, it can erode the customer’s trust in the dealership and lower the likelihood of a sale,” Seti notes.
Related: PWC Service Contracts
Therefore, your salespeople need to stay up-to-date on the latest vehicle features, so they can listen to customers’ needs and match them with the right products, ensuring that they are satisfied with their purchases. After all, when you have knowledgeable salespeople, you not only increase customer satisfaction, but you also gain opportunities for upselling and cross-selling. When your salespeople know which products and accessories you stock as well as what the customer’s needs are, they can recommend them to complement the customer’s purchase. Not only can this increase the sale value, but it can also heighten customer satisfaction as well.
“You want a [PWC] customer for life, not just that day,” McKercher says. Getting that person on the right model will ensure he or she loves it and comes back to make future purchases.
In addition, being able to offer personalized advice to a customer is a competitive advantage. It’s a common issue in the industry that dealers try to sell a type of vehicle or brand they are unfamiliar with just to cash in on its popularity (and often fail as a result). A dealership with knowledgeable salespeople stands out from competitors who may not have the same level of expertise.
This sort of expertise can help salespeople steer customers in the right direction when it comes to selling new or used vehicles and advising on power. When selling used models, for example, it’s important to understand not only the customer’s do-it-yourself level but also how well the used models handle. Lammers says, “Well-restored two-stroke skis are easier to maintain and recover, but a thorough inspection and pre-sale ride is necessary to prevent getting a project that sits on the trailer.”
Furthermore, all powersports customers tend to fall into the trap of thinking “bigger is better” when it comes to the engine, but Lammer advises against drawing people —especially first-time buyers— into the power race. “With normally non-supercharged skis producing 170 to 180 horsepower, power is rarely a problem for first-time buyers,” Lammers states.
Of course, the best way to sell a PWC is the same as with any powersports vehicle: butts in seats.
“On-water demos are the best way to educate interested buyers. We know this is challenging for dealerships for many reasons, yet behinds on seats is always the best. Guests can feel the difference in handling, comfort and performance to fit their liking,” McKercher states.
Finally, make sure the first-timers know the basic proper maintenance for a PWC: covering it when not in use to prevent fading, washing it after riding in salt water and knowing how it works. Oil changes, proper oil/fuel mixes (for two-strokes), taking out the drain plugs after skiing (and making sure to replace them before going back out) will all help customers enjoy their skis.
“Show them how easy they are to maintain and service to keep them in good shape. Most issues come from lack of service or not understanding the basics that need to be done. A simple schedule of when and how can make all the difference in ownership experience,” Lammer explains.
Upselling With PWC Accessories
Whether you’re trying to sell a first-time buyer or a repeat customer, there’s always an opportunity to upsell. A dedicated PWC zone in your dealership may do some of the hard work for you.
“Be strategic and logical when displaying the models by segment, and use props,” McKercher advises. “Create a visual impact that clearly tells the customer which model is great at what. Display them with accessories and gear; show people how their [PWC] life can be elevated.”
For instance, you can showcase wear items, such as pump liners, spare impellers and premium seats, to give customers a vision on what the ski could look like. Furthermore, having a wide variety of scheduled service parts on display can help them envision what is possible and not worry that maintenance might take too much time.
“For the average owner, updating seats and mats to both personalize and rejuvenate their ski is the biggest draw,” Lammer explains. “For supercharged skis, performance parts that increase the power is a major draw.”
Other popular PWC accessories include modular deck systems that are lightweight and nonslip that can attach to the rear of compatible models to provide addition space for lounging, fishing or performing water sports.
Let your first-time buyers know about all the possibilities that exist. They may not know until you tell them!