I see three principal challenges that our industry faces, inter-related one with another, with regard to the consumer market. These include the need to promote boating's value for the consumer, reduced leisure time and the uncertain economy.
Luxury goods have been generally favored in the current economy by those with ample means. Discretionary spending, however, is frequently earmarked toward luxury autos, large, plush homes and high-end home entertainment systems as being accessible every day, as opposed to boating, which is usually an activity set apart, enjoyable for most only as leisure and weather permit. Luxuries that enhance our lives daily are perceived as good values for their price. We need continually to reinforce in the public mind the benefits of the boating lifestyle, for recreation, self-education, individual and family health and well-being. We need to demonstrate how boating not only enhances, but can extend and transcend, our daily life experience.
That Americans' leisure time has been steadily shrinking for decades is well-documented in the popular press. Another of boating's challenges, in addition to reinforcing product quality and minimizing downtime, is to provide more ways to make boating easier and more expedient to enjoy. Many dealers and manufacturers already provide added services toward this end in, for example, introductory boating courses, safety or equipment maintenance workshops for their customers. In the coming months and years, perhaps manufacturers, dealers, and independent entrepreneurs may develop additional perks, either free or fee-based such as marina concierges, home pick-up and delivery of the boater, his guests and gear, or other conveniences and services.
The slowly expanding economy has meant reduced wealth growth and job uncertainty for many. This is probably the greatest obstacle we face. Although boating will never be cheap as a safe and enriching endeavor, we can and must find additional ways to enhance its accessibility and affordability. Surely the Genmar rental arrangement appears one such means of so increasing boater participation, with the real potential of future boat sales down the road. Creative chartering arrangements and fractional ownership are more examples of enhancing the sport's affordability.
These, as I see it, are our biggest challenges. They can be met, and are beginning to be met even now. Growing boating goes beyond increased marketing and sales. It is catering to the consumer's need for wholesome, healthful outdoor activity, new learning experiences and diversions from the life's stresses and banalities, whilst recognizing and circumventing the economic and cultural forces that would oppose our customers' boating enjoyment.
Donald V. Gale
Senior Naval Architect
M. Rosenblatt & Son