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Marine industry still missing the boat on diversity

By By Jonathan Sweet

One of the most significant facts that struck me immediately upon starting at Boating Industry was the lack of diversity in our industry.

Attend any industry event – consumer or trade – and you know what I’m talking about. Even more disturbing, though, is how many people in the industry don’t seem to care or understand. That was brought home again by a recent survey we conducted here at BI as part of our 2014 forecast coverage coming up in the January issue.

In that survey, we asked respondents – which included dealers, suppliers, manufacturers, etc. – to rank how concerned they were about several challenges to the future of the boating industry. Ranking dead last was the lack of minorities participating in boating. Only 10 percent said they were very concerned about the issue. More than 35 percent weren’t concerned and another 30 percent were basically neutral on the issue.

In truth, it doesn’t really surprise me after attending several industry seminars on the topic. At IBEX, for example, Lopez Negrete, the marketing firm the RBFF has hired to help it reach out to Hispanics, delivered an amazing session on marketing to that audience. There were less than 20 people in the room at a show reporting attendance of more than 4,500.

Dr. Steve Murdock pointed it out at his presentation at last year’s Marine Dealer Conference & Expo: You need look no further than the 2012 election to see the growing importance of changing demographics. After all, we saw a president re-elected despite losing the white vote by 20 points.

We need younger buyers, more diverse buyers, more segments of the population participating in boating. Whether you like it or not, this is the future.


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  1. You are spot on and it frustrates me to no end - don't forget to include women along with younger buyers. So many folks in this industry have their heads in the sand. The sad part is, we all rely on each other for growth.


  2. I agree and last year started a new 10,000 sq. ft. facility to cater to the complete boat repairs to everyone , a one stop boat shop repair with Fiberglass, trailers to Upholstery and canvas and Electrical , Full wood shop for fabrication of Interior Substructures of Upholstery , When we opened we heard from Reps through out the industry that this place was cool and they knew of no others to offer complete renovations to the customers, we specialize in 32 and under, trailer boats mostly. I found the need to create this facility form dealers and customers alike, we work with dealers and brokers, Boat manufactures use us to make specialty parts, in turn it is all about working together. I see the Sales from dealers to just sell the boat and say here's the key have fun, I take a different approach and actually do a care and cleaning seminar for free and maintaince clinic after the sale, The response has been over whelming. Offering this service to dealers and existing boat owners to help them after the sale, especially the new younger and non-boating public being Hispanic or African American or from Europe. The industry is also lacking in experienced Upholstery and canvas workers, we are starting an Upholstery / Canvas school to diversify training for workers in the field. We are members of the Marine Fabricators Association and would love to have you attend one of our seminars where all Fabricators in the country get together to exchange Ideas for free, its great to see competition getting together to help each other. January 2014 is Charleston MFA convention and training, no other part of the Marine Industry does this unless you pay the high cost to attend. Getting new people in the industry is a step in the right direction and eliminating to Premodonna attitude , its all about working together !!!


  3. Being a newbie to the Marine world, I could not agree more. With the small time that I have part of the fabrics for marine applications, I have quickly noticed that there is not a lot of diversity. I actually work a lot with women, but they are more for customer service. All of the sales agents that we work with have all been middle aged men. I am a young 33 year old professional and with my experience, there is a lot of improvement that could be made for the Marine industry, but where would one start? With a business like ours, where could we start?


  4. Thank you for having the guts to write this article. This is not the first article on the subject, but the previous ones have done little to no good. Perhaps your article will.

    Note to salespeople:

    If you seek out minority shoppers at boat shows, they will be more likely to buy from you than you may think; if for no other reason than because they were ignored by all the other salespeople at the show!


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