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Boats or video games?

I was sitting in my dentist’s chair last Monday morning. I’m listening to the whine of his drill that reminds me of the sound of a Japanese motorcycle. He’s the kind of dentist that must think ‘if he keeps talking to me while he’s drilling, I won’t notice when he hits my tooth’s nerve’ as he inevitably does. 

He’s recounting to me what a perfect weather weekend we’d just had.  On Saturday he took his 12-year-old son and two neighbor kids, and headed for the boat for what he anticipated would be an afternoon of riding around, swimming and tubing on the lake.

They launched his Baja 233 at the Hi & Dry and he set things up for the kids to tube. “The tubing was great,” he said, “the boys were having a blast and we tubed for nearly an hour.”

“Then what did you do,” I asked, fully expecting him to say they cruised around the lake and anchored off a popular beach where dozens of boats are always rafted up for swimming and beachcombing. “We went home,” was his answer!

 I was momentarily speechless, and not because his hand was in my mouth! I couldn’t understand. The weather was perfect for boating and they were having good time tubing; how they could head back home! But his explanation was telling and, should, at the very least, give us something to ponder as dealers.

He said, with some disappointment in his tone, “The boys just wanted to get home to play their video games.”

As an industry, we always talk about satisfying the customer whom we see as the adult buyer. But my dentist hit ‘a nerve’ with me when I realized his boating day was cut way short by 12-year-olds who preferred video games to staying on the water.

Now, I’m not advocating video games in all our new boats (I do know an innovative dealer – Chuck Armstrong, Boat Masters Marine – who installs video games in his larger cruisers at the boat show to cleverly engage the prospect’s kids,) but I am suggesting we need to consider ways to better engage this video game generation. Perhaps, we need to develop and promote more kid’s activities that will make boating appeal to them, or the sad truth is the boats may stay in the Hi & Dry. Worse, they won’t even want a boat!

And that’s the way I see it, how about you?


7 comments on “Boats or video games?

  1. Michael Joyce

    Amazing! How often I have seen variations of this but never even thought of how our industry markets to the second and third generations that show on our radar screen. Shame on us. No one spends a dime planting seeds for these people because they don’t have a check in their hands. If they truly loved boating they would extend the time line for every boating family out there. Send that through to the NMMA.

  2. Sarah

    I think we need to do a better job promoting how wonderful boating really is. There are so many distractions in life today but boating can be a great way to get away from them all. Kids today need parents that encourage them to do things other than video games and sitting in front of tv’s. I work at my family-owned boat dealership. We are now in our 40th year of business and still going full speed ahead. We sell canoes, kayaks and powerboats with tons of accessories like wakeboards, tubes, and skis. I am 22 years old and I really see that if the parents are involving their kids in the activity it can be that much more appealing to the kid. We need to get back to promoting boating as a great way to stay active and enjoy time in nature and with family and friends.

  3. Dan Gau

    I think it’s also about parenting our children and teaching them to understand the importance of enjoying each others company. Kids will play video games 24/7 if we don’t regulate or parent them. Spending time on the boat is time to interact with nature and friends and family. Computer games and TV are 1 or 2 hour periods (or sadly, more) that should happen less and less as they grow up. Let’s get back to making choices that will serve them for life.

  4. Van Snider

    Norm’s hit on a challenge we face in boating today. The earlier a child gets exposed to boating, the more likely he or she will continue to participate in boating. I also think it is advantageous to vary the type of boating activity which exposes kids to all the types of activites available on the water. Catching a fish, operating a limited horsepower outboard motor boat or sailing a sunfish may be more fun to a your person than holding a video game stick and making sure his or her friends come along for the adventure improves the odds they will want to go boating again.

  5. Franklin Pillsbury

    Norm,thanks for getting this on the radar screen again.We have some trmendous opportunites with the Boat Shows,and special events to “MARKET” the Boating Lifestyle,and values.At the Dallas Summer Boat Show we are using all the industry assetts avalaible to us through the “Discover Boating”Take Me Fishing,and the RBFF.Our goal is to “TARGET” 4,000 new men 35+,married,1+ kids,to attend the Summer Show to “Discover Boating”. Our first weekend is geared towards WAKEBOARDS,and “WATER TOY’S.One of the things we are showing and talking about is a 17′ family “open bow” can be as cool to wakeboard,pull tubes,swim,play in the water a “full tilt” Tow Boat.
    The second weekend is geared to “Take Me Fishing & Family Fish Fair”.The idea once again is to show that you and your child can FISH from lots of different kinds and styles of BOATS.We also want to show/teach/and motivate that fishing is not hard,its fun,and in its way has as much “GAME” as a gameboy.
    I belive we must sell Boating first , the product second,and the enjoyment of owning a Boat,and Boating last for a LIFETIME!!

  6. George C. Horwatt

    I watched the demise of my business and my trade association disappear that I headed over the last 17 years. There’s very little local demand and competition. What little retail is left goes to larger markets for any kind of selection. After just returning from Wales, I noticed that the boats (which are fewer) just sit in the harbor and auto gas is over $7.20 USD. My conclusion is that there has been a noticeable cultural change over the last 20 years as the discretionary dollar is going in various directions. Add that to ever increasing consumer debt, stagnant wages, boats that tripled in cost over time, onerous regulation inflicted at the retail and manufacturing level, is it any wonder why we are in a slump? All this subtle increase takes it’s long term toll. Sales in wealthy big market areas don’t tell represent average America anymore than the government commerce figures indicating what’s really going on. We’re told of glitzy Dow averages yet GM & Ford continue to hemorrhage money. The marine business is in a downward spiral and not recovery is seen off the horizon. Get used to it, the world is changing.

  7. Rob

    >>Back to basics: See Dick boat. Watch Dick, Jane.
    >>As dealers, we naturally want to help our family of customers with their boating needs. We want to solve their problems, service their boats, help them move up to that next boat… And most of us have kept very busy helping our boating community– maximizing sales, facilitating sevice, advertising aftermarket items to enhance the boating experience.
    >>But in the last few years our family has been shrinking. Dwindling new sales, fewer boats on the water, and less traffic in the showroom. And we’re wondering what to do about it. We’re so accustomed to keeping busy, running the store, being dealers.
    >>Maybe this is an opportunity for us dealers to go boating! To rediscover the lifestyle we enjoyed when we were a few years younger. We should all commit to get out on the water at least once each week. And not by ourselves. Be sure to take that neighbor or friend who’s been interested. Make a point to invite someone who is ten years younger… or ten years older, like Dick. Go fishing, skiing, sailing, or destination boating. See if Dick “lights up” when he takes the wheel, or baits the hook… and fan the flame with repeated excursions. Have fun. Then invite another friend, like Jane. Let Dick help Jane hold the boat to the dock. Or pull in on the mainsail to make the boat go faster. Let him share what he’s learned.
    >>My thought is that if there are 5000 dealers out there, and each one helped Dick and Jane to love boating this summer, there could be 10,000 new boaters next season! And even if we didn’t see all of them as sales, we dealers would at least have some great, new boating friends.

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