The North Sail loft in Vancouver (Richmond actually) is my new favourite business.
Even though things like the America’s Cup and those crazy-assed French sailing superstars make you think sailing is big business, it isn’t. Sure stuff for sailboats is expensive, but the business itself is pretty small.
Sail making in particular is relatively small, highly labour intensive, and competitive. For instance, Quantum sails claims to be the 2nd largest sailmaker in the industry, and they only employ 500 people world-wide.
Most other businesses of this size have found the internet to be a powerful help in reaching customers. Sail makers are using the internet well to explain how their products differ from their competitors, but with the exception of North Sails, they are failing miserably on one simple step; the follow through.
On July 4th I sent emails or filled out forms on the web sites of 4 well known sail lofts. In the case of North Sails, and one other, it was actually their parent web site in the US.
Only North Sails followed up. In fact, even though it was a holiday there, I got an email back from someone at North Sails in the US telling me that Dave Miller at the local loft would be in touch. And he was within a couple of days. He got my info, and followed up promptly with an online price estimate that included a cool Flash animation showing what the sail would look like.
The other lofts never bothered to reply – even though their web sites all invite online quotes. Because I live in North Vancouver about 2 miles from one of the big lofts, I called them by phone a week later. They couldn’t help me right away on the phone, so they took a message. It took them a few days to get back to me, and another few days after that to send me a quote. I never did get a reply to my original email.
Keep in mind, my boat is small and the sail I’m ordering isn’t a pricey high-tech racing number. It’s a cruising sail for a decidedly un-sexy boat. Total cost is well under $1,000 with taxes. But still.
Today’s consumer looks for service and quality along with price. Miss one, and you will probably miss the sale. The internet makes it possible for large and small businesses to offer high-touch service. But you’ve got to actually reply when the customer shows up with credit card in hand.
Dave Miller and North Sails got my little contract – it certainly isn’t going to make a big difference to North Sail’s bottom line. But I can guarantee Dave’s getting all my future business too. And that makes a difference to any business.