Be inclusive, not exclusive

By Patricia Kearns, NAMS-CMS, principle marine surveyor, Recreational Marine Experts Group, inc., Naples, Fla.

The industry “itch” that I’d really like to see scratched is the persistent factionalization of industry sectors that translates to exclusion of so many marine business entities from the whole.

Even Discover Boating and Grow Boating don’t practice inclusion of so many of the important facets of business of recreational boating. Too much of the focus is on new, new, new with all the energy going to develop new markets for new boats and new stuff for new boaters without much attention being paid to the boaters who are already there and have been for a long time or, for that matter, those in the industry who don’t feel that they are even a part of the industry.

If you’re not a “marine manufacturer,” where do you fit in the forces that ally to run the flag up the pole? Fact is that your invitation to me to voice an opinion is a bit of a stunner in that, while I have, at various times in my 30+ year career, moved in some powerful circles, I am not a big player as a marine surveyor, consultant, writer and teacher and yet my work touches boaters and would be boaters, as well as industry professionals, in some pretty intimate ways. I do have influence but it’s not a recognized category under Discover and/or Grow Boating. It’s a peripheral and sadly, when I ask some of my colleagues what industry they represent, they will often say “surveying” or “boatyard” or some other area of practice that deals with boats and boaters.

In my own local marine industry association, there is really no warmth extended to anyone but boat dealers. Maybe I’m upside down in this but I can’t figure out why, in a region where there are thousands of people working in the marine trades, less than one hundred of them see affiliation with the local association as a worthwhile investment in time and dues money. When I ask the question directly, I’m things like “I don’t matter much in the big picture. I’m just a little guy.” My take is that these associations, from top to bottom regionally and nationally, do not see the entire population of the industry as their market and I don’t know how to fix that. I’ve been a joiner and I’ve managed associations but the association demographic is not inclusive and those who sit at the board tables don’t see that as a problem.

Every single one of us who earns a living in the theater of recreational boating ought to feel as though we are part of the marine industry. With a spirit like that ignited, every canvas maker, engine technician, marine surveyor, dock master, retailer, sail maker and all the other service and product provider could be an ambassador for the boating industry and boating but, as long as the boating industry publications’ periodic comp issue renewal card doesn’t list what I do as a category, I have to summon up my own high spirits and continue to check “other” when I affirm that “yes” I’m still interested in the complimentary subscription.

I’m probably asking way too much but I believe that our industry will never be stronger than its weakest link and that is the failure to enthusiastically embrace all boaters, not just the new ones who buy new boats, and all those who serve all boaters’ needs. It’s a big dream but I’ll die with it alive in my salty blood. Maybe if NMMA could extend its name to NMMA-AEEWWBB (And Everybody Else Who Works in the Boat Business), we could make some real dents in “Go RV’ing.”

A final note? In 1996, my eldest daughter nominated me for consideration for the Darlene Briggs Award. Well, her letter touched some heart and I was nominated as a Woman of Excellence, one of five final candidates (but not the Woman of the Year). Later, after the ceremony in Las Vegas, I was told that these nominations almost never go “out of the industry” to women who are not MRAA “people.” At the time, I was working as assistant technical director at ABYC. I didn’t know whether to be flattered or embarrassed. I chose to be simply happy that my daughter thought enough of me to brag about me in her nomination letter.

I’ve raved on here but maybe you’ll be able to find something in my words that “contributes to our efforts …” On the other hand, I may have handed you some pretty hot potatoes. Barbara Jean Walsh, IBEX seminar manager and chairperson for COMITT is probably under your radar but she is a force for the voice of women in our industry. At an early IBEX, around 1995 I think, she invited us girls out for dinner and we made our reservation for a “table for nine” as there were nine of us in town. Marcia Kull and I were at that table, and we were all giddy about sharing our experiences as women in the marine industry. The group was dubbed as “A Table For Nine” for a few more years and the invitees numbered over 20 when they last met. The girls are scattered now and some of us are getting ready to smell the roses and play with our own boats, take our grandkids fishing, paddle our kayaks along the Blueways and I, for one, will keep on working in “my” industry, hoping to do less of the grunt work of surveying and more writing and teaching and mentoring a new wave of people looking for their place in the marine industry.

Oh, right. You asked for a solution to a problem or issue identified. It is this. “If all are to be all for one; then one has to be for all.” A little play on words of mine but I think it makes my point. Those NMMAers and MRAAers and the like need to open their eyes, ears, hearts and arms to the unaffiliated and make every one of them feel that their contribution is as important to Discover Boating/Grow Boating as building or selling a new boat. Sure, the big bang is buying the boat but the real Discovery comes in the ownership experience and that has to last a long time to ensure the success of Grow Boating.

This contribution is one in a series of solutions to the industry’s challenges as offered by female boating business professionals for the March 2008 issue of Boating Industry magazine. To view the article, Leading the way, including links to the entire list of solutions, click here.

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