During the past six months, a group of recreational marine stakeholders assembled by the National Marine Manufacturers Association has been developing a plan to grow boating. Out of this process have emerged six high-priority action areas: marketing message/campaign, youth initiative, recreational boating affordability, diversity initiative, boating education initiative, and recreational boating advocacy & accessibility.
While these areas certainly represent opportunities for the industry as a whole, they may also serve as paths to growth for your marine business. Here are some ideas for how you might explore two of them.
If you’ve seen any of the data regarding the demographic shift the United States is undergoing, then you probably won’t deny the marine industry’s need to attract a more diverse customer base. For example, while the U.S. population is expected to grow by 140 million during the next 40 years, only 5 percent of that growth is expected to come from its white members. And as it stands today, more than 90 percent of our customer base is white. Here are some ideas for how you can build a more diverse customer base:
• Aim for a more diverse employee base. For example, if you’d like to attract more Hispanic buyers, consider publishing classified ads for job openings within publications and on websites that reach the Hispanic community. If some of your target demographic has a first language other than English, you might pursue job candidates who speak that language.
• Include your target demographic in your advertising. If you’re trying to attract more female buyers, for instance, consider using photos of women at the helm in your print and online advertisements.
• Partner with diverse organizations. If there are companies or organizations that have found success with the demographic you’re targeting, consider working with them to offer their members, employees or customers opportunities to go boating and/or to receive special offers on your products and services. Those groups could range from community organizations like the Boy Scouts or YMCA to restaurants or local stores.
Our core customer base today consists of Baby Boomers. In fact, more than 55 percent of current boat owners are 50 years of age or older. But we can’t rely on them to keep our industry afloat for much longer. They are aging, and we haven’t been as successful at selling the boating lifestyle to the generations that have followed them.
We need to do a better job of targeting Gen X and the Millennials. But keep in mind that people who boated as a kid are much more likely to buy a boat as an adult than those who didn’t. That suggests our success rate with these generations may be limited in part by their childhood experience with boating. However, we can take action now to get today’s kids out on the water. You might say our future depends on it.
This strategy may also make a difference in today’s market. Kids have an enormous influence over their parents’ discretionary spending. If we can get kids hooked on boating, they will help us sell to their parents. Here are a few ways you might be able to take advantage of this opportunity:
• Support youth boating programs. Whether you know it or not, there’s probably a youth boating program in your local community. Perhaps it’s a Sea Scout program, a sailing team or a summer camp that teaches kids to fish or water ski. Regardless of the source, those programs represent an opportunity for your business. Look for ways to support them and their events. By supporting them, not only can you help grow such programs and therefore the size of your local boating community, but you can also gain exposure within a group of potential prospects: kids and their parents.
• Build your own youth program. While there may be youth boating programs in your community, you can benefit from offering your own youth activities. That might be a Kids or Teens At The Helm program, which teaches boating safety and boat operation. It may be an annual kids’ fishing, water skiing or wakeboarding tournament. Or it might even be your own summer camp program.
• Make your location and events kid friendly. Not only do you want to attract kids and their parents to your marine business, but you also want to retain those kids and parents already involved in boating. That means making the boating lifestyle fun for them in any way possible. That might involve hosting an Easter egg hunt or offering a bouncy house as part of a spring open house. It could mean adding a kids’ clubhouse area with books, games and DVDs as part of your dealership, yacht club or marina. Or you might rent a projector and pop some popcorn for a family movie night on a summer weekend at your marina.