Dealer See, Dealer Do
By Caroline Ajootian
Dealer invoice pricing — what dealers actually pay manufacturers for inventory — has long been readily available to car buyers. Now, a new website offers the same information to boat shoppers.
This spring saw the launch of a new website whose name and logo say it all: SeeDealerCost.com, "No frills, just the info." From a consumer's standpoint, the site offers — for the first time, all in one place, and for free — information about MSRP and dealer-invoice pricing, as well as data about specs and options, for new boats and PWCs, even powersports products like motorcycles, ATVs, and snowmobiles. The site also has links to lenders and insurance providers and articles about boating and boating safety.
Anyone who's attempted to comparison- shop online for boats knows how complicated it can be to traverse the web looking for apples-to-apples information about different models. It's even harder to find information about new-boat prices, which puts boat buyers at a disadvantage when negotiating for the best deal.
"We want to supply pertinent information that consumers are looking for to make an informed decision before making a purchase," said Dave Taylor, SeeDealerCost.com vice president and former senior vice president of sales and marketing for U.S. Marine. Taylor and his partner Jack Malone, formerly a Mercury Marine executive, included motorcycles, ATVs, and snowmobiles in the mix because "there's a lot of similarity in these areas," Taylor pointed out. "People who participate in one category tend to participate in others."
The site is free to users, who can either navigate anonymously or register an account, but this means that users might get e-mail from third-party companies. Such messages can be blocked using the site's privacy option. SeeDealerCost.com supports itself by selling advertising space. Taylor said the site has no relationship with advertisers and that they wouldn't influence information posted on the site.
The site's "no frills" design makes it easy to navigate boat makes and models. The user follows a fairly direct path to the information being sought. During our preview, we searched for a specific make and model of boat. Information is available only for new 2010 and 2011 boats; no used vessels are listed. Once we found the model we were looking for, we could see the dealer price, along with separate costs for optional equipment and engines. A calculator function adjusted the price according to our selections. Registered users can archive this information at the site. Those who are not registered can send it directly to their e-mail accounts. Prices shown on the site do not include such items as shipping from the manufacturer, dealer preparation, tax, and titling fees. Boat buyers should factor these fees before making an offer for any boat, as they can add thousands of dollars to the purchase price.
Cooperation by marine manufacturers and dealers is essential. However, while SeeDealerCost.com might seem like the answer to consumers' prayers, according to some in the marine industry, the site's name might as well be "SeeRed.com."
Marine industry mogul Irwin Jacobs, former CEO of bankrupt Genmar Corp. and CEO of J&D Acquisitions, filed a lawsuit against SeeDealerCost.com the same day the site launched in March, alleging that the use of its contractual and proprietary pricing information "will damage our brands and our dealers and we will not stand for it."
Jacobs sent a letter to dealers and sales representatives of J&D Acquisitions brands, Larson, Seaswirl, FinCraft and Triumph, to inform them of the legal action. J&D Acquisitions also owns Marquis and Carver yachts. "Please know that we are fully investigating how this site obtained our contractual and proprietary information," Jacobs said in the letter. "Once such source is identified, you can trust that the appropriate actions will be taken to deal with these individuals."
Calling the site "potentially onerous," "harmful" and "catastrophic," the Marine Retailers Association of America issued open letters to dealers and marine manufacturers, urging them not to cooperate with or provide information to SeeDealerCost.com. "Dealer profit margins will shrink to marginal levels as consumers, armed with actual dealer costs, will lowball dealers with purchase offers slightly above dealer actual costs," wrote Phil Keeter, president of MRAA. "In an already historically poor economic environment for the retail sales of boats, the negative resulting effects can be catastrophic as dealers, who sell fewer and fewer boats, will be forced to even lower profit margins while still maintaining high overhead costs for labor, rent, insurance, and floor-plan interest charges."
Keeter went on to urge manufacturers currently cooperating with SeeDealerCost.com by providing them with dealer cost information to immediately cease. To dealers he wrote, "We are asking manufacturers to carefully consider the damage they could do to their dealer networks and, in turn, to consumers, by being a part of this website."
Clearly, it's the goal of any industry organization to protect its constituents' business interests, so MRAA's opposition isn't surprising. But in this competitive business climate, access to the internet has made consumers expect transparency in their dealings with companies. Those who use SeeDealerCost.com are urged to report your experiences to the Consumer Protection Bureau, consumerprotection@BoatUS.com or 703-461-2856.
— Published: June/July 2011
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