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Ready your service department for seasonal launch

By Brianna Liestman

Winterization is pivotal for proper boat care in a seasonal climate. Equally important is getting boats out of winterization and ensuring they run smoothly for customers the first time they are ready to finally hit the water. Right now it’s time to get your shop ready and stocked now so you can meet those boaters’ needs.

“Wintertime is the hardest time [on boats], especially this year with all of the snow and everything else. When they stick them away, [customers] think that everything is going to be grand and dandy and ready to rock and roll when we winterize them, but obviously certain things come up where electronics do go out,” said Tim Walters, head of the service department at Vallely Marine.

It’s important to identify exactly when customers will want their boats and create a schedule based on those needs, so your service department will be able to adequately take care of each customer. You may need to call your customers to remind them about the service, as customers may not be thinking about getting on the water right away.

“We try planning ahead so we don’t get into a bottleneck, because once we get to that bottleneck trying to get boats out the door, then you might miss something,” said Paul Terzian, partner at Causeway Marine. “We of course give everybody a complementary check-up to find out other things that they don’t know that aren’t working such as stern lights and bow lights and other such things they may not know about.”

When you call your customers to schedule their spring delivery, ask if they would like a pre-inspection done on the boat and identify possible work that can be done on the boat.

“We do our pre-inspection of the boat, which is check oil levels, batteries, do our maintenance and safety checks and [make sure] everything’s going to operate correctly once we get the boat to the water for him,” said Steve Chesky, service manager at Dan’s Southside Marine.

You can promote these pre-inspection services to customers through email blasts and other marketing as well. At Causeway Marine, the individual who manages social media for the dealership repurposes email blasts into social content that promotes the service department offerings.

Spring shopping

Before you start contacting and marketing to your customers for spring, identify what issues are likely to arise when you de-winterize the boat and have those items stocked in your service department.

Checklists help do-it-yourself customers stock up on all the items they will need to launch this spring.

Checklists help do-it-yourself customers stock up on all the items they will need to launch this spring.

That means having enough spark plugs, gear oil, carpet cleaning materials, engine oil, cleaning materials for non-fuel injected engines, ring free cleaner for fuel-injected engines and props. Customers typically don’t think about changing props when they winterize their boat, but often they need to be replaced come springtime.

“Typically we recommend throwing a new prop on and sending the other one out for reconditioning and keep it as a spare,” said Terzian.

Other make-ready products to have on hand are water pumps and water pump kits, zinc anodes, thermostats and outdrive bellows.

A large stock of batteries, which typically have a shelf life in a marine application of three to four years, will also be useful, as well as any tools needed to repairs electronics like radios, gauges and more.

“That seems to be one of the most common items that we go through after storage, is the batteries have reached their shelf life and it’s time to replace them,” said Chesky.

Do-it-yourself 

Some of your customers may be the do-it-yourself type, so having items like oil filters, fuel filters, antifreeze, fuel stabilizers and gear oil well stocked in your accessories department will show those customers you are a go-to resource for their needs when winterizing and de-winterizing their boat.

Hosting a free winterization course in the fall further identifies your dealership as an information hub for DIY customers. Blue Springs Marine has all techs on hand for its fall winterization courses to answer questions and suggest products.

“We do that class knowing that, of all the people that attend, about half of them end up bringing their boats back to us for us to do the winterization, because they’ve watched it and realized it’s more than what they’re willing to tackle,” said Mary Jo Goettling, sales manager at Blue Springs Marine.

The dealership also provides customers with a checklist of all the items they will need to do the work themselves, keeping those supplies well stocked in the parts and accessories department.

“Little checklists help the customer because obviously if it’s on your grocery list, you’re going to buy it. So if you pre-do their grocery list for them, then they know what they need to buy,” said Goettling. “We try to personal shop with every single person who comes through the door. That’s something we’re really big on and everyone is cross-rained in our dealership. Everybody can personal shop with every [customer] based on what they’re wanting.”

Shiny and new

Be sure to have mold and mildew inhibitors and removers handy come spring. The inside of boat covers can often be moldy and dirty, which will undo any of the cleaning done on the boat once the cover is placed on again.

“You can clean the interior of the boat, you can clean the carpet, all of that type of stuff, but if you don’t clean the inside of the cover, that mold will reappear back in the guy’s vinyl two to seven days later,” said Chesky. “The protectants that we put on the vinyl will help it from growing or attacking into the vinyl, but the biggest thing is you’ve got to make sure when you’re cleaning or detailing a boat, you’ve got to do the inside of the cover as well because the inside of the cover is just as bad as the boat.”

be sure your service department has stocked up on all the tools and products it needs to launch boats this spring.

Be sure your service department has stocked up on all the tools and products it needs to launch boats this spring.

In addition to putting protectants on the boat to maintain the boat’s integrity, buffing and shining the boat adds excitement for the customer when they are dreaming about taking their vessel out on the water for the first time of the season. And ultimately, it also represents the integrity of your own business.

“It reflects back on the dealer how we want to have our future customers also looking at what kind of product we put out there, that we’re not just throwing a hunk of junk out in the water for everyone to see,” said Walters. “We want to have our product looking the best.”

Stock up on seat cleaners, waxes, polishes, stain removers and after wash to be sure you have everything you need to present the boat to your customers and get them excited to show it off you their friends.

“[We] make it look nice so the customer doesn’t have to do any work to it when we get the boat to him,” said Chesky.

Once the boat is looking pristine, Dan’s Southside Marine will take a photo of the boat, whether it’s on a trailer or at a slip, and email to the customer to alert them it is ready for use. This gets the customer excited and proves the work has been done that the customer wanted.

“It’s a good for the customer to open up an email and you have a picture of your third or fourth child sitting in the water,” said Chesky. “If the guy’s out of town or he’s not going to be using the boat for maybe a week [or] a month, it’s proof that you’ve cleaned it. If the boat sits out on the water for a month under a cover on the dock … then the boat gets dusty and dirty again in the meantime.”

While the melting snow and rising temperatures are usually enough to get boaters excited to get on the water, this level of service during the spring launch fuels that excitement, and encourages the customer to share their excitement over their boat on social media. That “boat envy” gets other people anxious for the boating season, and future customers will ask their friend where they got their shiny, ready-for-the-water boat.

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