The future of boating

By Bruce Van Wagoner

Catering to the Millennial Generation

The millennial generation is often the subject of speculation as people constantly weigh in on how their actions and reactions will shape history. After all, the millennial population is 85 million strong in the U.S. – the largest in the nation’s history. Naturally, the boating industry is not immune to this discourse, and industry practitioners spend a considerable amount of time analyzing millennial spending habits and earning potential to gauge how that generation will affect the marine industry.

What they’ve found is that millennials have been slow to enter the boating industry as customers, most notably because a majority of the generation graduated college during the financial crisis, which on top of causing them to accumulate significant student debt, has delayed their purchasing power. However, nearly a decade into the bull market, we’re finding these limitations are becoming less of an obstacle, and millennials are becoming an attractive and predominant generation to cater to. Given the generation’s sheer size, millennials will be the next generation of boat buyers, and therefore, it’s important for dealers and distributors alike to understand this generation and the various ways in which they can effectively appeal to these prospective buyers.    

Emphasize the Boating Experience

 As dealers aim to grow their market share in an economy that is seeing an increase in peer-to-peer sharing, the marine industry is moving toward unchartered territory. Dealers need to approach this market and demographic differently than in years past by focusing on millennials’ desire to have experience-oriented pastimes. Boating clubs, for example, continue to grow in popularity for the unique experience they provide to consumers. Without having to commit to purchasing a boat, these clubs allow people to experience the boating lifestyle and grow their interest in the hobby.

With minimal financial obligation, millennials can begin to develop their love for the water or as some like to call it, their “water gene.” Here at CDF, we believe this will lead to boat purchases in the future and to millennials ultimately becoming our next generation of buyers. It is also important to communicate to this generation, who crave fast-paced lifestyles, that boats are a tool for entertainment. It’s not just about getting from point A to point B. This sentiment needs to be reinforced as the marine industry aligns itself with more activities-based experiences such as kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding acting as springboards into the boating lifestyle.

Prioritize Sustainability

On top of where they attract attention, it is also important for boat dealers and manufacturers to consider the types of products they market moving forward. Millennials are an environmentally conscious generation, and in recent years, we have seen some of the biggest names improve the quality of their products. Outboard motors used to be noisy and smoky, but now they’re clean and quiet. It’s important for dealers and manufacturers to continue this trend if they want to collect the growing millennial market share. After all, we need to make sure we have the great outdoors to enjoy for generations to come. 

Tap into Digital Opportunities

When it comes to marketing marine industry products to millennials, social media is undoubtedly one of the most powerful tools to take advantage of. In fact, we’ve seen direct results from targeted and effective social media outreach surrounding marine products. Messages and advertisements that once took months to roll out can now be shared on a global scale in a matter of minutes. Dealers and distributors must follow this trend toward technology and improve both product visibility and accessibility to effectively cater to younger consumers.

Bruce Van Wagoner is the president of the marine group for Wells Fargo Commercial Distribution Finance.

Wells Fargo Commercial Distribution Finance is the trade name for certain inventory financing (floor planning) services of Wells Fargo & Company and its subsidiaries. The opinions expressed in this document are general in nature and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual or association. Contact your banker, lawyer, accountant, or tax advisor with regard to your individual situation.

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