How We Chose Our Broker
When you buy a new boat, it turns out that the broker you use you will be stuck with for a long time. It’s like a marriage. We sort of understood this, but OMG, we had no idea. In today’s blog, I’ll talk about what we looked for in a broker, how we chose ours, and what we continue to be learning about how the boat industry works.
Before I start I want to say that I’m not going to name the broker in this blog, not because I’m trying to be mysterious, but because this is not intended to be any kind of promotion or roast of this particular broker.
Never having purchased a boat before we started out not really understanding the role of a broker. We read a few articles and figured they would be around for the buying process as a necessary evil but everything else would be handled by the factory directly. This is not the case for a new boat purchase, at least not for the manufacturer we are dealing with.
Boat builders - generally speaking - like to focus on doing one thing and one thing only. Building boats. I’m going to be straight up and speak the truth here. They really aren’t in business to service the boat, deal with warranty issues, answer questions or fix problems after the fact. So between getting all the options and commissioning items on the boat and servicing repairs or dealing with recalls, that all goes through the broker. Your broker owns you for the life of the boat building and delivery process and through the warranty even if at some point you don’t like each other that much, you are stuck with them until this point. Or, like one friend we have, until you get so sick of your broker that you sell your boat altogether before the warranty is over. This was an extreme case, but the experience with his broker was so bad it soured his entire first two years of his dream on his Fountaine Pajot. Yes, apparently it can get that bad.
On the flipside, it can be an epic union with no issues at all with a broker highly motivated to do everything they can for you. But, this isn’t always the best way to select a broker either, because their intentions don’t always mean they can get things done. So just like even in the most wonderful, ideal marriages, a broker partnership will have its issues. What's important is whether you are both committed to working through the issues reasonably.
Once we fell in love with the boat, we looked for a broker locally in the Bay Area, but there wasn’t one. It turns out Fountaine Pajot isn’t as prevalent as other brokers, simply because catamaran’s aren’t a big thing in the San Francisco area, who as a City appears to be madly in love with monohulls. We even looked up brokers in Southern California but there just weren’t any who would give us the time of day. About the same time we booked a trip to Annapolis where we were excited to see the boat we wanted making its debut on the catwalk at the Annapolis Sailboat Show that year. Our intent was to make a final decision on the boat and then figure out a broker later.
At the time we were following a YouTube channel called ‘Cheeky Monkey’ which is where we saw an earlier model of the boat we liked, which turned us onto Fountaine Pajot in the first place. In one of their blogs or maybe it was a video they mentioned who their broker was and somehow I got the name of their sales person and made contact with him prior to the show. It also seemed they had worked with Out Chasing Stars, who we also follow, so that was a good sign. He mentioned that Tasha Hacker, from Cheeky Monkey would be at the show in their booth which was pretty awesome.
So we got to the Annapolis Boat Show - mind blown - we had never seen anything like that before. The boat shows we have here in the San Francisco Bay you could walk through in literally an hour and maybe see a handful of boats. We were there on a mission though and knew exactly the 3 boats we wanted to see and it was game over when we walked up to what we thought was the Fountaine Pajot dock, not kidding they had a whole section of the dock. It turns out, it was the broker, they are headquartered across the bay from where the boat show is in Annapolis and are the biggest broker for FP apparently on the planet.
They were like the big man on campus, with their crisp white shirts, matching dockers, red carpet and bright white smiles that could easily be featured in a toothpaste commercial. The whole area was packed. I tried to be cool, to act like I’ve been there before but it was a bit intimidating at first I’ll be honest. I got a bit of practice sneaking into the Monaco yacht show earlier that year so I’ve seen bigger...boats that is. They had their pitch nailed, said all the right things, we met the whole team and got the appropriate number of slaps on the back. We saw and fell in love with the boat. I’ll skip all that because it’s in an earlier post. We were a bit concerned with a bait and switch and worried that going with a bigger broker would maybe mean getting lost in the shuffle.
We snuck out for lunch and met with a couple other brokers who were nice enough for sure. But they couldn’t answer some basic questions we had, and most focused on beating any other price...which in hindsight, I’m sure they were right.
What we talked through later that night was that it would probably be best to go with a bigger broker who had leverage with the manufacturer, and the one on the red carpet did. If we wanted to get a cheaper price, I was sure there were ways to do it, but we were also concerned about having access to the right people to deal with all the aftermarket issues we were starting to understand that we would face.
We were invited to a BBQ at a big brokers area and got to meet Claire and Jean-Franscoir Fountaine, the founder and owners, so that was enormous. Also there were friends we met near us who were getting their boat that year. Oh, and Tasha Hacker of course, it was a regular Oscar’s party as far as I was concerned.
Then the bizarro-stuff started to happen. I got a docusign sent to me that night with a multi-page contract in docusign. How’s that for an assumptive close? Did they really expect me to sign a legal document on the fly…have you met me? A deposit I could live with but we can sort all the other stuff out later. Pleased with our first every boat show, we left in an afterglow.
Fast forward a few months, what quickly became apparent was that the boat industry was very loose. At first, I thought it was just the broker. It’s very much like ‘trust me, I know a guy’ and the backoffice part of the business is non-existent. When we started digging into what exactly we were talking about buying, we realized the paperwork isn’t connected to the systems for the manufacturer, at least not that we could tell. We were given lists of options and line items but no descriptions of anything or links. Until we did, months later. We accidentally got a list from our sales guy with prices in Euros but links to all the descriptions and details of things we had just spent months researching. That would have been nice to get in the beginning.
Fast forward about a year or so, maybe less. We found a closed Facebook group online for the boat we were getting. This was an absolute game changer. If you have sworn off Facebook, you may want to reconsider, for this reason alone. In an effort to help ourselves to understand what things were we dove into this group with the enthusiasm of a 20 year college reunion. Like what’s the exact brand name of the washer/dryer we are getting that comes standard with the boat, how long is the anchor chain that comes standard, those kinds of things. Or what decisions people made that impacted other decisions that were connected...you know, knee bone connected to the hip bone.
What we quickly started to understand is everyone’s boat buying experience was totally different. There were some things that were consistent, like lack of responsiveness from the manufacturer and apparently this isn’t unique to Fountaine Pajot. From what we have learned it's the same across the industry. That’s why this vast network of boat brokers has sprung up. Though based on conversations we have had across the board generally speaking is that brokers are focused on the front end part of the sales cycle to various degrees, not the back end, once you get your boat and need warranty or services especially during the first year shake down.
So let me share why the broker matters, based on what we are experiencing now and learning from others. After we get the boat, we will certainly update so I reserve the right to change my mind later, but this is where I stand now. Also, we aren’t purchasing our boat to put it in charter for part of the year or for the first few years so we wouldn’t have selected a charter company to go through either.
From what I understand from my own experience and the people I’ve spoken to, no boat broker on earth would qualify as totally awesome if you are comparing it to your bar that was set in the US to a real estate agent or luxury car dealership. You have to lower your expectations and remember that the industry itself is different, otherwise you will be totally frustrated. The range isn’t excellent to poor, the range is good to awful based on all of the reconnaissance I've done on this topic.
The most important thing for us is we wanted to pick someone who had more reach into the manufacturer, someone who had clout and longstanding relationships. In France, relationships are very important, maybe more so than even than in the US that takes more of a ‘the customer is always right’ philosophy when it comes to cars and homes. This was our #1 criteria and we were willing to pay for that.
We ended up going to a bigger broker, which means more overhead in the process but it also means more resources to get deeper questions answered. There are brokers who will probably give you a better price but for us, we wanted to be sure if we had an issue or question, we could get someone's attention and if we had a problem we had a channel for getting directly to FP to resolve the issues. This is also really important for the presales and warranty work as well. This broker was able to secure more open slots and takes delivery of more boats than other brokers which also means they have more experience with the nuances of the manufacturer. However, the second biggest factor on this front was the broker had a crackerjack technical person who knew all the details and information on all the systems and commissioning options. This guy was worth his weight in gold! The alone was a reason to go with this broker.
We also chose a US-based broker, it just seemed like a safer decision and there is a place to go in Florida to do any major repairs or refits if needed from the Caribbean. It’s a mixed bag getting a broker in the EU, even though it may be nice to have someone on the same timezone as the manufacturer but our broker now has boots on the ground now in France so this addresses that issue. They also are setting up a network throughout the Med so someone picking up in France can shake the boat down, and enjoy a season in the Med if they choose to do so and if their visas allow it. More on visas and VAT in an upcoming blog.
We also really wanted to understand the brokers approach and role in the warranty work. I was going to try to cover it here, but I felt it needed its own blog. The net here is that again, it boils down to picking a broker that has a great relationship with the manufacturer and many different levels. We wanted a broker with tentacles into FP so when things went wrong there were many avenues to go down.
So I would say, the biggest thing I’ve learned as it relates to how to pick a broker is this. Remember, boat builders are best at building boats, not selling them, not dealing with customers or warranty or recall drama. They just aren’t set up for it. Which can be a problem and we expected it to be the case. This is why we wanted a broker established enough, with the right relationships that we could at least believe they had a voice with the manufacturer if things were to go sideways.
I'll keep you posted through our warranty process to see if this still holds.