Grow Boating & the computer generation

After years of industry committee meetings on a Grow Boating campaign that seemed to be going nowhere, it’s starting to look to me like it’s going to finally happen. I began to get encouraged when I attended the Marine Retailers Association of America’s Annual Convention last November. (If you weren’t there, you missed out on the best MRAA convention I have ever attended.)

What encouraged me was hearing industry leaders on both the boat builder’s and engine manufacturer’s panels committing to support a Grow Boating campaign. Kudos must go to Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association, for finally getting that ball rolling.

An advertising agency has been selected, and more recently, the NMMA assessed its members a one-time fee to raise the start-up money for the campaign. Long-term funding will come from a charge per horsepower or per unit. It really looks like this much needed ad campaign is moving forward.

It also encouraged me to see the enthusiastic response and support given by marine dealers. Kudos to Phil Keeter and the MRAA board members for their strong support of this initiative and in keeping the dealer network informed.

Who should be the target audience?
For several years, this industry has lived off of the boomer generation. But the baby boomers are getting older and starting to retire. Many will certainly continue to be prospects for boats as they either trade up when they retire, or perhaps buy a boat in their “golden years.” But while we should not ignore the aging boomers, any Grow Boating ad campaign should look at the next generation – what I call the “computer generation” – and find ways to interest them in the boating lifestyle.

Today’s Computer Generation:

• Young families today grow up with computers, computer games, the Internet, surfing the Web, Instant Messenger, eBay and more.

• According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, both the husband and wife worked in 50.9 percent of married couple families in 2003. Two-income families mean couples have less time on weekends for recreational activities. Weekends are spent doing the chores that “stay at home moms” used to take care of. Mowing the yard, buying groceries, getting the oil changed in the car and taking Sally and Johnny to soccer or music lessons are tasks that consume much of the two-income family’s time.

• The numbers of single-parent families are on the rise, and they encounter the same time issues as the two-income families.

• New opportunities for ways to spend recreational dollars are available today for these time-pressed families. Computers and computer games, surfing the Web, home theatres, home improvement projects, theme parks, cruises, RVing and bicycling are just a few of the many options now available to young families, and those activities compete for the recreational spending dollar.

Dealers, must think about where these very busy computer-generation family members, who might be future boat buyers, are doing much of their shopping these days. They are shopping on E-bay, and other Web sites. The old Yellow Pages slogan, “Let your fingers do the walking” is now true for computers. People today, including a lot of the boomers, let their “fingers do the walking” on their keyboards and the Internet. Seventy-five percent of adults today have and use computers. Two out of every three adults are Internet subscribers.
E-commerce is growing fast, and dealers should take full advantage of this trend and make sure they have a good Web site – with links to different product suppliers. Dealer Web sites must be user friendly. They must be professionally designed, fast and easy to navigate. And dealer Web sites should be updated, daily if possible.

I recently talked to a dealer in Wisconsin who said that his Web site now generates up to 40 percent additional business. Another dealer in Pennsylvania said his Web site generated a 12-percent increase in business the first year.
Any Grow Boating ad campaign must recognize that the new generation of prospective boat buyers have very busy lifestyles, grew up with computers and do much of their preliminary shopping online.

We need to convince this generation that boating is fun, affordable, and something the whole family can do. They also must be convinced that they can fit boating into their busy lifestyles. And then dealers must be ready for this computer generation with a good Web site.

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