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14 Keys to Success

By Jonathan Sweet

14 industry leaders offer their keys to a successful year

We asked several industry leaders what they see as the keys to a successful 2014 for the marine industry. Here is some of what they had to say.
To read more from these industry leaders, visit BoatingIndustry.com/14keys to see the uncut versions of their answers, as well as what they are focusing on at their companies this year.

Fred Pace, Managing Partner, Legendary Marine
2012 & 2013 Dealer of the Year    
Barring any hurricanes or dramatic changes in Washington, we think 2014 will be a great year if we work hard to keep our existing customers engaged and using their boats, along with additional efforts to attract new boaters to experience our products.

We believe customers will embrace new technology despite the high cost of entry. Many manufacturers are fulfilling this need and we think those manufacturers that continue to introduce new products with new technology will be successful.

The industry needs to continue to promote boating and the boating experience as a great return on investment in terms of family fun and enhanced relationships. Growing the market through diversity initiatives such as those underway by RBFF will help attract and reach new audiences.

Roch Lambert, President, Rec Boat Holdings
2013 Mover & Shaker of the Year
We are all hoping for increased consumer confidence of course, but we must focus on acting on the things we can control – providing consumers with meaningful innovations that give them a reason to buy our brand. Offering differentiation is key in any industry where discretionary income is the driver. There is a solid base of boat owners out there and manufacturers need to keep ahead of the curve by constantly providing new and fresh products.

Ryan Hebert, Administrator, Texas Marine
Chairman, MRAA Young Leaders Advisory Council
The industry must continue to adapt to an ever-changing economic climate for 2014 as well as be able to spread the message to the customer base that things are improving. We as an industry need to educate the boating public on the positive economic improvements heading into 2014 including a strengthening housing market, greater consumer confidence and easier lending.

Jim Lane, President, Chaparral & Robalo
Perhaps some resolution to all of the situations that are occurring in Washington. I think there’s just a lot of uncertainty and what we need to do is improve consumers’ attitudes. I think the Grow Boating campaign this year is going to do a very, very good job with that.

If the retail boat shows kick off and have a good season, I think that will pave the way for us for the rest of the year. A stronger economy certainly doesn’t hurt either. People are motivated by their attitudes.

Tom Whowell Jr., Director, Gordy’s Lakefront Marine
Why are we in this business? Do we inspire people? How do we make people feel? How do we connect with people and share that fun? At the end of the day, are we making people’s lives better?

Just taking care of people, making it fun for them and attracting them to the business is good for everybody. That really gets to the core … the boating industry is a fun industry, and it’s important to remember that.

Bruce Van Wagoner, president, marine group, GE Capital Commercial Distribution Finance
My first reaction to this question is stay the course. If dealers continue to apply the best practices of the past couple of years and manufacturers continue to invest in new product and their distribution network, we’ll have charted a course for a successful 2014. Our analysis of financial information from both dealers and manufacturers indicates growth and profitability. This increasing financial strength translates into increased confidence in the form of business expansion. It also provides support for increased credit capacity from GE.

Ben Speciale, President, Yamaha Marine Group
The industry must work together better. In particular, we need to address legislative issues that impact all of us.

This year, Congress will address the Magnuson-Stevens Act Reauthorization. Magnuson-Stevens is the primary law regulating fishing in coastal waters. The law, as currently written and enforced, is very difficult for recreational anglers and all the businesses that depend on the sport of fishing. We must be sure that recreational fishing is considered and accommodated when the law is updated next year, and that means we must all become activists.

This includes taking up the issue of ethanol and E15. We cannot let E15 become the predominant fuel available in this country. It clearly damages marine engines and will cause economic harm to our industry and consumers.

Butch Parks, President, Parks Marina
Involvement in 20 Groups is key. The more information you can have the better. I wouldn’t be where I am at without them. You will gain perspective on industry trends and gain many new ideas and inspiration.

I think we just need to be ready for it because all signs point up for this coming year. We need to be professional, use values and operate within our own territories as to allow everyone in our great industry to prosper.

Ian Atkins, senior vice president and general manager, Dominion Marine Media
The world is changing, and our industry will succeed to the extent that we embrace new technology, whether in manufacturing, business operations or marketing. This requires a learning attitude and prudent investment, so we can innovate and reach a shifting market that is notable for its rapid transition to mobile-device usage.

The Baby Boomers’ love for boating remains a reliable source of revenues, but to succeed we have to learn to speak in ways that we’ll be heard by Generation C—the “connected generation”—which includes all ages but is largely made up of younger adults also known as Millennials.

Lou Sandoval, co-founder, Karma Yacht Sales
Going where the customers are. Continuing to expand the marketing footprint and selling the lifestyle so that it answers the question: Why should I own a boat?  How do I go about it?

Matt Gruhn, President, Marine Retailers Association of the Americas
I believe that the key to success for our members and the industry as a whole, as we continue on this recovery and growth path, is quite similar. As we discussed at the Marine Dealer Conference & Expo, change and growth are great, so long as they are managed properly. I’ll never forget what one dealer told me as we began to come out of the recession: He said, “I wish I would have known during the good days, when the industry was growing, what I know today about running an efficient, effective business. We all would have made a lot more money.

Carl Blackwell, President, Grow Boating
The more the collective industry helps to deliver the lifestyle message the better. Our industry does a fantastic job marketing boats but where we as an industry still need to improve is in how we collectively market the “why” of boats. As a boat owner, I didn’t purchase my boat as a financial investment. I purchased it for the lifestyle changes and benefits it would provide me, which provide immense personal value.

Creating more organized opportunity for people to access hands-on boating training is essential in bringing more people to boating and keeping them in boating. Access and skill are two key barriers we can break when we show people firsthand what it’s like to boat.

What helps us tell the boating lifestyle story is when there are innovations that make it more accessible to our target audience. From more affordable boats to more versatile boats for families—innovation and new products drive our industry so we’re excited to see what’s in store from manufacturers this year.

Dusty McCoy, chairman and CEO, Brunswick Corporation
At its core, the industry is fundamentally healthy as boaters continue to go on the water at record rates and are highly satisfied with boating lifestyle. However, we believe they continue to be more and more challenged by the cost, the time and the effort of boating particularly relative to other leisure activities. The market and today’s boater continue to change and we expect that to continue. And we’ve also observed over the last five years a very active and still robust used boat market that we think offers us significant potential for us to convert used boat owners into new boat buyers in the years ahead.

The issue is boating’s value versus the benefit. So from our perspective, understanding that there’s no lack of desire to boat and no lack of understanding that boating is a great activity, the challenge for the industry is creating greater value and improving cost.

Ron Huibers, President, Volvo Penta of the Americas
To a certain extent the boating industry will be influenced by factors beyond our control, such as the economy and politics. Leaving these aside, we see opportunities to continue growing the market.

There are plenty of other leisure activities competing for the attention and investment of our potential boating customers. To overcome this challenge, the industry must continue to attract a wider range of boaters into the market. Reaching out to new and younger buyers is a start. We also need to eliminate barriers to entry for new boating consumers.


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