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September 25, 2008

Smart Shopping

Score the best deal at the fall boat shows by following these insider tips.

Gilbert recommends that buyers be honest with the sales staff. For example, if you're considering a competitive brand, let the dealer know that. That way he can match the offer or add comparable value to his boat to stay competitive.

"Buyers can get caught up in how much a dealer is making," Gilbert says, "but we're not like a car dealership. We don't have the same sales volume. In our business you're just not going to find a boat that's $200 over the dealer invoice." Most buyers who purchase a Contender, Grady-White, Boston Whaler or Pursuit from Gilbert are repeat customers.

"We work hard to cultivate our local, repeat business," he says. "Most of our customers have become good friends over the years. That's why it's important to shop with a dealer in your local area. Besides getting a quality product at a fair price and maybe some add-ons, you're developing a long-term relationship. That includes support like orientation or electronics tutorials after the sale, or maybe the first year's maintenance or storage. There's much more to a good deal than just the sticker price.

"Don't treat the dealer as your adversary," Gilbert adds. "He's someone who can help you get the boat of your dreams so you can get on the water and enjoy it."

With factory backing, dealers often offer various incentives to entice buyers. Extras like free electronics or fishing packages or other options, such as seat upgrades, cash rebates and extended warranties, are typically available, especially at the end of a model year or when inventory is high. Keep in mind, however, that incentives are not usually applied across the entire model line but only to specific models. And with the current economic slowdown, dealers are keeping a tight rein on inventory to keep overhead costs within budget.

"The early bird will get the worm this fall and again next spring," predicts Chris Thomas, general manager for the MarineMax Fishing Center in Houston, Texas, which carries Boston Whaler, Grady-White and Sea Hunt. "That's because dealers are trying to sell boats on hand. So buyers who make their deals early will have the best selection of power, colors and options. After those boats are gone, I expect many dealers will keep a smaller inventory and sell more from catalogs. That means an average six- to eight-week delay in getting your boat built and delivered if they don't have the one you want on the lot."