I spent the day at Yachtworld's "Yacht Broker University" and it was well worth the time.  It was both a great networking opportunity and learning experience!   I came away from the event with a smile on my face (no, I didn't book a buff job) and 8 pages of notes.  Not only was the current market climate covered, but there were a lot of tips for "the close" and technical pointers.  In fact, there was so much helpful and relevant information for all of our brokers that this will be a "feature" on the site. Start reading below for my full overview, or jump to my concise summary.

Online Is The Frontline

Yachtworld.com (YW) is THE leader in online boat listings.  I do not even feel the need to refer you to it, because if you are here, I am sure you have made it there!  Since they are an internet based company, the majority of this seminar was to educate brokers on how to better use their product, Yachtworld.com/Boatwizard.com (their listing tool) to sell boats. The meeting started with Ian Atkins, the VP/GM at Yachtworld.com, and his intro was a story of Bill Gates being asked "When the internet hits its full potential, who loses?".  To which Gates responded: "The middleman".

With a drastically changing market, brokers are trying harder and harder not just to stay relevant, but to keep the sale paramount.  It is extremely important for brokers to innovate and professionalize. A few of us in the room were caught off guard when Mr. Atkins went as far as to say that he did not consider the field a profession.  However, with organizations such as the Florida Yacht Brokers Association, The Certified Professional Yacht Broker Program, Yacht Council Advisory meetings, they are becoming more of a 'legitimate' profession.

Target Audience

Next was a fair amount of discussion on "the new luxury buyer".  Since the current clientele is well versed in buying luxury products, the old idea of a Yacht Broker being the gatekeeper of information is long gone. With the current state of the internet, the broker is no longer in direct source of the information. The customer gets a "First Hear" online. They usually find a broker through a search engine, research the broker/yachts from their website or YW page, and then make a decision.  This last step is almost sure to include lots of interaction with other buyers through forums, shows, et cetra. Only then is the purchase made.

Let me rattle off some statistics they showed:

  • 80% of YW traffic is coming from a search engine, with the search criteria being two to four words, typically the year and brand name of a boat. ie "2005 Tiara"
  • 7 Million organic (organic refers to an unpaid search engine result, or "normal" searching)
  • Consumers visit 7 different sites before finding a site they trust for research. Researching who to use for research!
  • The top brands searched on YW (in order) are:
  1. Sea Ray
  2. Hatteras
  3. Viking
  4. Bertram
  5. Catalina
  6. Beneteau
  7. Tiara
  • Mobile Traffic is EXPLODING this year. 10x as much traffic this October as last.
  • 35% of YW traffic is international.

Content, Content, Content

Yachtworld has enlisted John Burnham (former Chief Editor of Sailing World and Cruising World) as their Editorial Director. His staff is pushing to get more and more content out there.  The purpose is not only to grow the presence of YW, but of the listings on their site.

Increasing exposure to social media outlets grow this online presence.  In addition to the more "traditional social networking" sites like Facebook, YW has their own blog and Blog Talk Radio, a live podcast which often highlights leading brokers or members of the industry.   It sounds like there will also be some assistance in building out broker profiles.

Some of the new technologies YW are pushing is getting into the cloud (they have built in redundancies to save data).  Investments in better search technologies are aimed at making browsing the site a better experience. Driving page load times down to under two seconds has been accomplished, far away from the dangerous four second "customer attention span".

In case anyone is interested, Endeca is the platform they use. I believe Endeca is more for extremely large sites, and most brokers would not benefit from their large scale applications. However, some of the things they offer, such as 'video search capability', overall SEO (Search Engine Optimization), sitemap construction, and custom link structures are important tools, and should be implemented by everyone!

YW Stats:

  • YW saw a large uptick before the Lauderdale show. An increase in hits is typical before any show, but the drastic jump in email leads prior to the show forecasted a good show.  It is important not to just study the data, but act on it!
  • Unit sales are up over last year by 10%, and valuations are up by 15%. Of course, these numbers are still net down of '08.
  • Days to sale (the number of days a boat sits on the site before it is closed on) is down three weeks! Of course, the average time to sale is still eight months, but I always thought that statistic was a good indicator of activity.
  • 2009 Statistics: Market was moving up, despite valuations -20% compared to '08.
  • 2010 First Half of year was ahead, 2nd half of year same or lower (Unit sales).
  • Statistics for Europe in 2010, though unit sales are down 10%, valuations are even with '09. Q3 sailboat values were up 36%.

Industry Outlook

  • Unemployment rates cited as making people nervous (I think this is YW's chosen barometer)
  • This will be revisited again and again: smartphone traffic is incredible. Smartphone traffic is expected to surpass desktop traffic in 2012. It was not clear if they were citing this statistic for the internet as a whole, or just YW.
  • Quick numbers for facebook, YW's favorite social media platform: 430MM users, 130% yearly growth.
  • Video! Videos generate 66x more traffic for a listing and lead to 4x more time on the site.

Broker Tools

Jumping out to the "Broker Outlook", a well chosen quote was used,  "If you think predicting the future is risky, try ignoring it". Put in another way YW is trying to predict as well as they can with A LOT of technical improvements. Their Boatwizard software is being updated to 2.0, and some brokers may have already been transitioned to the new software. This newer version of the software is extremely customizable, widget based, and gives the ability to view recent news and traffic stats.  It would seem there are some considerable 'back-end' improvements allowing data to be more easily used. Regionally featured ads will allow advertisers to custom tailor the areas they want to advertise to, saving advertisers money and customers time.

The "New" Frontier

On the burgeoning mobile front, YW will be making an iPhone app and hopefully an Android app too! Also, some of the editorial content will be geared to mobile viewing.  Again, video is mentioned, with a listing receiving 17% more leads when there is a video present.

It Is Easy Being Green

Mrs. Jessica Muffet , who started YW, came up to talk about the partnership between YW and the Seakeeper Society. Seakeeper Society tracks ocean health and had the brilliant idea of putting testing units on megayachts so that they can beam back data throughout their travels. The Seakeeper Society has done some great things, but I will try to keep this article to YW.  Maybe another post on them!

Law and Order

Micheal Moore, of Moore & Co., gave a talk concerning a recent sale of a yacht that had numerous issues, as to who owned what and when. This story was so interesting I have contacted Mr. Moore hoping for more information so I can do a little more on it!

Nuts and Bolts of YW

Joe Lingerfelt is the extremely knowledgeable Director of Customer Service for YW. He was able to easily field any questions about the Yachtworld system. It was quite apparent a few of the brokers are years behind in the tech aspect of the business. One of the early topics Mr. Lingerfelt had to cover was how to open 2 browser windows at once, so one can see two boats at once...

A few points Mr. Lingerfelt covered:

  • "Site Editor" allows more customization of broker pages
  • Soldboats.com "Traffic Reporter" spits out valuable traffic data.
  • "Enhance boat" and "Sponsor boat" areas are easier to use.
  • Export all listings is now easy. I was very impressed with the export options, such as exporting to word.doc
  • Unique templates. It sounded like these templates were more for individual listings, not so much for broker pages, which could really use some differentiation!
  • A few questions were asked about criteria available to sort through boats. Mr. Lingerfelt mentioned their "Multiple Listing System" is deliberately crippling the public user, by not allow them the same sort/search option. This is an attempt to shift power back to the broker.

Know your ABC's, Always Be Closing!

Marc Duley, of Sales Presentations, Inc, had a light talk over lunch discussing some sales techniques.

  • Negotiating starts from hello, be very careful what impression you give, whether how you dress, what car you drive, etc. when meeting a customer.
  • Always know what you want to get out of negotiations, usually, terms or a price.
  • Do not negotiate with strangers. It is important to research your customers ahead of time,  and the more time you spend with them, you need to continuously analyze them so as to evaluate the best way to handle them.
  • Do not talk away your power! Anything you say in a sales call will be used against you! Things like "we will work with you", "Let me see what I can do", "I am sure we can do something". ALL of this translates to : "I will give you a lower price"

John Stewart, YW's Brand Manager, had a few pointers on Facebook.

  • The fastest growing section of Facebook is 55-65 year old females, whom Mr. Stewart jokingly called 'the decision makers'
  • When creating a FB page, you should try to be an industry resource. Have your site be the main area for news and information.
  • Engage the community. Interaction is necessary to make sure customers are involved and interested.
  • Expanding beyond just wall posts is necessary.
  • Lighten up! Make jokes! Just listing technical specs will not keep many interested. Obviously, don't cross the line.

Stewart also suggested you evaluate what kind of video you are putting out on your site. He  describes three types, the "What do you think of this?", the slightly more interesting "Wow, that was informative", and finally, the "HOLY &#@$%" kind (crashes, etc.) It Is good to have them all. Also, a few tips for Search engine optimization, which makes your site more likely to pop up in customer search results. First, make sure that you have every possible field of information filled out, whether picture descriptions or 'meta' tags on any content.  All of these are viewed and collected by search engines. The more keywords etc., the more likely you are to show up. The flip side of that is quality content is ranked higher than just a pile of keywords. The search engines are getting smarter and smarter. Also, having an uncomplicated sitemap, and lots of easy to use navigation links (say, a persistent title bar at the top) not only makes it easier for customers to find their way around, but also for the 'bots' that 'crawl' for search to give you high marks, hence recommending you to those searching.

Finally, Stewart wanted to emphasis social media was not just to bombard customers with information through different channels. These outlets allow you to interact differently and "break down the walls that keep you and your customers apart". Being facebook buddies, being their 'goto' source for boating news, and even just long term communication allows you to sell the relationship, differentiating you from other brokers. Do not let these outlets filter your personality, let is shine through strong!

Panels

The first of two discussion panels was "An open conversation between brokers and industry leaders as they share their views on the current state of the brokerage market and the future of our industry". This Panel was moderated by Mike Reardon (great name!) of Hill Robinson International, Ian Atkins of YW.com, Jeff Erdmann of Bollman Yachts, Gary Smith of Sarasota Yacht and Ship, and Bob Denison of Denison Yacht Sales.

Gary started off by discussing how great the recent tax breaks have been at making FL hospitable (I assume he is referring to the new sales tax cap of $18,000). These tax breaks have essentially done away with outdated requirements necessitating a boat can only be in FL waters for X days a year, or having to pay 6% of its value to stay in FL. These rules made it particularly difficult to list boats not necessarily from FL.

Ian Atkins answers a question of how boats are sold in the UK. The notable differences are  co-brokerage is extremely rare, and most brokerages houses have many salaried guys, creating an entirely different sales dynamic.

Mike Reardon followed up the euro talk with a story of a UK deal falling through, and also said that the US is MUCH more litigious.  In the UK lawyers are never brought to the table, unlike in the US where any deal of a dollar amount over a certain floor is guaranteed to have lawyers on both sides.

Bob Denison. Lots of their business is moving internationally, (euro market strong against US? is this dependant or independant?). With these international deals, they have a very different sales cycle, and are much quicker to close as there is usually a freighter the boat needs to get loaded on, or some extra deadline uncommon with local sales. Australia is booming in particular.   Knowing ahead of time the necessaries based on where the boat is going (ie. you have to remove all freon from boats headed to Australia or face a $50,000 fine) makes you look good to the customer and bolsters your international credibility.

(Unknown which speakers made these following points).

International traffic necessitates trust, some overseas guys are leery about trusting you. The best way to overcome this is with testimonials!

Referencing emerging markets, Asia is brewing, specifically south Asia Islands and Russia. China's disposable wealth is exploding, but they currently lack the infrastructure to support a large yachting culture.

A question asked by Roy Sea, Of Vicem Yachts, pertaining to the FL brokerage law, Stautate 326.001, on how to deal with a broker who does not have license (pertaining to international sales). The current way to do this requires skirting the law. No clear answer was given, but Mr. Atkins suggested the FYBA was working on it.

The second panel, " Panelists will share best practices and marketing initiatives that have helped generate more sales in 2010". YW.com's editorial director is also joining the panel to share his knowledge about the impact of social media on broker's success." This time moderated by Ian Atkins, with John Burnham, Editorial Director of YW.com, Jason Dunbar of Luke Brown & Associates, Mike, head IT guy at Galati Yachts, and Jeff Stanley of Gilman Yachts.

Jason Dunbar: Quick response is key. With leads coming through to email on a mobile device, when I can reply in less than 30 minutes, it knocks the customers socks off!

Ian: Yes, Jason, and the sad thing is that 50% of email leads go unanswered (how can this be!?), think of all the business being left on the table.

Mike, from Galati: Amateur videos are fine, Galati paid the small upfront camera and software costs and is now starting to raise production value of their videos. As they get more and more videos with more brokers on more boats, customers are able to preselect which broker they would like to deal with based on how they present themselves in videos! Whether personality, or what parts of the boat are being highlighted, customers pay attention.

Burnham: MAKE BOAT REVIEW VIDEOS! HOW MANY TIMES DO WE NEED TO TELL YOU GUYS!

Panel: Mixed results with Pay Per Click ads. Lots of native SEO traffic, but still not confident in the application of PPC ads.

Jason: Boat shows, all customers are much more educated. Back in the day someone would ask "How about the Detroit Diesel 892's on this boat?". Nowadays, customers are smart enough to walk by that boat. Nobody asks the difference between a 2 and a 4 stroke diesel.

Jason: We find that doing our own videos, if not careful, can easily lack "sizzle", and bore customers or not represent the boat as we would like.

Jeff Stanley: Yacht Donations, If owner decides to go down this path, often in brokers best interest not to get into deal as it may sour relationship.

Trevor Analysis:

Again, YBU was very informative, and I highly recommend any broker attend. Especially anyone who deals with listings on YW (who does not?).  I did get the impression marketing boats online is definitely lagging behind other areas of online commerce. In some ways, buying a boat, unlike buying a TV, is not a process completely done, start to finish, online. I do not fault YW for this lag, as I see them as leading the charge, ahead of all other boat listings online. After sitting in their seminar for 7hrs, they are trying to drag brokers into the 21st century. Some brokers are kicking and screaming. Seeing guys at the seminar with 10yr old cell phones, just rolling their eyes when anyone would say Facebook, really shows what a disadvantage those guys have. YW is giving a great presentation on how to succeed in the market today, and some of these guys will not listen.

I look at things I see being implemented elsewhere on the internet, and wish YW would implement a few of them. First off, though YW has a lot of data, it is almost entirely anonymous. If I spend an hour on YW every night, YW could greatly benefit from knowing what boats I look at and for how long. If I constantly look at Westports, but also show interest in large Hatteras and YW sees this pattern over many Westport shoppers, they can accurately predict which other boats will interest me. Not just brand, but price, location, features, and so much more.  This use of data is just the beginning, leave a comment if you would like me to elaborate on more technical possibilities.

Look and feel. Most brokers' YW pages are simple, and borderline ugly. I am told the template creation tool (for homepage, not listing) is quite simple. Yachtworld excels at having a strong database, and hosting listings to take strain off brokers. Due to the years of ugly Yachtworld pages, many brokers have their own hosting pages, (for examples, Gary Smith's http://www.yachtsbygary.com , or Jeff Stanley's, http://www.jeffstanleyyachtbroker.com/) and then include a frame for their YW listings. This is currently taking care of the broker's needs of having a more presentable homepage, but it does get the consumer farther away from YW, further isolating them from similar boats.

If YW were to provide more tools for building better looking sites, or integrate a great service (like Wordpress!) to handle individual brokerage's content publishing, it would dramatically improve appearance and usability. Even with the mass of users on it, FMYC does not (yet) find Facebook to be the best presentation of our content. Having a homepage on YW that could have more media, like longer articles and reviews, not well suited for Facebook would shift traffic back to YW.  This would still allow a Facebook profile or any other social media to link back in.

Another area I see YW lagging behind the rest of the world is data representation to the customer. The charts showed at the seminar were nice, but not impressive. More sophisticated applications, such as Google Analytics, are able to better show data and allow the broker to sift through it to find what they are looking for. A broker would be able to easily understand graphs about sales data, median prices, customer demographics, and more. Think of how well Zillow.com is able to show housing data, especially with heatmaps. Again, buying a house is different from buying a boat, and the geography is less important, but I am sure YW could find a few better ways to display their data.  Mobile apps are becoming more popular and cheaper to produce, and can offer considerable gains over lackluster mobile pages. Mobile pages are typically stripped down, featureless versions to be compatible on more devices. The YW.com mobile page is very nice on Android and iPhone, and galleries are very easy to view. However, tech specs are hidden to clean it up, and there are not as many options available. I hope an iPhone and Android app are both in the works!

Like YW says, "get your name out there, but make sure all your content stays great/relevant", I would tell YW "make it prettier, but keep improving the core too". They have a great product, and all of the improvements I saw suggest there are significant backend (behind the scenes) improvements going on.  Making it easier to create listings and more helpful broker pages will make sure brokers use the site over all others. Hopefully this will help bring in some brokers who do not understand the technology. I look forward to seeing what they do with it over the next few years!

If you have any questions about YBU, or would like me to expand on any points I covered, please let me know!

If you feel your questions are on the more technical side, or just need someone to walk you through some of the new technologies out there, please give us a call.  We are well rounded in any technical questions you might need help and can work out reasonable rates to get you up and running.

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Yacht Brokerage University

Hello,

Thank you for attending the Yacht Brokerage University last week.  It’s always exciting for us when we can have so many brokers attend an event.  As you know, this year we were very fortunate to have co-presented the event with .

We’d love to hear your feedback!  Please take a moment to complete our short survey to help make next year’s event even better. 

If you’d like copies of the presentations and the answer key to the handout, just follow the links below and you’ll be able to download them.

Feel free to download the Power Point presentations and

  • New Trends about The Luxury Buyer & What’s to come in 2011 - Presented by Ian Atkins, V.P., YachtWorld.com
  • What’s coming in BoatWizard 2.0 Presented by Joe Lingerfelt, Director of Customer Service, YachtWorld.com
  • Marketing in the Social Environment- Presented by John Stewart, Brand Manager, YachtWorld.com
  • Learn more about the YachtWorld Foundation and the International SeaKeepers Society -
  • Findings of Fact and Conclusions - Inspiration Yacht Charters, Inc. V. Inspiration Yacht Charters II Inc.

Thank you again for making this year's Ft. Lauderdale's Yacht Brokerage University the most successful we've ever had.

Happy Holidays!

YachtWorld.com