A week ago Thursday, I was running late for a seminar on unique profit centers at the International Marina & Boatyard Conference. When I slipped into my seat about 20 minutes into the 90-minute session, the presenters were talking about boat clubs, and while the discussion moved on to other topics as it wore on, it kept coming back to boat clubs. Not only did about a quarter of the audience of marina operators seem to have a boat club, most of the other three quarters wanted to learn their ins and outs.
While I was in Tampa at IMBC, Managing Editor Jon Mohr was back in the office, working on a boat club feature article for our March issue. There’s no doubt that this is a growing trend, one of the bright spots in the midst of the downturn. But what I’ve also come to believe is that dealerships with marinas are particularly well suited to take advantage of this opportunity.
One speaker commented, for example, that he can’t imagine running a boat club without a service department. Though boat club members tend to take care of the boats relatively well, given the amount of usage they get, they are inevitably going to need maintenance and repairs. And to meet the boat club’s obligations to its members, that service work needs to be turned around fast.
That same speaker was asked how frequently he replaces the boats available to club members. This marina operator, who purchased his fleet of Sea Rays from a local dealer, admitted that he wasn’t going to be able to afford to replace the three-year-old vessels any time soon. A dealer, however, has an advantage when it comes to obtaining vessels for the boat club. He can use the boat club to help him manage both his new and pre-owned inventory. And he is well set-up to sell those boats he wants to replace for a profit. The boat club is not only a potential profit center of its own, it also can serve as an inventory management tool.
Finally, there is the prime benefit of boat clubs: they help potential boat owners become more comfortable with boating and keep former boat owners from exiting the industry all together. I’ve heard some boat dealers complain about boat clubs as if they’re competition for boat sales, but I don’t buy it. If they lose a sale to a boat club, it’s the exception, not the rule. Boat clubs are a great lead management tool to help steer interested but inexperienced prospects toward boat ownership and to continue to generate some revenue from those who might otherwise leave boating altogether.
As Jon Mohr concludes in his forthcoming article, if you’ve dismissed the boat club concept in the past, now is the time to reconsider it. To learn more about how to make one work for your company, see Boating Industry’s March issue.