From The Helm

Is Brand Loyalty Costing You?

February 2014 Feature Brady L. Kay

Ah, the great loyalty debates in life: Coke versus Pepsi, Home Depot versus Lowes or Ford versus Chevy. Face it: if someone doesn't have a decal of Calvin defacing it, it probably isn't a true brand debate.

I received my first taste of brand loyalty when I got into motorcycles years ago. My friend and I bought a couple of old road bikes and on the weekends we'd stop by the local bar in our little college town to admire the beautiful motorcycles that would line up in front. We'd come to drool over the high-end bikes, but of course we'd park our junkers around the corner since we didn't feel worthy to line up with the big boys.

One Saturday afternoon I watched as three bikers came out of the bar and began to check out the motorcycles too. They looked like the Harley Davidson catalog had thrown up on them. If Harley made it, they were wearing it. Suddenly a bright yellow bike caught their attention at the end of the row and they quickly walked over to get a closer look. But as they approached they noticed it wasn't a Harley and quickly scoffed at it. "It's just a Honda and I wouldn't be caught dead on one of those bikes," expressed the biker who was all decked out in Harley chaps and a matching Harley leather vest.

From my vantage point it sure looked like a nice top-of-the-line bike, but I didn't let it bother me. But as we were walking to our own bikes we decided to take one last look and that's when we saw these three cross the street and hop in their Toyota Tercel and drive off. Despite the full motorcycle wardrobe, these jokers didn't even own bikes! Yet their brand loyalty to Harley justified-at least in their own minds-their desire to mock another manufacturer. I'll never understand what I witnessed that day.

Over the years I've paid particular attention to houseboat buyers who have previously had a custom boat built. I find it interesting that some keep the same builder for multiple boats and others change loyalties and go with a different manufacturer.  

If you love your current houseboat, but are in the market for an upgrade for size, amenities or for whatever reason, you'd be crazy not to return to the houseboat manufacturer that you've already established a relationship with and at least talk with them. You've worked with the staff before and if you're a happy and satisfied customer you should go to them first.

However, in this very competitive market, now isn't the time to blindly follow brand loyalty. Even if you end up going with the same manufacturer again, you owe it to yourself to keep an open mind and shop around. Houseboat builders are competing for ever consumer dollar they can get right now and you might be able to get a larger boat for the same money, more posh amenities than expected or simply just an overall better palace on the water than what you thought was possible.

It's easier said than done and I know I'd have a hard time going against my own personal loyalties for my next truck purchase. Or it would be hard for me not to complain after the waitress brings me a drink that in her mind "tastes the same" as the one I asked for. I fully understand those concerns you might have about going with another builder, but I know you won't regret your decision to at least take the time to compare.  

I'm not campaigning that you break all loyalty ties toward your favorite brands and I'm certainly not saying to change houseboat builders just for the sake of change. All I'm proposing is that you take advantage of the current economy and look at other builders and compare them to your current manufacturer. And of course it goes without saying, if you don't even own a houseboat, don't follow the lead of those Harley wannabes that drive hatchbacks and make fun or question others and their loyalties.      


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