At 32 years old, I’m a pretty typical Millennial. I rent a house, drive a six-year-old car, will be paying off college debt for several more years and the idea of buying a recreational item like a new motorcycle, snowmobile or boat is incomprehensibly far into my future.
It’s not that I don’t want the trappings of the American Dream. Like most people, I have this fantasy vision of myself driving an Audi, residing on the water (I live in the City of Lakes within the Land of 10,000 lakes, after all), and spending my summer weekends on the water.
But for my peers and I, these goals are not currently attainable in the traditional sense. I get my time on the water in affordable ways — kayaking rivers back home in northern Wisconsin, renting pontoons on suburban lakes and fishing aboard the Sea Ray my friend’s parents keep on Lake Minnetonka.
After 10+ years of sending out monthly rent checks, the routine feels like throwing a stack of bills into a fireplace. At this point, getting out of renting and into home ownership trumps all else. I’m not alone, as housing inventories in most cities can attest. Recreational toys, a new car, tropical vacations and other superfluous purchases remain on the back burner, far out of sight.
Like associate digital editor Chris Gerber so expertly wrote back in 2012, our generation has seen three bubbles burst before our eyes — Dot com, financial and housing. We’re not about to lightly take on more debt, since most of us started the big game with more than enough.
It’s worth repeating that this new normal doesn’t mean Millennials have no interest in boating. Anything on a smartphone screen can’t hold a candle to the thrill of speed, acceleration and sun you get from boating.
It means the industry needs to radically transform its ownership and usage models to accommodate this heavily indebted generation. Instead of deriding this generation as a bunch of cheapskates — now about one-third of the U.S. population — the boating industry needs to respond to this generation’s challenges with something more significant than uber-entry-level stripper models. Whether it’s boat sharing or boat clubs, any and all marinas and dealerships need to be aware that this lasting trend requires a significant response in how this industry does business.
Young people aren’t scared to spend money; they generally just don’t have much lying around. Giving those who want to boat the opportunity — without requiring ownership — is the only way to ensure this generation values boating the way our parents and grandparents have.
Many in the industry note the lack of a boating culture in emerging economies, like China. Imagine if one day that was true about North America. After letting that thought settle, vow to find creative ways to get younger people on the water this summer.
Forget Obamacare, E15 and the rising price of commodities for a moment. Maintaining a mass-market audience should be Job 1. If it isn’t, you’re not playing the long game.