Those working in the boating industry are still much more concerned about bringing younger buyers into the market than they are about attracting non-white buyers, according to the latest Boating Industry reader survey.
We surveyed readers of Boating Industry’s print and digital products, including dealers, manufacturers, suppliers and others working in the boating industry in August to learn more about their attitudes and concerns regarding younger and minority customers.
Despite a fairly significant effort by many industry groups to talk about the issue over the last several years, the results were mostly unchanged from when we conducted a similar survey in 2014.
Millennials a top concern
After a decade-long climb upward, the average buyer age appears to be declining slightly over the last couple of years.
The average boat buyer was 51.4 years old in 2015, down from 51.9 in 2014 and 52.4 in 2013, according to analysis by Info-Link Technologies (see the August issue for more on average buyer age).
Despite that, more than 60 percent of respondents are at least somewhat concerned about the aging buyer base in the boating industry, while 32 percent are very concerned about it. Those numbers are essentially unchanged from 2014 when 65 percent were concerned about the issue. Only 5 percent were not concerned at all – the same level as in 2014.
More than two-thirds of the readers said they are actively attempting to track Millennial buyers through their marketing and customer outreach. Those efforts seem to be paying off for some companies, as almost all respondents reported getting at least some business from Millennials.
While it’s not a huge portion of the business for most readers (yet), 22 percent said they are getting more than 20 percent of their business from buyers under 35 years old. More than half are getting more than 10 percent of their business from the group.
There are several challenges in reaching the age group, but the largest seems to be one of affordability in the opinion of the survey respondents. (See sidebar p. 17)
More specifically, the recurring theme of low-paying jobs and high student loan debts was a common concern of our readers.
“They don’t have the money to buy a house or pay school loans,” said a Wisconsin-based supplier. “There’s no money to buy a boat!”
Reaching new markets
Affordability was also the most common challenge cited when reaching out to minority buyers. Readers also said there is a general lack of interest in boating among many groups, noting many of the common concerns that they have not been exposed to the activity, especially as children.
Still, the issue is of much less concern to most readers than the challenges of reaching younger buyers. Only 8 percent were very concerned about it, while another 19 percent was somewhat concerned. Again, those numbers were basically unchanged from 2014, when a total of 28 percent were concerned about it. More than half of respondents were somewhat unconcerned about the challenge, while 21 percent were not concerned at all.
With that in mind, it’s probably no surprise that less than a third of readers are actively attempting to attract non-white buyers to their products.
As in 2014, for most readers, minority customers make up only a small portion of their business – 65 percent reported it was less than 10 percent, while 40 percent said it was less than 5 percent. Only 4 percent got more than half their business from non-white customers, although 13 percent said they weren’t sure how much of their business those buyers represented.