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At the Helm: Boating’s next wave

By Jonathan Sweet

In this month’s issue, we write about the next wave of boating leaders – those young leaders who have decided to go beyond leading their own companies to giving back to the industry through association involvement.

The 14 members of the Young Leaders Advisory Council (or YLAC) of the Marine Retailer’s Association of the Americas are all under 40 years old and part of an important effort by the industry to keep younger people in the industry.

I was struck by something Lauren Woodard-Splatt, general manager of Woodard Marine in Hydeville, Vt., said when we talked to her. It seemed to sum up the importance of getting young people involved in the industry, on both sides of transaction:

“I remember our first meeting and we all seemed to join for the same reason: To show that the young generation has a lot to learn from our elders, but also to show that we are ready to step out and show the industry that there are young people ready to take action and make this industry stronger with all age demographics.”

As we all know, the second half of this challenge is getting more young people interested in boating as consumers. The key for many of them is the challenge of affordability. Many of the young leaders we talked to cited those twin challenges as the biggest facing our industry today.

But instead of taking a woe-is-us approach to the issue, they’re trying to figure out solutions for their dealership and the industry as a whole.

In our February issue, we covered the steps boat builders are taking to make boating more affordable. (You can check it out at BoatingIndustry.com.) Sure, there are many factors the industry can’t control, such as government regulations and rising materials costs. Still, many manufacturers have successfully rolled out lower-priced options. And those efforts seem to be paying off.

Take the success story of Marine Products Corp., the maker of Chaparral and Robalo boats. In its recently reported 2012 fourth quarter results, the company saw a 22.2-percent increase in net sales and a 31.5-percent increase in the number of boats sold. The company credited the rise in sales to its value-priced Chaparral H2O series and Robalo sport fishing boats.

The line helped Chaparral grab increased market share in the 18-to-35-foot sterndrive market. The company is ramping up production for 2013 based on early-season orders and boat shows.

That’s just one example of interest coming back in the affordable segment of the boating market. You need look no further than the growth in outboards, aluminum boats and pontoons (while more expensive segments languish) to see that the demand is there. Early returns from the 2013 boat shows demonstrate increased buying traffic.

Combine a recovering economy, some extra cash from Sandy insurance checks and pent-up demand and we look like we’re poised for a pretty good 2013.


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