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Grow Boating Summit

By Bill Yeargin

This week in Chicago our industry held a Grow Boating Summit to discuss how we can continue to promote the boating lifestyle and grow our industry. There was a lot of support at the summit for the Discover Boating program and the group discussed how we can improve it. There are many perspectives on what we need to do. Below is my view.

First, we talk often at our Correct Craft companies about ensuring we understand the problem we are trying to solve. Based on the data we reviewed at the summit the problem we have in boating is that the average age of boaters is quickly increasing because we are not doing a good job bringing new people into the industry.

After identifying a problem, the first step I take is to create a strategic framework for the solutions. So, below are some thoughts related to a framework for solving our problem from both short and long term perspectives.

In the short-term we need to:

  1. Take really good care of our current customers This seems obvious and should be done no matter what is happening in the markets or industry. However, until we figure out how to bring new people into boating this is exceedingly important.
  2. Focus on people who can afford our product – We talk often about the affordability of boating and how important it is to find a way to lower costs. At our Correct Craft companies we (like others) have several industrial engineers and other highly creative people working on that. However, for purposes of the Grow Boating campaign, this is a distraction. There are tens of millions of people in the U.S. and Canada alone who can afford boats but don’t yet appreciate the many benefits of the boating lifestyle; we need to focus on them.
  3. Make the buying experience less intimidating – Market research tells us that local dealers are absolutely critical to selling boats but the same research tells us that buying a boat is intimidating. We need to continue building on what our industry has done with the Top 100 program and other initiatives to learn from each other and take the intimidation out of the boat buying process.
  4. Stop the leaky bucket – Related to No. 1 above, when we get people into boating we need to make sure they have an amazing experience. If they have a bad experience and leave boating they are highly unlikely to re-enter the market.

There are also a couple of longer term issues we must figure out:

  1. Get kids and teens into boating – We know both anecdotally and from market research that if you boat as a kid you want to do it as an adult. As an industry we need to develop more events to get kids and teens on the water. It is obviously a long-term investment but many times we have also seen those kids become immediate influencers on their parents to join the boating lifestyle. We need to consider a “National Go Boating Day” where the industry’s manufacturers and dealers all invite non-boaters to the lake for free boat rides.
  2. We have to further consider demographics – Hispanics are on their way to becoming the majority people group in the U.S. and we need to do a better job attracting them into boating. Millennials are quickly rising in leadership roles and they will enjoy boating differently than the Baby Boomers our industry attracts today. We need to better understand how Millennials want to enjoy boats and begin developing models to serve them. It may be through the sharing model or even more likely some way that has not yet even been identified.

As an industry we have a lot of work to do. I hope the above helps us develop a framework for our investments into growing our market.

Finally, many thanks to Thom Dammrich and Carl Blackwell (and their teams at NMMA) for organizing the event and much appreciation to Bruce Van Wagoner (and his team at Wells Fargo) for once again stepping up to support our industry by underwriting the two days.

Bill Yeargin is the president and CEO of Correct Craft.

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