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A parent’s perspective

By Liz Walz

I was driving the kids home a few weeks ago when my seven-year-old gently broke it to me that he is no longer planning to live at home forever. Instead, when he grows up, he and his two best friends are moving to Florida to work as yacht captains.

This isn’t a big surprise for us. From the beginning, Nathan has been fascinated with anything that has an engine, from school buses, jumbo planes and bullet trains to tractors, garbage trucks, construction equipment and, of course, boats. At first, he wanted to be a bus driver. Then an airplane pilot. And now this.

While it’s very possible that he’ll start daydreaming about another career next month or next year, the idea that he would choose to work in our industry does give me a thrill. And it makes me think a little differently about the future. After all, boating may end up being not just my career, but also the Walz family business.

Assuming that’s the case, here is one Mom’s wish list for the industry and how it might evolve over the next decade.

A culture of compromise. There’s nothing more unattractive than a nasty argument. And as an industry, we’ve had plenty of them. But we’ve seen those tides change recently. There was the first co-hosted ABC. The model year compromise between representatives of the MRAA and NMMA. The unity brought about by the Industry Growth Summit. And a coming together to support those companies hit by Hurricane Sandy. Let’s turn that trend into a new culture of compromise. There is plenty of evidence in our industry that taking care of each other (whether we’re talking about employees, supply chain partners or customers) is the best way to take care of ourselves. Yes, there will always be some who cause us to question such generosity. But when we allow those who make the wrong choices decide our policies and define who we are as an industry, we all lose.

Embracing change. The world around us is constantly changing, and we need to do a better job of keeping up. You hear a lot of talk about the pace at which new technologies are being introduced and adopted, but that is just one example. There is the changing landscape of demographics, economics, marketing and even sales. Embracing change doesn’t mean throwing out your playbook and starting over. It’s about developing a culture in which you seek out data, trends and best practices to help your team make the best decisions for your company instead of waiting to change until you have to. By the time you have to change, you’re already behind the ball.

Clearing a path. We’re only as good as our people. And we have some incredible people in our industry. But as they retire, we need to ensure that young people see a future for themselves in the boat business. While we have some incredible training programs and plenty of interesting job opportunities, we have not done a great job of promoting careers in the boating business or even of nurturing the talent we already have. To strengthen our businesses and the industry, we need to get serious about succession planning, each and every one of us.

Getting healthy. The most important action we can take to preserve the industry for ourselves and for future generations is to grow it. Sounds simple, but there are so many factors that impact our ability to grow. And when you have plenty to keep you busy in your day job, it’s easy to set that aside. After all, how much can one person do? But it takes all of us to make growth happen. And there is a lot we can each do. The Industry Growth Initiative, for example, is looking for volunteers. Whether you’re interested in helping to promote boating to youth or our increasingly diverse population, educating boaters, communicating the industry’s marketing efforts, or uniting to fend off unwarranted regulations that hamper our efforts to grow, there is a place for you in this effort. Let’s build a future together that we’re proud to hand over to our kids.

Liz Walz is director of membership & marketing for the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas. To learn more, visit www.mraa.com or email her at liz@mraa.com.


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