Elvis drove a 16-footer

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.

0730-pcgsmBy 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!

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Elvis and his 16-foot outboard 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.

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4 comments

  1. I could not agree more with Peters comments. We have steadily moved towards larger boats for years but the time has come to reevaluate where we are going with our boat designs.
    Our potential customers are faced with three specific problems when it comes down to the purchasing of new boats:
    1- They cannot afford the cost of fuel if they are going to use their boats like they used to and I don't mean going out 100 yeards from the ramp and anchoring for the day.
    2- The tow vehicles being produced today do not have the capability of towing the monsters we now have for sale and this is not going to improve in the future with the auto and truck industries concentration on improved fuel economy.
    3- You can't help but suffer from sticker shock when you walk into a boat show. Our boats are simply not affordable by many of those who would like to go boating.
    We, as an industry, have to start realizing that the good old days of "bigger is better" are over. We need to immediately begin designing and producing boats that match tow vehicles capabilities and consumer pocketbooks or we will not be around in a few years. Unfortunately I do not see any evidence that this is happening.
    Oh by the way I started my boating in the 1960's with a 16 footer powered by a 65 HP outboard and my family and I enjoyed it immensely

    Noel Osborne

  2. I was listening to a presentation being given by Halsey Herreshoff at the ABBRA Newport Summer Social on August 3rd. Halsey is the President of Herreshoff Marine Museum and America's Cup Hall of Fame. Halsey was a four-time America's Cup winner and the grandson of legendary yacht designer Nathanael Herreshoff.

    Halsey was reflecting on the economy and the boating lifestyle in general that he has personally watched evolve over the past 70 years. He believes, and I agree, that boating needs to become simple again. Boating has become too complex, the systems have become too complex, the amenities that we think we need on our boats mimic what we have in our homes.

    Why do we need granite counter tops, audio/visual systems that rival home theaters, and a host of other electronic and mechanical systems that attempt to replicate the creator comforts found in our homes? What we wind up doing is spending more time maintaining these systems rather than enjoying our boats with our family. While the family sets at the dock, gear in hand ready to disembark, dad is below the console trying to figure out where the beeping noise is coming from.

    Halsey argued that boating was more akin to camping in the "good ole days". The systems were simpler, there were fewer things that required maintenance therefore fewer things could break down. If we re-focus our efforts on boating being an alternative to life on "terra firma" whereby we attempt to replicate our home-bound luxuries on the water, maybe we can get more people interested in boating again!

  3. We are communicating ans selling "Boating Affordabilty" please see the Tv segments we have done on http://www.discoverboatingtexas.com I was at a marina yesterday and the owner commented on this very topic.When I discussed our mission of finding new boaters one at a time...I was talking about boats in the market to day that are under 20 K and another group under 15 K..they were shocked.Our own industry dosnt know some of the tools we have to be more attractive to new buyers.To Noels point we have been so involved on the top end of the business we have lost site of continuing to fill the sales FUNNEL with new PROSPECTS.Th other key element thats gone away is PASSION...thats a whole other topic

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