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Learning to sail
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Discussion Starter #1
I just can't take this any more.

I want to like local businesses. I really do. But why can't get get their acts together?

1) They don't answer email.

I'm 0 for 3 here recently: Local boatyard (past and future customer), marine electronics place (past customer), and canvas place (future customer). I'm paying all of these people enough, and hopefully a modern boatyard and an electronics place have the technical sophistication to use computers?

The only people I've ever been able to get to email me back were the municipal marina and the yacht club.

2) Their products are frequently suspect.

I've bought high dollar items from two local merchants, one an outboard, and one an electronics package. In the outboard case, despite being new, it had been tampered with, and dumped its oil into my trunk. In the electronics case, some of the packages were in suspicious, returned-or-otherwise-molested condition.

3) Their advice is questionable.

One of the reasons to buy locally is to have someone to talk to help you figure out what you really need, answer questions for you, etc. However, as someone who does a lot of Internet research before hand, I'm frequently left with this sneaking suspicion that I know a lot more about their products than the sales staff. And the worst part, is that most sales staff I've talked with apparently are happy to make up totally bogus stuff to fill in their knowledge gaps.

4) Their storefronts do not inspire confidence.

Without fail, all of the chandlers and similar outfitters I've visited are dimly lit, dirty, and there's some strange guy in the corner who cackles at you. Seriously, he cackles, and apparently he works for every one of these stores. Maybe he's the one who spreads the thin layer of dust over everything.

5) They don't have what I need.

Half of the items on sale look like they've been sitting on the shelf since the Reagan administration. The other half are missing labels or price tags. In any case, if you want anything more specific than "made of metal" or "for a boat," they probably don't have it.

Now, I bet somewhere in the bay area, there's a chandler that has, say, marine AC switch panels. But it's just one, and it's website was designed in 1999, and hasn't been updated since, so unless I call every chandler in a 100 mile radius, there's pretty much zero chance of me finding it.

While I'm at it, apparently the disease where marine businesses can't make usable websites applies to many manufacturers too. Just this weekend, I've suffered through the web monstrosities of Raymarine (missing critical info on many of the products and accessories), Navionics (had to use Google to find a list of their different products with coherent descriptions), and Marinco (half of their internal links are dead). I guess they're vaguely better than some local websites, which sometimes don't even include basic things like what hours they're open.

Look, I'm not a picky consumer. I don't require a lot of support. I just want to buy the stuff I need, and move on with life.

So this is why I pretty much always go to West Marine. Compared to everywhere else I've ever been, it's heaven. It's well lit, they have virtually everything I need (compared to every other chandler I've ever been to), and the sales staff don't seem like they're trying to screw me, ignore me, or rip me off. It's like West Marine is the only company around that's actually trying to make money, or do anything of value at all.

And for all this, West Marine's prices are some of the best (and they price match), and they have a good return policy, and their website is actually usable. And they're open to a reasonable hour (7 PM) most of the time.

By the way, I'm at the southern end of the San Francisco Bay. Supposedly, this Bay is supposed to be some sort of sailing Mecca. That might be true, but the shops sure aren't part of it.
 

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This is going to be good. The last take on this topic was how bad WM is and how their prices stink and they are always out of everything. Can't wait to see the flies find this road kill. :)

I do understand where you are coming from. However, not every WM is the same either. We have a superstore in Newport that has most everything (if its in stock) and another in Narragansett that has very little other than the basics. One nice feature of WM is that you can order from their website and have it delivered to a store and avoid shipping charges, so it doesn't much matter what size store is nearby. I also like their return guarantee policy.

That said, advice in the WM store can vary widely. Some is very good, others are from a high school kid that makes up the answer rather than feel stupid. Be careful.

Regardless of whether it is a well lit WM or a local dusty chandlery, I find I can wander isles and shelve for an hour just poking around, with nothing in particular that I need. Just like it.
 

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We have a new West Marine superstore, a competing marine wholesale store, and a somewhat disorganized but well-stocked resale shop all within about a mile from each other. However, when it comes to high-ticket items that I don't need "right now," I still order online and usually save at least $100.

Where things are really lacking in our area are the service guys. The last canvas guy I tried to hire took three weekends before he finally showed up and then gave me a bid $1,000 higher than what seemed reasonable and almost double what he had charged a marina neighbor the previous year for the same style bimini.

The fiberglass repair guy just never did show up. When I tried to call him, he answered the phone but said, "Sorry, I'm out sailing and won't be back until Sunday."

There was one point in my rebuild when I was so frustrated with the old Westerbeke and things were going so bad that I decided to just wash my hands of it and call the Westerbeke dealership across the lake to have them install a new one with a warranty to the tune of $8,000+. I just wanted it done. A month went by, and they still "hadn't had time" to even come look at my boat. By that point my lack of patience with them had surpassed my lack of patience with my boat, and I told them to forget it, and I ended up rebuilding and installing a motor myself.

My buddy three slips down tried a different mechanic. They showed up on time and got the work done in a day. Unfortunately, they also ripped a huge gash in his vinyl upholstery. They promised to pay to have it fixed, but it's been almost two months now with no response to his calls with estimates.

I don't expect a small business to have anything more than a placeholder website with contact info, but I do expect them to keep appointments.

I can say I have found a great diver. Now, if my marina would get their act together and pull the derelict boat next to me that is leaking current into the water and burning my zincs off every three months, I wouldn't have to have him diving so much, but that's another rant altogether.
 

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WM's prices are good? I must need new reading glasses, I've found that WM follows the same policies as WalMart and my local supermarket: Get 'em in the door, then mug 'em. And Sam Walton was the first to admit that once you walked past the low-leaders, he wasn't giving anything away.

Ah, aaron, wake up and smell the rose fertilizer. The donerful thing about a free market is that any fool with no business or marketing skills can set up shop, flounder around for a while, and then lose everything in it. This is why so many inept businessmen who couldn't manage their inventory, etc., were replaced when a West store opened up. And why "Oh you'll never sell that on the internet" has become mainstay business.

Folks don't want to keep up with the times, that's OK, you'll do just fine shopping at their "going out of business" sales.

It isn't just engines, electronics, or chandleries, there are a lot of doctors offices that never understood "going on computer" would make them more efficient and more profitable. Now that they MUST do so? A lot of the docs 65 and over are planning to simply close their practices, or join someone else as staff. And that's the way it should be. If someone has no business skills--they should be doing something, but not RUNNING a business.
 

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leave my member alone
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I've had pretty good luck with the service people in my area. We have had a good amount of canvas work done and our guy is pretty quick (or at least on time with his estimated finish date) and is reasonably priced.

As far as finding marine supplies at anywhere but West Marine... I don't even bother. There are two West Marines within 30 min of my boat and it makes more sense to just go to one of them to drive all over to the smaller places looking for anything. AND West Marine acutally answers their phone and will go look on the shelf to see if they have the item you are looking for.
 

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Wandering Aimlessly
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While "all" the Bay Area locals may be terrible, not all local outfitters are. From Texas to Maryland, I've dealt with quite a few locals who were, if not excellent, certainly worth shopping at.
 

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Marine supplies and marine contractors are two very different issues. I know absolutely no one who has owned a boat for any number of years that doesn't have hundreds of stories of poor workmanship, unreliable vendors and ineptitude. Even when you find a good one, they manage to sting you once in a while. I have had everything from diesel leaks in my bilge, improperly installed feathering prop, incorrect filters, damaged teak decks, scratched awlgrip and those are just what come to mind in the last few years. Sad.
 

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Learning to sail
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Discussion Starter #11
I posted this in another thread, but I'll post it here too, because it tickled me so much.

The boatyard I'm at has a chandlery, and it's absolutely typical of chandleries around here: the weird dinginess and dustiness, the strange items on the shelves, the random lack of stock, even that same chandlery-yellow interior glow. It's probably a little better stocked than most, at least in some areas.

They had a random, and not especially comprehensive or up-to-date stock of navigation lights. When I talked to a guy at the store, he admitted they were out of stock of some of the stuff they should have, and that it would be weeks before it came back in (in part because they were a little lackadaisical about ordering); the result is that he pulled out the West Marine catalog and told me what I should get.

In this case, I assume part of the purpose of this thing is just to be a backing store for the yard operations. But it's still pretty bizarre, from a standpoint of evaluating it as a business that's hypothetically supposed to be making money.
 

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I haven't had problems with contractors like those in this thread primarily because I do almost all my own work but watched with incredulity while it took seven months for a marina-mate to get his engine overhauled in place.

For contractors what we seem to need is an "Angie's List" for sailors/boaters. Who wants to start one?

Perhaps we could get Active Captain to expand its field of endeavor since it already does this for marinas/anchorages?
 

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It gets even better when you get offshore. Strange languages, different work ethics, international deliveries by fedex, ups, us mail, not to mention customs clearances, lost good in transit with tracking numbers. Some good some bad experiences...word of mouth by other cruisers helps to ease the pain. We have an excellent Thai shipwright who shows up on time, puts in a full days work, enjoys a beer with us at the end of the day and usually brings us fresh mangoes and papayas from his small farm. 50 bucks a day is his rate, anybody need some work done?
 

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Are there any working boats around? The guys who depend on their boats for a living don't put up with that BS, and usually know who to trust. My dad piloted & maintained a tug for several years. He was...less-than-flattering...about the company's chosen supplier, so he found a good one at better prices. You may have to spend a little time and liquid persuasion, but might be worth a try.
 

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Old enough to know better
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I have found that a lot of the local guys know they are on there way out. Some are just hoping that someone will buy there business so they can go cruising and don't really care anymore. They see the West Marine down the road, and think "I can't compete with that" and they are often saddled by inventory that has on the shelf since 1972. He can't afford to hire kids to dust the shelf and clean the place. But it always surprises me the complete lack of pride in there own shops. Even some of the "good" ones. And this is with the nearest West Marine 60 miles away. It almost seems like being surly and unclean is a job requirement.

Shop around you will find the exception. I agree with the comment to talk to professional mariners, and go where they go as they can't afford to be down.
 
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