Top 100 Ideas: Dare to Compare

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By Liz Hochstedler
July 5, 2013
Filed under Features, Top Stories

It’s not too often you see a business with a competitor’s product in its showroom. It would be strange to see a new Chevy in a Ford dealership, or a Honda Gold Wing in a Harley-Davidson store, yet Port Sandfield Marina in Port Sandfield, Ontario, did just that when it brought a Cobalt into its Sea Ray and Tigé dealership.

In 2011, owner Jonathan Blair invested $100,000 into buying a Cobalt A25. He brought it to his in-water showroom and placed it across the dock from a Sea Ray 250 SLX.

“We went through the boats and looked at each boat and picked out roughly 50 items for comparison between the two, so our customers could see, or the general public could see, on their own,” Blair said.

He was so confident in the Sea Ray’s construction that he even cut away some of the floor and panels, so customers could see the inner workings of both boats. The dealership then created brochures and developed a website highlighting the differences between the two models. The website was designed for customers to show their friends that may not be nearby. Port Sandfield Marina also has a non-dealership branded Dare to Compare site available to other Sea Ray dealers.

“We came up with the [Dare to Compare] idea because we’ve been struggling with our competitor’s dealership constantly putting us down when they have customers coming in, and we needed some way to combat that because obviously the price of their boat is slightly higher, and people perceive price to be quality, and that is not always the case. We have huge buying power with Brunswick, so we can buy our components at a better rate than a small builder can, and we pass those savings on, so it sometimes confuses the general public,” Blair explained.

So far, the effort has worked, with most customers preferring the Sea Ray. The only ones who haven’t, Blair said, are those who already own Cobalts.

“It was one of those things that I said I’d put my money where my mouth was, so I went and spent $100,000 and bought the competitor’s product to put there, and it’s been the talk of the town around the region here,” Blair said. “It got people talking about us, and then the people came into see it because they couldn’t believe it.”

The only complaint customers have had about the Sea Ray is that in place of the 250 SLX’s wet bar, the Cobalt A25 has an added seat. Blair took that criticism back to Sea Ray, and for the 2013 ½ model year, the company is releasing a 250 SLX model with a seat where the wet bar is currently.

Despite the minor negative feedback, Blair’s gamble has paid off, helping the dealership sell a number of boats.

“We’ve never lost a deal where when we’ve had someone looking at the boat and I’ve shown them, we’ve never had them go buy the Cobalt,” he said.

The dealership plans to continue the campaign into the future.

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