Marine fabricators suggest ways to give the customer what they want.
By Holly O’Dell
Ask, don’t tell. “I ask customers what they would like to have on their boat rather then immediately tell them what I think they should have,” says Keith Purves of Riverside Covers. He starts the process by asking how they use their boat. Are they a weekend warrior? Serious angler? Long-range cruiser? Purves also inquires about their interests, things they like (or dislike) on other boats they’ve seen, how long they’ve owned the boat (or whether they’re new to the lifestyle altogether). “The whole time I am listening to them, I am getting a picture in my mind what I can do for them,” Purves says. “It might be out-of-the-box thinking, or maybe a different fastener, fitting or fabric that will work for their application.”
Be upfront about what will and will not work. “Sometimes you have to talk to the customer about why the canvas he envisions might not work due to limitations of his boat,” says Mark Hood of Hood Marine Canvas. “It can be difficult, but you have to suggest an alternative that will meet his needs and offer a balance between performance and aesthetics.”
Address the budget carefully. “There’s a real fine line as far as trying to give the customer the best product and best quality you can, versus what they’re willing to pay for because they might not understand the amount of labor that’s involved with a custom project,” notes Steve Griffith of Marine Tops Unlimited. The conversation becomes an education about perceived value, often related to warranties and maintenance. Griffith also will encourage cost-weary customers to start small and save up for bigger changes down the road. “If a customer comes to me with a ripped cover, I tell him I can put a patch on it for $100, and he’ll probably get a whole year out of it. Then I say, ‘Why don’t you bring the whole boat back to me in the fall and we will make you a brand new cover.’ Most of my customers think that’s a really good idea.”