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At the Helm: Looking forward in 2014

By Jonathan Sweet

We take a look at the 2014 industry forecast in this issue and it’s one that points to another year of growth.

From industry leaders to the readers of Boating Industry, the industry seems optimistic about what this year holds. With most economists predicting overall growth in GDP this year, steady increases in the housing market and a slowly recovering job market, it’s easy to see why most believe we’re poised for growth in 2014.

But underlying that short-term optimism is some real concern about the long term. In the reader survey we conducted for this month’s cover story, one of the questions we asked was “What makes you optimistic about the boating industry?” It was a question that many struggled to answer. And it’s not hard to see when you consider all of our challenges: rising boat prices, increased regulation and an aging customer base.

It’s an issue that continues to stymie some of the smartest people in this industry. Growing the industry is the focus of the Recreational Boating Leadership Council meetings I’ve been attending the last couple of years and there are no easy answers.

As NMMA President Thom Dammrich pointed out in our interview for this issue, one of the biggest keys to our future success is reaching those populations – women, young people, ethnic minorities – that are not well represented in the industry.

We all know this is an industry dominated by white, Baby Boomer men. That’s not a recipe for long-term success. Unfortunately, many seem to think it is, or at least have chosen to ignore the issue, if this month’s survey results are any indication.

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.

The good news is that there are people paying attention. Most exciting, in my opinion, are the efforts by the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation (the “Take me Fishing” people). RBFF is investing heavily in reaching out to the Hispanic population through a five-year plan working with Lopez Negrete, the nation’s largest Hispanic marketing firm. The program is starting with a pilot in Texas and Florida this year before spreading to other states.

RBFF’s research indicates that the Hispanic population has a lack of familiarity of the sport and knowledge of licensing requirements, so the campaign will focus first on education before moving to encouraging participation in years three through five.

It’s a huge step in the right direction and one we should all be supporting.


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