No Laughing Matter

You’ve no doubt heard the one about the best two days of a boater’s life. You know … the day he buys the boat and the day he sells it.
Well, I’ve heard it so many times recently that I’m sick of it. Clearly, it’s become the rallying cry for the marine market’s biggest pity party. Boating has it so bad, and the automotive and RV industries have it so good. Boo hoo.
While we envy the auto world for setting the sales, service and warranty benchmark, the RV industry, it seems, has set the bar for marketing. And while that industry’s recent promotional success with Go RVing has yielded great results, the grass just isn’t always greener.
If you knew everything that there is to know about the RV industry and its marketing campaign, you’d know how badly that market struggled with sales prior to launching its industrywide program. For 20 years, the RV industry watched as it lost consumers, recreational market share, and little by little, all hope for the future. Twenty years.
Sound familiar?
For those of you keeping track, boating has been slipping for 16 years, despite many efforts aimed at an industrywide marketing campaign. Some of those early efforts lost backing and simply fizzled out before they even really began. Others were squashed along the way by one company or another.
Sure, we’ve all heard the reasons why a Go RVing or Got Milk? approach won’t work. We’re a mature market. What works for them won’t necessarily work for us. We’ll never get everyone’s buy-in. The big players won’t fund it … afterall, why should they help grow business for their smaller brethren? And lest we forget the Holy Grail of reasons: Everyone wants documented evidence of how their profits will increase — up front.
Well, there is no golden parachute, and it’s time to stop whining about why this won’t work and start focusing on how we can, collectively, ensure that it will. Although we’d all like to think that operating in the marine industry brings with it a truly unique set of challenges, the reality is that we’re simply suffering the same fate as many long-standing enthusiast-based recreational activities. Our unit sales and revenues have eroded, losing out to myriad competitors … both the obvious: the RV or fast-growing ATV markets; and the not-so-obvious: customer’s family responsibilities and a loss of leisure time.
Now more than ever, each and every one of us needs to be accountable for making boating more salable. If we are able to do so in a cohesive, musketeer-type way, great. If not, let’s leave the naysayers behind and forge ahead. The last thing our industry needs is for history to repeat itself. We simply can’t afford to have this latest attempt fizzle out because if it does, we’ll be left propagating our industry’s biggest joke, and possibly laughing ourselves all the way out of business.

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