An Approaching Storm In Boat Sales

In 1995 fresh out of college I walked into our sales office at Lazzara Yachts. It’s not where I would be allowed to start my boating career, first I had to work in the factory, but it was where I wanted to ultimately end up. I was introduced to all the staff and given and overview of what each person did. The position I was most interested in was Marketing & Sales. So on that day I spent a bit of extra time with our VP of Sales. He showed me a ton of stuff but in particular introduced me to this incredible technology called the BUC system. It was this amazing system that had a list of most of the used yachts that were for sale. You could look up everything and get all kinds of information on boats all around the world. This system was revolutionary and dam expensive. For $15k you got the computer and the rights to access everything and we had one. I couldn’t have been more excited. I could just see it. Clients would come to our office and we would sit down with them and preview all these boats for sale without having to drive to see every single one. Surely this was going to be the future of yacht sales.

Except it wasn’t.

That same year a little known company launched a website called Yachtworld.com and BUC along with the rest of the industry ignored it. After all BUC was the well respected, originator that had been the “bible” of boat sales since 1961. Combined with the yacht brokers community these new comers will never be a threat to how boats are sold.

Until it was.

In 2019 you will find nearly 100,000 listings on Yachtworld and over 130,000 listings on Boats.com which bought Yachtworld in 2000. No other boat listing system comes close to the collective power of these services and brands. They have won the end user when it comes to finding boats for sale via search and that is a very dangerous position to be in if you are in sales.

Don’t believe me? Just watch whats happened to Realestate and you can get a preview of where we are headed. Everyone knows Zillow today but when they started in 2009 no one, especially Realtors, could have predicted where the industry would be at in less than 10 years. Today Zillow has won the end user. Today agents are at the mercy of Zillow to produce leads. Today after a decade of giving Zillow all the information agents must look back and think, “what the hell just happened?”

It’s going to happen to us.

As of today Yachtworld has not implemented a pay per lead program such as Zillows. However tomorrow they will. The purchase of Yachtcloser last year is a subtle step in that direction. Yachtworld is building a database that knows every buyer, every seller, the exact selling price, I mean EXACT, and a list of other valuable, detailed, accurate information. So imagine you were the leading brand with consumers searching to buy a boat and could now offer them information such as previous sale price, previous days on market, noted deficiencies on any conditional acceptances, and the list goes on. If you don’t think they will you are kidding yourself. Zillow always promised the agents that Zillow just a marketing company and they would never compete against agents for commissions. Until Opendoor and iBuyer programs came along. Now Zillow buys houses with their ZillowOffers program. Today Zillow utilizes an agent when completing a ZillowOffers transaction. One that is part of their preferred paying agent network therefore insuring agents still get a commission. However how long can that last when Opendoor is a brokerage house and cuts listing fees by 50%. How long until Zillow becomes a brokerage and buys and sells without any agents involvement? It’s coming sooner than you think.

Stop being so negative.

The good news is that our industry is much slower moving with far far fewer transactions. So perhaps Yachtworld won’t buy and sell yachts someday thus cutting out salesmen. Perhaps they wont even do a pay per lead program. Maybe all that transactional data that they are collecting will simply sit on servers never to be aggregated and disseminated. However I’m not betting my next 20 years in this industry on presuming any of that.

So what should we do?

Focus on the consumers needs and build your personal brand. The one advantage you have over any company, service or brokerage house is your ability to create relationships with clients. Your ability to be a person and not just a brand gives you a huge advantage in the coming decades. Today’s tools available to you from companies such as Linked In, Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, etc. give you a leg up insuring your don’t become the next BUC of the industry. The biggest mistake you could make is to blow these tools off as silly social sites that people go on to talk about their pets, bitch about their problems, promote themselves and give political opinions. Yeah sure this is going on, but make no mistake about it, these platforms work to gain trust, sell yourself and get clients.

After 23 years of doing this there is one thing I know. Nothing stays the same forever. Which means we shouldn’t either. There is a storm coming now is the time to prepare.