During our conversation — click here for the link — Hutchinson tells us that this innovative resource will provide marine industry professionals with new tools for working with their service customers, as well as a revolutionary way to connect and share information.
“With My-Villages,” he says, “we have created an online community that will improve the way today’s consumers access needed information and communicate with the people they rely on most to help them manage, operate, and enjoy their boats.”
Hutchinson himself is an lifelong boater, and his own experiences in needing to connect quickly and efficiently to service companies led him to consider transferring his considerable knowledge of computer systems and the health-care industry — specifically medical records — to the marine industry.
While the idea of a digital village may seem familiar, since it does share a lot of characteristics with social networking, it is actually quite different.
“A social network is people to people,” says Hutchinson, “but the village is more about products and things you own. Through the village, you meet people on line who may be experts in a particular boat or piece of equipment. You can find the person who speaks your language and works on your type of boat. ”
All of this expands an individuals access to expert advice, whether that information is needed by a consumer or another service tech.
According to Hutchinson, My-Villages is meant to bring the industry together to share information: The database already has a database of 10,000 pieces of equipment, including manuals.
Hutchinson says Hinckley in Rhode Island is coming on board with My-Villages because the company has been looking for new ways to improve the ownership experience by providing access to materials and to allow customers to share information.
“Often the best time to get into a new industry is at the end of a down period,” he says. “That’s when people are looking for innovations. One of the big changes in the marine industry is the proliferation of the smart phone. Add to that, the fact that there’s a need to bring in new customers.”
Hutchinson says providing information to these new boaters removes the intimidation and gives those potential buyers the confidence they need to be successful at owning and operating a boat for the first time. The My-Villages concept removes a lot of trepidation from the process.
Hutchinson has recruited some excellent advisors, including Jim Bronstien and Sandy Spaulding. “Hinckley is our first innovation customer. They are unique in that they are a builder as well as a major service yard,” he says. Kadey-Krogen is also a beta tester of the My-Villages free service, as are Dometic, Westerbeke, other equipment vendors, and more than a dozen service yards in Florida and Alabama.
“You need to know what you don’t know,” says Hutchinson, “so we’re making sure we have good advice on how to approach the marine industry.”
The premium service was being built out first. “But then I almost had déjà vu,” says Hutchinson. “I realized that we were following a path we had been down before, and learned then that we needed to build connectivity first. So we decided not to repeat that mistake, and concentrated first on how to bring the industry together in a free group site.”
The free service is now in beta. That’s strictly for content creation. Just go to my-villages.com to sign up. Meanwhile, the premium service is taking all that advice that’s in the free area, and then that is being imported into specific boats for service companies.
Who updates the information?
“There are a couple of ways to do this. There are no single answers to everything. Some people work with yacht-management companies. Others want to do DIY. We have a lot of variations that we have to build solutions for, depending on how the boat is managed. Of course, owners have the option of keeping their own information up to date.”
What size boats benefit from this service?
“Probably 30-ft is the lower range, but there isn’t really any upper level. We’re learning a lot of the upper range. For the smaller boats, there really isn’t as much value, except for hands-on owners.”
What about business to business? Can I create an area for ProBoat E-Training?
“Yes, on the free service, you can go in and create your own community. You can make that public or private. There is quite a bit of flexibility there, and it’s not meant to be replacement for your own web tools.”
Sounds like a lot of fun.
“The marine industry is just great. People are so willing to help each other and their customers. It’s been a lot of fun, and we’re still in the early stage of the product deployment process. We launched at IBEX 2012 and we had 55 to 60 organization sign up for our beta program, and we were only expecting five or six.”
To read more about My-Villages and the marine industry, click on the links below: