• Minnesota dealership creates a boat drop-off lot for its storage and winterization customers
No one would fault a boat dealer if they chose to maintain the status quo during the seasonal shift from summer to fall, where demand for their Service Department’s time is at its maximum. Demand for storage and winterizing customers’ vessels peaks at this time. That’s one of the many in-season busy times for any dealership, but it is a focal point for a dealer in the northland.
Starting a new service concept can be challenging, especially when your store is currently undergoing a high-dollar expansion to double the showroom size and bring your Parts & Accessories Department in-house. However, J & K Marine Owner Kevin Tinjum’s idea to build a boat drop-off lot was an absolute necessity. They needed more space at his Detroit Lakes, Minn., facility to improve boat maneuverability.
“Each spring, as we get storage units out, we were not able to bring all the boats out that we needed to,” explained Tinjum.
It was an inconvenience for his customers and a frustration for his service team. And, without enough space to park the units, it created a proverbial logjam of boats. To avoid that same scenario, Tinjum searched for a way to conquer their storage hurdle. He said an MRAA video that showed a dealer using a QR code during the pandemic for contactless service drop-offs inspired their idea.
Give Customers What They Want
Having an idea and making it a reality are two different things. It took J & K Marine, a seven-location Certified Dealership, about five years from the initial concept to complete its new storage lot. “We purchased the land in the Spring of 2021,” explained Tinjum. “Two and half years later, we completed the project.”
That completed project resides on a frontage road near the Detroit Lakes dealership. The fenced lot is well-marked with temporary signage in the form of banners, yard signs and blue beach wings with the words “boat parking” printed in white. Upon arrival to the lot, customers scan a QR code that takes them to the service landing page.
“The QR code goes directly to the landing page on our website for a ‘storage request’ form,” explained Tinjum. “Submitting the form sends an email to our service/storage department. Our service manager and service writer see the emails arrive and then contact the customer to write a storage agreement.” After completing the form, customers select an open spot to park their boat for storage among the available four rows.
From there, J & K Marine handles the essential follow-up and relationship nurturing to produce lasting engagement and happier customers. Typically, this is within a few hours, depending on the day and the drop-off time. However, follow-up could take longer (a day or two) if a customer drops off their boat late Saturday evening, for example.
Step-by-Step Boat Drop-Off Process:
- Customers arrive at the drop-off lot with their boat.
- Customers open an on-site mailbox containing instruction flyers.
- They then scan the QR code with their smartphone.
- Fill out the boat storage/winterization form.
- Include name, phone number, boat make and row (e.g.: Row 2) to complete the provided customer boat tag and attach it to the boat to help J&K identify their vessel.
- Depart the lot without their boat and trailer.
- Await follow-up from J & K Marine Service Writer/Service Manager to write a complete service agreement.
Improving CX & Help Your Service Department
The lot has helped improve customer experience (CX) by alleviating confusion about where customers should park their boats and helping J & K Marine catch up to spring demands at storage pickup. Tinjum says the goal is to have an empty lot by winter. They currently store customer boats indoors, but the new lot could help the Service Department adjust storage.
“Having this lot will offer us the flexibility to put shrink-wrapped boats there if the need arises to expand beyond our indoor capacity in the future,” noted Tinjum.
Overall, the new storage process has had a positive response from most customers because of the simplified drop-off process and the added convenience of after-hours access. However, a few have found it difficult because of the reCAPTCHA requirements within the QR code that the need to answer correctly to identify as a human and not a robot. It’s simple for customers with experience but more challenging for those who are experiencing it for the first time on a phone.
There has also been a slight issue with how customers park their boats within the lot. It is not always in an organized fashion or flawless, which has required Tinjum’s team to correct the row to maintain available parking spots.
“We are working through some complications,” said Tinjum. “We understood there would be a learning curve and that it would take a year or two for the process to become ‘normal’ to our customers. For parking fixes, we use Friday afternoon, to clean up a row to improve parking for other customers.”
This fix is small compared to the larger boat drop-off and chaos that arose when customers dropped off their boats at the dealership without and appointment or at odd hours and blocked the driveways, service lot and service bay doors. The drop-off lot has helped to reduce the staff’s stress in this situation.
Although the lot should improve convenience for customers and J & K Marine’s service department, it also needs to offer a safe environment for the people and boats parked there due to the available 24/7 access. J & K Marine surrounded the lot with chain link fencing and added an automatic gate for protection.
“Our customers will be able to open the gate with a code set specifically for them.” Said Tinjum. “Cameras will be installed in the spring of 2024. We will also be installing a camera security system.”
This new drop-off storage system, automation and round-the-clock access should also relieve some the stress that the service team has to perform during its busy season. When customers aren’t limited to a certain set of hours or access to staff, it can also alleviate the demands on dealers who are experiencing workforce shortages. Customers can drop off boats on their time schedule in a designated area, removing your team from the equation thanks to the automated setup.
Get Customers on the Water Faster!
Tinjum expects the spring and “summarization season” to be a significant change because the lot will allow them to pull most boats out of storage and put them in specific parking spots within the lot. He also hopes to eventually have the QR code, form and drop-off dialed in for service appointment scheduling, but will focus on boat storage for now.
“We are looking forward to not having to tell customers their boat is behind many others and we are not able to get it out for a week or two,” he said.
A week or two without a boat can feel like an eternity for an enthusiast. In Northern Minnesota, giving customers two extra weeks to go boating is a BIG win!
Let me know if your dealership has made any innovative changes to improving your boat storage or service offerings for customers. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.