A boat for women on the horizon?

MAPLE GROVE, Minn. – Though most boating industry executives agree that the industry could benefit from better targeting women, whether the industry and the marketplace is ready to follow in the shoes of automakers like Volvo remains to be seen.

USA Today reported yesterday that Volvo will launch a concept car in March that has been designed by women for women. According to the article, the car will offer “tons of storage space” and will be “easy to park and easy to maintain,” with such features as washable seat covers and a hood- and gas cap-free design.

Though NMMA Discovering Boating Director Steve Tadd said in an interview yesterday that the features sounded like they would appeal equally to men, he acknowledged the value of the concept.

“Volvo recognized a trend that women are taking the driver’s seat,” he said. “I think that in the boating industry the trend is occurring, but a bit delayed.”

He predicted, however, that the first boat builder to try such a concept “will win big – just for the PR and publicity that it will create. And the industry will win too, because women will hear that boating is not just for the guys anymore.”

Elaine Dickinson of BoatU.S. pointed out that boat builders’ smaller budgets should be taken into consideration.

“Automakers obviously have huge budgets for R&D, which is basically what a concept car project is, that boat builders do not,” she explained. “But the marine industry should definitely be seeking out women’s opinions on design, amenities and safety features, even if it’s on their existing models.”

Dickinson added that in the boating industry there is a general lack of research on women boaters and how to better reach them as potential buyers. BoatU.S. is planning to help rectify that situation by posting an online survey of women boaters regarding their boat buying experiences in cooperation with “a major boat builder.”

“We hope the survey will provide some insight into where boat dealers can do better in reaching women customers and treating them well once they’ve invested in a boat,” she explained.

Marcia Kull, vice president of operations for Genmar, highlighted the lack of women in the boating industry with the expertise to design such a boat.

“In order to design boats that address women’s needs, you clearly need input from women. But, does a company need to use only women (or virtually only women) like Volvo to achieve that design? I don’t think the boating industry has that luxury,” she stated. “Too few women in the boating industry possess those design talents today, and those women are spread across competitors. If a company waited until it recruited qualified women, it will be too late. In large part, that is why Genmar relies on market research.

MarineMax’s Jeff Scherer said that while “everyone agrees that women have a lot of influence … most retailers have not really justified it by publicly acknowledging it.”

However, he also suggested that while the concept is appealing, the marketplace might not be ready for a boat for women.

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— Liz Walz

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