By Peter Granata, President, Granata Design and the Marine Design Resource Alliance — It used to be that when anyone went out and bought a boat, regardless of its size, it was a purchase that brought a feeling of significance to the buyer. When Elvis bought his new boat and took it out for a ride, the entire event was well covered by the magazines of the day. Elvis was proud of his purchase and had fun with it.
Times have changed. Somewhere back in the '80s, we as a nation, began "livin' large." Everything that we bought had to be bigger and better. We became defined by what we bought rather than what we did with it. It's almost laughable to think of a modern day celebrity being caught by the paparazzi in a mere 16' boat today. Maybe, if it was a tender on the way out to his bigger boat!
My point in all of this is that I'm aware that, as an industry, we've grown accustomed to building, advertising and selling bigger boats. It's expected and demanded, so we've supplied that demand. But there is a market that we've forgotten ... we are, in many ways, ignoring the consumers that would like to feel as though they've accomplished something by buying a boat, of any size, even a 16 footer.
Here's what I mean: Over the years I've watched the bass boat industry be enticed to buy bigger, heavier and faster outboard engines. The larger engines required new boats that could handle the extra weight and horsepower. With all of the "improvements" to the bass boat, the cost of the boat/motor/trailer package eventually exceeded the financial capabilities of a large part of the very market it was meant to attract.
Now, we are emerging from a deep recession and I'll bet there are quite a few people in our industry that intend to come back with the same attitude they had prior to this horrific down turn. But let's stop and think for a second. If money is more difficult to get, and if consumers don't feel as rich as they once did, and if they are going to remain conscious about how much they are spending and why, and if middle America's cars and sport utilities have lower towing capabilities ... then our industry needs to put a sincere effort into designing and selling small boats again. We'll need to make consumers feel good about buying small boats again, or we'll never grow our industry going forward. We need new boaters, and we need old boaters. Most importantly, we need to make our customers feel good about being boaters, even if it's only a 16-footer.