So you want to buy a boat. Congratulations! That’s a great idea! What kind of boat do you want? Big, small, or something in between? Wide or narrow? Fast and sporty or slow and steady? There’s a lot to consider when making such a large purchase, so you need to be careful. It’s a good thing your local boat dealer is so knowledgeable and has all the answers. Or does he?
Even if your dealer has been around the world a few times, there’s still a chance that he might not know what’s right for you, especially if you’re a first-time buyer. That means the onus is on you (yes, you) to make sure he’s asking you the right questions. And ultimately, that means you need to do your research, not only on what’s available, but also on your own likes, wants, and preferences so that when the time comes, you’re getting the right information.
Know What You Want
I know that sounds simple, but honestly, it’s harder to nail down than you think. It’s a little like choosing which value meal you want at McDonald’s. Except, you know, tens of thousands of dollars more expensive. Still, the concept is the same. If you don’t like chicken, stay away from the McChicken. If you don’t want to pull water-skiers or tubers, don’t get a fast boat with a tow package. If you don’t eat meat, why are you at McDonald’s? If you’re not looking for a fishing boat, go to a different dealer.
Okay, so knowing what you want is maybe not too hard to figure out. But what about what you need? Sure, you could eat 10 tacos in a sitting, but is that a good thing? You could buy a 30-footer, but what would you use that extra length for? Same goes for the boat’s width. How wide do you need it to be? Premier has a 12-foot wide pontoon that is super impressive. Is that what you need? Or is it just really cool? (It is, in fact, really cool.)
We spoke with Terry Glover, regional sales manager for Qwest Pontoons, and Bob Blum, Qwest’s director of sales, and they gave us a little insight into the process.
“I do agree that size is important, but even better, the RIGHT size is the most important,” Glover says. “Recommending that one purchase the largest boat their budget will allow is, in all honesty, bad advice. We coach our dealers to ask the right questions in order to put their customers in the right boat. That means the right features, the right engine, the right options and the right size.”
Blum weighed in on this issue as well. “Every year, we get a lot of customers who are first-time boat buyers trading in a one- or two-year-old 22- or 24-foot boat because that’s what they were told they needed, and once they got to their lake, they realized 90 percent of the time, it was them and their wife. Every now and then there’d be another couple on it. They can’t park it, it’s too big, it’s hard to clean, etc. We constantly get that. They were told that this was the size boat they needed, and once they actually got it, and started using it, they didn’t even need half that boat. An 18-footer would have been more than enough.”
Balancing what you want with what you need is the eternal struggle in all aspects of life, it seems, so I’m not telling you anything you haven’t heard a million times before. That doesn’t mean it’s not accurate. But it also doesn’t mean that you can’t have any fun with your boat. It’s all about balance and compromise. Maybe nail the basics of your boat down, like the LOA, width, number of ‘toons, and engine size, then you can splurge a little with the amenities, like a nice stereo or tow package.
Knowing your priorities and likely use cases will help your dealer steer you in the right direction. When he asks you what you’re going to be using the boat for, the more specific you can be, the better. As I mentioned, if you know you’re not going to be fishing, don’t go to a dealer that specializes in fishing models. If you know you’re going to be carrying a lot of people or hosting parties on your pontoon, then maybe you do need that extra floor space (30 feet is still a lot of boat, so be as realistic as you can).
Know Your Price
How much is too much? Just as with the previous section, if you can have your mind made up before you go to the dealer, it’ll make it that much easier to stick to your budget. You’ll need to be a little flexible, but not so much that you end up outside your price range.
With that in mind, don’t let some silver-tongued dealer sweet-talk you into a boat you can’t afford, just because it’s all shiny with tons of bells and whistles. Who wants bells and whistles on their boat, anyway? Seems like a lot of unnecessary noise. But seriously, if you know what you want as far as amenities go—and even standard features—it’ll make it that much easier to resist the siren’s song.
Communication, Communication, Communication
Anyone who’s ever been in any kind of committed relationship knows that communication with your significant other is key. Talking with your dealer should be no different. Glover says, “We strive to make sure our dealers ask the right questions in hope of matching the prospect and product up correctly. Sadly, the salespeople don't always do this and the retail customers don't always give the correct information either. So maybe the advice to the buyers might be to be sure they convey what their wants, needs and interests are.”
Whether you’re talking in person or texting or emailing, it is absolutely vital that you communicate as clearly as you can with your boat dealer. Put yourself in their shoes for a minute. Imagine how hard it would be to recommend a boat to someone if they simply said, “I like boats.” Fast or slow? “Meh.” Big or small? “Meh.” It would get frustrating pretty quickly, right? Do yourself and your dealer a favor and tell them exactly what you’re looking for.
Be wary of a dealer who seems to have all the answers without actually asking any questions. “One of the biggest screw-ups that happens is when a customer walks in to buy a boat and the dealer just marches them over to the closest boat without asking any questions,” Blum says. “They didn’t ask what kind of water they’re going to be on, how many people are going to be on it most of the time, whether they’re going to trailer it or put it at a dock, whether they entertain or fish, what have you. Their actual job should be more of a consultant. They should teach the customer, not try to push them into something they don’t necessarily need.”
On that note, don’t be afraid to look elsewhere if they don’t have what you’re looking for. In fact, a good dealer will recognize this and point you in the right direction. Terry says, “During a show in Nashville, Tenn., I took a customer from one of our pontoons over to a South Bay which is the other line that my dealer sells. In my fact-gathering questions, I knew that this particular prospect needed a boat larger than what I could provide.”
Quite simply, all of this advice boils down to three points: know what you want, know your price, and communicate. If you do all three of these things, you’ll have a much easier experience and will come away happier.