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RBLC affordability subcommittee focused on pre-owned market

By By Nicholas Upton

Let’s not sugarcoat it, boating is expensive. Between the boat, storage, gas, all the accessories and maintenance, it’s not a cheap lifestyle.

That said, just about every enthusiast lifestyle is expensive. Motorcyclists constantly pour money into their two-wheeled passions, car fanatics don’t bat an eye at the price of tires and even a conservative guitar player probably has 10 pricey guitars sitting in the basement. So why does boating get such a bad rap for being expensive?

As a part of the examination of the Recreational Boating Leadership Council, Boating Industry spoke with one person attempting to answer that question and change that perception.

Jim Coburn, of Jim Coburn & Associates, is the Affordability Task Force chairman for the RBLC. He said that there are many ways to get people thinking about the cost of boating in different ways. But overall, it’s not an easy task.

“Affordability, in my mind, is the largest undertaking and most challenging of the six industry areas identified by the summit and the RBLC,” said Coburn. “The overall strategy is to determine effective ways to merchandise affordability to the consumers.”

He said Discover Boating is already doing some great work, but more education and marketing needs to be done.

“That’s been going on through Discover Boating and we want to do more through some of the other stakeholders so we can keep getting the feedback so we know how to promote and educate on affordability,” said Coburn.

He said at their last meeting, they outlined several strategies to affordability within the committee, but wanted to choose one to focus on: the pre-owned market.

“In the pre-owned market, there’s a variance in the numbers, but depending on who’s giving them, it’s something like 83 to 85 percent of the boats owned today are pre-owned boats,” said Coburn.

He said their decision to laser focus on pre-owned market was because it was one space where they could make a difference in the minds of prospective boaters.

“Pre-owned is the consumer entry-level market,” said Coburn. “The theory is and the feeling of many stakeholders is that the pre-owned market is the segue, the runway if you will, to the purchase of a new boat.”

Coburn said it’s up to all stakeholders to make sure the pre-owned market is as smooth and pain-free as buying a new boat. Once they enter the market, buyers are much more likely to buy a new boat down the road as they see the enticing options coming from manufacturers.

“We already know the most satisfied owners of pre-owned boats actually purchase new boats,” said Coburn. “There’s a whole lot of satisfied used boat owners out that move up to new. That’s what we have to do is educate them how to move up to new.”

To get them into the market, dealers might have to get the salespeople to think less about commissions and more about getting a loyal customer into the market.

“Certainly, when dealers look at the pre-owned boat market, you point that out to your first-time boat buyers – that’s really important,” said Coburn.

Bottom line, avoiding the sticker shock or sticker shame for new boaters is key to making boating seem more affordable.

When someone comes into the dealership, “direct first-time boat buyers to common-sense boats for their budget,” said Coburn.

As for how to create a strategy for the industry at large to focus on the pre-owned market, Coburn and the rest of the task force is working on that.

“The first step is through pre-owned, and I can’t tell you there’s a program in the can or here’s what the industry must do. We’re not there yet,” said Coburn. “But we’re testing and meeting about that now.”

As for those other strategies, the Affordability Task Force has a lot of great ideas on the back burner including alternative ownership models, boat rentals, shorter leases boat clubs and bundled boat and service packages. But putting the pre-owned segment up front is mission No. 1.

“The focus on this is to try to focus on one thing first,” said Coburn. “Believe me, we were getting ideas from everywhere.”

This article is part of an ongoing series exploring the various committees in the RBLC including advocacyyouth boatingdiversity and marketing. Look for updates on affordability and education soon! 

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