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It’s About Racial Diversity

There’s no doubt the rise to political prominence of Barack Obama in this year’s Presidential sweepstakes has brought the subject of racial diversity to the forefront in America. In particular, it recently got me thinking about the subject as it relates to our boating industry.

For example, are African Americans or Hispanics a significant factor in the boating marketplace? If not, what are we doing to reach or expand this customer base?

For one thing, I couldn’t find much available data to answer such questions. There is some, however. For example, a 2002 study conducted by the Roper ASW organization for the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation revealed some interesting keys to a largely untapped market for boats. It’s worth another look today.

The study concluded that boating was not widespread among either African Americans or Hispanics, the two largest minority groups in the nation. But don’t write them off just yet. Deeper in the study was noted that 64% of all African Americans and 59% of Hispanics had gone boating at least once. Moreover, 25% of African Americans and 31% of Hispanics had recent (within 24 months) boating experiences. Those numbers are significant if we acknowledge other research, such as that done for the industry’s “Discover Boating” national campaign that indicates the best way to convert someone to boating is to give them a first-hand boating experience. So, assuming their recent experience was an enjoyable one, there are a lot of possible African American and Hispanic boaters out there.

Right now, only about one in twenty African Americans or Hispanics own a boat and that small number may be why we fail to “pitch” boating to this large potential market. For example, my unscientific look at recent issues of major boating and sport fishing magazines reveals virtually no ads/pictures/stories showing African Americans or Hispanics enjoying the sport. We do only slightly better in some manufacturer literature where there are some minority lifestyle photos.

Perhaps the best thing we’ve got going to reach this untapped market is the “Discover Boating” campaign. In it, African Americans and Hispanics are included in some measure. But it’s sure not enough for an industry that needs to expand markets. I suspect the lack of attention to minorities in our industry literature sends a signal that manufacturers and boating media are simply disinterested in African Americans, Hispanics and others as customers. I’d say that’s a “put off” for those prospects!

Perhaps one African American boater put it best when he joked: “Even in the parts catalog all the people are Caucasian!” Do we need to make a more direct effort to attract the African Americans and Hispanics to boating? I say yes — what do you see?


39 comments on “It’s About Racial Diversity

  1. Sunshine State

    Our customer base is generated by the strong inclination some exhibit for the water and boats.This inclination can only be developed to a point through industry promotions and is not equally present within all demographic groups. Let’s focus on retaining the customer base we do have.

  2. Scott Croft

    You are right on, Norm, about the need to depict Hispanics and African Americans in boating publications. About four years ago at a Boating Writers International annual meeting, I brought this subject up. It seemed that that the females in the audience shared the same sentiment as they were often depicted as sex objects in photos, which turned them off.
    I was discouraged by one editor’s comment that depicting African-Americans was not his job, He flatly said he would not do it. It’s ironic since his publication (which shall remain nameless) largely covered southern states. He saw no role in increasing minority ranks in boating. That to me was awefully short sighted since what he was actually admitting to was that he had no desire to help increase his subscription base.

  3. Wanda Kenton Smith

    Hi Norm, I have written a few columns on this topic over the years and it always seems to fall on deaf ears. I cited statistics that indicated that the Hispanic population would actually outnumber the African American population by the year 2010, but that happened a year or so ago already. My column commentary basically pointed out that as an industry, we’ve been selling to the same WASP male demo forever but the face of America is changing and as an industry, we need to change with it. I suggested doing some test marketing in key markets that have a high concentration of both Hispanic and African American populations. Hispanics, in particular, are receptive to the whole family bonding messaging that boating so uniquely delivers. I spoke in length with a very savvy dealer outside Washington DC (Prince William Marine) at the time, and they enjoy a very successful sales history with affluent African Americans. It would be great to see a more detailed editorial covering this topic, with successes stories and best case studies addressed. I’m glad you have brought up this topic …. I’ve also brought up the gay and alternative lifestyle market as one that is prime for boating related product, and that, too, went nowhere. Entertainment and adventure travel is a big part of this lifestyle segment. Seems to me in these challenging times of ours it would make sense for dealers and manufacturers to try and find ways to bring newcomers to boating … but it does require a truly dedicated effort and you do need the right marketing tools to be successful including photography that is relevant and embraces the segment being approached.

  4. arch

    Well, maybe minorities aren’t in any of the brochures or catalogs because they are a very small part of the boat buying public. That is a fact, not my opinion. So, the burden isn’t on the marine industry. If 25% of boat buyers were minorities, I”m sure they would be better represented. Norm, please don’t phrase this like it’s our fault they don’t buy more boats. How many of them that appear in brochures, catalogs, and ads have NOTHING to do with whether they buy a boat or not.
    As a matter of fact, I’ll take it a step further. BOAT SHOWS for the most part, are held in downtown HIGH CRIME areas where many of the minorities live. I’ve had MANY MANY white suburbanites (our boat buying public) say that they don’t go to shows because they are held in convention centers downtown.
    So, there is nothing stopping minorities from owning boats other than the fact that most are just not interested in it. Let’s not politicize this, or put together some bogus POLITICALLY CORRECT campaign (which minorites will see through) to appeal to that audience. WE HAVE BOAT SHOWS where they can come see all the boats they want. Their money spends the same as mine. If they want to come to the boat shows and buy a boat, they can do that now.
    WHat is NMMA going to do, offer free or discount tickets to minorites? As far fetched as that sounds, I”m sure OBAMA would support the idea.
    Yes, that is all boaters and boat dealers want, for us to start catering to minorities. Yeah, that will REALLY bring out the boat buyers.
    Your comment about minorities being “PUT OFF” is ridiculous.
    It’s always been incredulous to me how side tracked our industry gets whenver sales are down. We start getting so far off point, and this is another perfect example of it.

  5. Larry Keeter

    What does race have to do with this? I don’t see you in the retail business yet as usual, you know everything!

  6. arch

    It’s interesting you bring up WOMEN in boating magazines, brochures, and catalogs. I absolutely agree that they are depicted very often as sex objects. NO DOUBT, and I personally have an issue with that. But, AND HERE IS MY POINT, it’s not keeping them from buying boats, or from loving to go boating. And, with regards to the magazine editor, it sounds to me like he was just being honest. He is allowed to feel that way and doesn’t have to cater to minorities. THat doesn’t make him racist or ignorant.
    WANDA KENTON SMITH, I respect you and have read your work for years, but what you are saying here reads like the job duties of a campaing manager who represents a democratic nominee.
    It’s funny how minorities and democrats want to stop with all the labels, but they are the ones bringing it up constantly, thereby ALIENATING the WASPS. This is the MAIN REASON why there is such a chasm between the democrats and republicans and how that divide is growing. Well, your political correctness may prevent you from acknowledging the truth, but if we took your suggestion, the same thing would happen with boaters. Do you doubt that?
    Well, perhaps all you need to do is look at the demographics of CADILLAC, Cristal, and in some cases, LEXUS. ALL are HIGH END products who have alienated much of their mainstream clientele by mistakenly marketing to certain minority groups. THe CEO of Cristal Champagne had to DENOUNCE the hip hop world in order to win his WASP customers back. Of course, he was accused of being racist.
    Companies need to stop making RACE such an issue with everything. It only FUELS racism.
    Whether the family in the back of the Sea Ray Brochure is white, black, or hispanic, it does not matter. You stand a much better chance of a WASP getting PUT OFF by brochures that cater to the population rather than the actual boating population, than you do of putting minorities off by not having them represented in the boat brochures and magazines.

    Be careful what you ask for.

  7. Matt

    I would have to question why the color of your skin has anything to do with whether you are a boater or not. If the market shows that African Americans and Hispanics are not buying boats, or getting invloved with the boating lifestyle, it would tell me they are not interested in the past time. Must every little hobby, past time or retail sales of such products be devided up equally amoungst the races based on population count?? That sounds pretty stupid doesn’t it?? Or is it greed?

    As another reader wrote: Boat shows, retail boat centers & marina’s are all over the country and are available for any one person to go to, anytime. Manufacturers spend heavy dollars on advertising, and it only makes sence to capture the audience who is proven to spend money in that arena. Manufacturers are starting to reach out to woman, because of a increase of interest from females from shows, interenet etc.. and I’m sure they would reach out to any other race, gender or group if they felt it would bring in revenue.

  8. Larry Keeter

    For years I listened to Sir Norman and his crowd at MRAA meetings. After 25 years, I can operate my business without them, pom pom girl WKS, and without money-waisting boat shows.

  9. Wanda Kenton Smith

    Arch – we can’t assume just because a small minority comprises our industry ownership that they have deliberately chosen or made a conscientious decision not to buy our products or services. Many have not been exposed to our products or given the opportunity to experience boating. In addition, I am not referring to the population in general in each of these segments under discussion, but to the affluent sector who has the financial potential to invest in our products and services. If my father hadn’t been a sailing enthusiast, I would have never considered boating. Had my friends not water skied when I was in high school, I would never have considered buying a ski boat later in my life when I could afford it. Whether it is a caucasian buyer, Hispanic or African American – exposure is the key if we hope to expand our market. The industry needs to get product out into the marketplace and let people — preferably a targeted test market — experience it firsthand. We are losing marketshare in our tried and trued demographic as the WASP male ages and gets out of boating. The NMMA had something like 3.5 million former boaters who are no longer boating in its Grow Boating summary. If we don’t work to introduce our industry’s products and services to other demographic slices, our market will continue to shrink. I’m not suggesting we throw buckets of money at an unproven demo, but that we create a targeted plan to test market in key geographic areas where there are large populations of affluence in these varying segments. I also think there are probably a handful of dealers in this country who have been successful and I, for one, would love to know what they are doing and get their feedback.

  10. AnonymousBob

    To Norm and Wanda:
    Kudos for bringing up this topic and providing the facts supporting the need to market to other demographic groups. I know some, like Arch, prefer a protectionist, isolationist view of things because they are incapable of having an open mind. But, if we want this industry to, first, survive, and, secondly, thrive, we have to market to those groups that have the money, that have the numbers, and that have the means to boat. Boating is a LIFESTYLE. It is not a necessity (just for a very, very few). It IS a family-bonding, experience-sharing, memory-creating endeavor. Last I looked, Hispanic and African-American money was the same color as my Caucasian money: GREEN. Also, last I looked, we are pretty much in this industry to make money. Yes, we are also in it for the LIFESTYLE. But, that seems to be secondary to the fact we want to make money. What color is money? Green. And it’s green regardless of whether an Hispanic is spending it, an African-American is spending it, or if a WASP is spending it.
    Fact the reality: white males are, or soon will be, a minority in the USA. If you wish to continue catering to a shrinking customer base, then you best be prepared to live on an ever decreasing paycheck. I’m in the boat with Norm and Wanda on this topic. Here, here!!

  11. arch


    I’ve spent over 20 years in the boat business. What MATT wrote is absolutely true. It’s IGNORANT for BOB to say I have a protectionist/isolationist view of things. I ran dealerships in two of the highest concentrations of minorities in the country. One had one of the highest middle and upperclass black populations in the country and the other in South FL where there are MANY well to do Latinos. Anybody who knows me would laugh at your comment BOB. WHat you don’t understand is that I’ve lived through this and personally sold hundreds of boats to minorities. All I’m saying is that catering to this group simply will NOT work. And adding more minorities to our brochures and catalogs won’t change SQUAT.
    What none of you seem to understand is that the boat shows are well advertised, the boats are right there. Nobody is stopping minorities from buying boats except themselves.
    I have a question for WANDA? You say WASPS are aging and getting out of boating. That is true. They are currently our best and biggest market, right? Of course they are. They take their families boating, right? Yet, when those kids grow up, they just aren’t buying boats at the same rate as their parents. Why is that? So, if the children of our main clientele aren’t getting into boating, and this clientele is obviously the strongest financially out of the groups we are discussing here, you now want to advertise to minorities that have LESS MONEY and LESS FAMILY EXPOSURE to boating? This industry can’t even maintain it’s current demographic, and you want to go after new ones that have less money in an industry that keeps getting more and more expensive?
    NEGATIVE. It just won’t work. You can spend all the money you want, and I guarantee you it won’t work. I currently live in a city with very high minority population and low cost of living, and they STILL don’t buy boats here. If you research this HOUSING PROBLEM we are in, you will see some parallels. Whether you know it or not, the Mortgage business was pressured by congress and the current administration to lower their standards of underwriting in order to increase minority home ownership. That is a fact, and those that are politcially correct will not acknowlege it, but it’s irrefutable. THe good news: minority home ownership hit it’s highest lever EVER. The bad news: we are now in the worst housing crisis in modern times, much of it due to dropping our standards. Again, that is a fact. And those are houses, something that they need, versus a boat.
    Like I said before, everytime the industry hits a major obstacle, people start trying to change the face of the industry. I”m all for change, and one of my favorite sayings is “THE ROAD TO SUCCESS IS ALWAYS UNDER CONSTRUCTION”. And I’m all for minorities buying boats, but you are all missing the main problem. AFFORDABILITY and ACCESS.
    I”m even getting the WASP clientele saying they will RENT a boat next time they want to go boating. Think about it. New boat prices have gone up at probably 4 times the rate of inflation. Gas prices have skyrocketed. People are downsizing vehicles , which means fewer available for towing. Marinas are harder and harder to find, are often FULL, and getting more expensive all the time. The cost of living is going up at higher rates than inflation, insurance is very getting more expensive and very difficult to get in some markets, etc etc. THESE ARE THE PROBLEMS WITH OUR INDUSTRY. You aren’t going to get minorities to buy boats if we can’t keep the rich white guys buying them. Can you people not see the obvious? Stop trying to re-invent the wheel and look at the REAL problems responsible for the decrease in this beloved past time.

    BOB, you saying “HERE HERE and CHEERS” either means you are incredibly naive, or with all due respect, downright ignorant. But it did remind me of the scene in TITANIC when a few of the men were toasting each other while the ship was sinking. Good luck with that.

  12. arch

    Another point.
    I”m not sure how many of you are on the FRONT LINES in this industry. But if you go out there and talk to the dealerships and yacht brokers, they are selling more boats to people in Europe and the middle east than ever before. WHY? SIMPLE ECONOMICS.
    Due to the value of the dollar, it’s more affordable for Europeans. And in the middle east, they are getting tremendously wealthy from OIL and have pulled out of the stone ages and have become more modern and cosmopolitan. They are buying big boats and yachts in big numbers. Dubai, Quatar, Saudi Arabia, etc etc. Why? MONEY!
    So, until this industry gets it’s head out of the sand and figures out a way to make it more affordable for people, and a more pleasant ownership experience, sales will continue to slip.

  13. Sunshine State

    I have given this subject more thought yet remain uninspired….I think of how many “minority” customers I have after twenty five years in this business and the number is indeed very low,through no fault of my own or the boating industry.
    Perhpas this discussion of untapped customer pool brings more optimism that it deserves.
    If we are supposed to be so open minded why can we not then simply acknowledge that many “minority” exhibit an absolute aversion to water and water activity??

  14. Jim

    And Larry, after over 25 years, I couldn’t disagree with you more. Boats shows, especially the ones Norm had anything to do with, are still the number one producers of interested clientele bar none. Yes, the internet is powerful, but shows are still king. Expensive? That depends on how you work the show and how well you do. Positive companies and positive people always do well; and from your comments, I don’t read you as one of those that would be considered positive. So you probably do us all a favor by not attending shows, and if that works for you-more power to you.
    Personal attacks do noone any good in a blog or anywhere else.
    As to race and cultural groups, we need to market to everyone and anyone so long as they are financeable!

  15. Scott Croft

    good comments here…some I worry about.

    In marketing 101, you learn that in order to sell a product, one important task is to get your customer has to identify with it. If they have no knowledge or experience with your product (no Dad with a boat), one items is to approach that market by developing marketing materials that shows people just like your target market (age, race demographic or enthusast group) using your product.

    I encourage anyone to view some TV commercials on 60 Minutes, MTV news, or the Cartoon channel.

    Then please tell me how the best marketers in the world (who can get your 4 old to ask for a cereal by name) don’t depict their customers either.

    My original comment was not designed to be a magic bullet to solve boating’s marketing issues. It’s just one small part of marketing recreational boating. But to say that depicting a target market demographic in marketing materials or publications is unneccesary hints of an insular nature that may be signs of bigger issues.

    Frankly the comments about poor inner city people not attending boat shows, certain demographics not able to swim, or to decry political correctness are all off base. I applaud Wanda, Jim and especially Anonymous Bob, who correctly points out that the only color we need to worry about is green.

    FYI- from NMMA 2007 Recreational Boating Statistical Abstract (pg 8): Recreational Boating Participant Demographics:

    “Race” of current participants in 2007: 85.6% were caucasian, while 7.5% were African American. In 2006 those numbers were 85.4% and 6.2% respectively.

    Looking at “ethnicity” the same table shows that current participants identifying as “Hispanic” in 2007 : 9.7%.. In 2006 that number was 8.6%.

  16. arch

    I don’t know who Larry Keeter is, but his comment about boat shows is one that I”M hearing more and more from dealers. For the most part, boat show space has gotten MORE and MORE EXPENSIVE, manufacturers are paying LESS AND LESS of it than they used to (with many not paying for any of the space). And…..boat show sales have gone down and continue to go down every year, despite the obnoxiously optiimistic attendee numbers the NMMA gives out every year.
    I happen to go to MANY boat shows throughout the entire SouthEast. For MANY years now, dealer comments have been very negative, more than I’ve ever heard.
    I personally love boat shows, and anyone that knows me knows that I’m a very positive person, but I”m also a REALIST. I love boat shows because it gets me out of the office, out with the people, and it’s a change of scenary. It’s NOT because of how successful they are. That hasn’t been the case for me or hardly anyone I know in the business for many years.
    The BS I hear from people in this industry needs to be called out as BS. We don’t need any more of this PC nonsense.

    I have a few friends that are black, and I’ve NEVER talked about race and the boating business, but I called them today and asked them about it. I spoke with 2 of them today.
    When I asked them about the brochures and catalogs and if not having minorities in them bothered them at all, or would keep them from buying a boat, THEY BOTH LAUGHED and said one said I’ve been watching too much CNN. The other one actually sounded insulted that anyone would even imply it and that it was an insult to blacks that something like that would bother them.
    BOTH, unequovically, said it was mostly about MONEY, and then both said they had no interest in owning a boat. They said they would either rent one for the rare occassion they might want to go, or they would go with one of their WHITE friends. One of them mentioned that boats depreciate and it made no sense to buy one.
    Isn’t it great to hear the truth, unfiltered, every once in a while.

  17. AnonymousBob

    Sorry, dude, I’m not naive or ignorant. You need to do some research outside the marine industry. African-Americans and Hispanics are INCREASING in population counts AND in their income levels. If you dig into the research and actually talk (and, more important, listen) to these groups, you will find they are alienated from the boating lifestyle because they don’t feel welcome. Boating has typically been a white male dominated activity because that has historically been where the wealth was held. As Hispanics and African-Americans realize increasing household wealth, they are anxious to spend that money. Look at high-line luxury brands in industries like cars, watches, liquors, clothing, etc. that have utilized Hispanics and African-Americans in their lifestyle advertising and you’ll see those items have realized success as a result. We do not see marine advertising utilizing or targeting Hispanics or African-Americans and, as a result, they don’t feel any type of connection to boating. They view boating as a bastion of the white population. Until we show some openness towards other groups in our midst, we will continue driving them away while saying, “Yes, we know you have money. But, no, we don’t want your money. Go ahead and take it somewhere else and let them make a profit off your desires.” That’s very short-sighted thinking. But, that’s what we do every single day by preaching to the white choir.

    Keep in mind that no-one has said that pitching (not catering) to the Hispanic and African-American populations will miraculously right the sinking ship tomorrow. However, by laying the foundation of openness and inclusion to these groups and cultivating those relationships, we will see long-term benefits, growth, and profitability that we might not otherwise realize. We have a great opportunity now to sow those seeds and I think it’s foolish to neglect two demographic groups that possess the exact qualities boating seeks: growing population, increasing wealth, socially active, family-oriented, and like to spend money.

    The saying, “The times, they are a-changing” could not be more appropriate. Those willing to embrace the changes will succeed. Those not will quickly go the way of the dinosaur.

    That’s my de-valued $.02.

  18. Scott Croft

    FYI All: This just in today’s New York Times:

    Foreshadowing the nation’s changing makeup, one in four American counties have passed or are approaching the tipping point where black, Hispanic and Asian children constitute a majority of the under-20 population, according to analyses of census figures released Thursday.

    Racial and ethnic minorities now account for 43 percent of Americans under 20. Among people of all ages, minorities make up at least 40 percent of the population in more than one in six of the nation’s 3,141 counties.

    The latest population changes by race, ethnicity and age, as of July 1, 2007, were generally marginal compared with the year before. But they confirm the breadth of the nation’s diversity, and suggest that minorities — now about a third of the population — might constitute a majority of all Americans even sooner than projected by census demographers, in 2050.


  19. arch

    I agree with your comments about the changing face of America. Nobody can deny that. The one thing I absolutely DISAGREE with you on is when you say minorities feel alienated from boating. LIke I said yesterday, I called several of my black friends and they would tell you that is a bunch of BS, and one of them went out of his way to tell me that any white person who thinks not having white people in the catalogs/brochures would keep blacks from buying boats is INSULTING. I guarantee you that many minorities would be insulted by your comments of being alienated or not being welcome in boating. That is absolute non-sense. You don’t give minorities the credit, that they are perfectly free to go buy a boat anytime they want. Nobody is conspiring against them, and they are not beneath us where whites can keep them from doing what they want to do. Assuming they are LEGAL citizens, they are free to do anything you or I can do.
    Like I said in my very first post, money is money, no matter what the race, gender, creed, or sex of the person holding it. I’ve been to hundreds of boat shows, and have sold hundreds if not thousands of boats, are you telling me that boat dealers aren’t taking money from minorities?
    If they show up at a boat show or boat dealership, and want to buy and boat and can do it, 100% of dealers will take the sale.
    Marine lenders don’t see the person most of the time and therefore can’t profile. Salesman and F&I people want the sale, they don’t care what race the person is.
    BOAT SHOWS are held in downtown areas amongst high minority populations. They pay the same price to get in, and pay the same price for the boat.
    Your ACCUSATIONS reminds me of the bogus accusations the democratic party throw out every year about voter disenfrachisement, where tatooed skin heads and their dogs hang out at the voting booths to keep blacks from voting. Every election, there are more and more excuses, and all are bogus. Your comments also remind me of the RACE CARD being used by the democrats in this election process so far. You are bascially saying that WHITES in the boat business are VICTIMIZING minorities. This is EXACTLY the same non-sense that the Jesse Jacksons and Al Sharptons of the world spew out everyday. Why don’t you tell us EXACTLY how we are alienating these poor minorites from boating? Please tell me you have something more sustantive than the fact that 90+% of boaters are currently white and that we don’t have minorities in boat brochures.

  20. Jim

    Ok Arch; boat shows are expensive, boats are expensive, gas is expensive etc., etc. I still say it’s what the dealers and the promoters make of shows that determines whether or not they are successful. If your margin is in line–and that is also up to you, if you don’t ask for it, you won’t get it; then the percentage of expense to your bottom line should be about the same. If you choose to pull in your horns and do less shows and promos, that’s fine too.
    If a dealer has studied his show results over the years, he knows which shows produce and which do not. We may be the exception to the rule on Lake Erie, but we have a fantastic show arena that is not downtown. We fled donwtown in the eightees due to lack of space and high space costs which to some degree makes your point.
    Maybe a new venue will help other shows as well as it did us and maybe not. But sitting back and expecting the public to seek you out will not work either.
    The Detroit Boat Show had a large uptick in attendance this past year just by promoting and giving the public a reason to come downtown to the show.
    Do we have to work smarter and better each year to compete? Sure we do, and the strong dealers will survive as they most generally do. We got through the early nineties and it was painful and now we are in another challenging cycle.
    For me, anything Norm, Wanda, or anyone else can suggest to make one more sale per month or per year for that matter is worth consideration.l

  21. arch

    I have since spoken to several more black people, and I played devils advocate. STILL, all of them either said boating was too expensive, or they just had no interest in it. I asked each of them if they felt that boating just wasn’t offered to them, or if they felt unwelcome getting into it. They all laughed at the implication. Each said if they wanted a boat and could afford one, they would go buy one. They don’t need the white mans permission, or invitation.

    JIM….I don’t doubt that what Norm and Wanda are proposing might get you a few more sales per year. But what are you going to do about the 10-20 you will lose due to continuing deterioration of the boating industry? This is the point everybody is missing. We can sit here and come up with a million THEORIES about how to kick start sales, but that doesn’t address the real problems with our industry. We should be focusing on the REAL PROBLEM, the cost of boating.
    People LOVE boating, who wouldn’t. It’s fun, you are out on the water, in fresh air. It’s great, no doubt. If the NMMA did some serious polling, they would find out that the main reason people choose not to buy is because of MONEY.
    Now, there are many many other reasons, but most are completely out of our control.
    If you look at boat brand sales, you will see a transition from more affordable boats dominating sales back in the 70’s and 80’s to more expensive boats in the 90’s and 2000’s. This is due to several reasons. Most sales are to experienced boaters and as they change boats, they move up, and as they get older, they have more money for nicer boats. What we ARE NOT seeing enough of is the first time boat buyers. Boats, and everything else that has to do with boating has simply gotten too expensive. WE ARE NOT ALIENATING MINORITIES, WE ARE ALIENATING OUR OWN DEMOGRAPHIC. The last thing we need to do is try and recruit another one when we can’t even keep our own.
    Now, if Korea or China starts making some boats and selling them for 50-60 cents on the dollar, then LOOK OUT. I hate to say it, but we need some boat companies to do what BAYLINER did back in the 80’s and go for price points. $9995, $14,995, etc etc. Many skeptics cursed bayliner for what they did, but they DID bring many boaters into boating that otherwise could not have affored it. We are at that point again. If we can recruit some people into boating by making it more affordable, it will help build our base and those people will move into some nicer boats down the road. We need to market some affordable boats to first time boat owners, ALL RACES WELCOME.

    I still laugh at BOB’s suggestion that minorities are buying all this high end stuff like Cadillacs, thereby implying that there is some big untapped market of boat buyers there. Maybe he should check out General Motors, Chrysler, and Ford’s HUGE FINANCIAL LOSSES the last few years and tell me how the minorities are helping those companies. I think BOB has been watching too many rap videos.

    We need to have less expensive boats, and each retailer needs to be ready to overcome any objections that a buyer may have, such as……

    Have options and help the customer OVERCOME this challenges rather than just selling them the boat.

  22. arch

    In a down market, people OVERTHINK the problem, get desperate, then convince themselves that some different marketing or some other idea is going to make a big difference. Well, if the market is off, it’s off. There is little you can do to change that. You need to have consumer confidence and we don’t have that right now.
    I was just debating this the other day with some local dealers. They want to spend a bunch of money on advertising right now to try and kickstart some sales. Unless the advertised some major liquidation sales, or going out of business sale, I told them it was a terrible idea.

    The reason boating has decreased in popularity is because…
    COST (boat, fuel, marina, insurance, depreciation, etc etc)
    People working more hours (and fewer Mom staying home) and having less time.
    Computers, Internet, video games, and home theaters keeping more people indoors

    When I was a kid, all the local kids were outdoors riding bikes, parents were outdoors, etc. It was what everyone did. NOW, you can drive through subdivisions FILLED with kids on a Saturday afternoon. You will barely see any kids outside in the subdivision. The kids are either at baseball, soccer, or cheerleading practice, or they are inside playing video games and parents on the computer or watching TV. There has been a change in our culture, no doubt. Boating loses out on that deal. It isn’t our industries fault per say, but things have changed. I do support the GROW BOATING CAMPAIGN because it is planting the seed and reminding people how great boating is. I do think people just don’t realize it until you take them out. I think the ON THE WATER SHOWS and free boat rides do a great job getting people in the boating mindset. I think this is another reason the BOAT SHOW in the downtown convention center gig is dying and will be a thing of the past before long.

  23. arch

    JIM, I agree with what you are saying. And I have no doubt that Norm and Wanda’s ideas might translate into 1 more sale a month. BUt what about the 2-3 sales a month you are losing due to the continuing deterioration of the marine industry. THAT IS MY POINT. Norma and Wanda are trying to reinvent the wheel, which I guarantee won’t work, instead of addressing the REAL PROBLEMS our industry has. I”m not trying to make them look bad. I respect them both and they are very knowledgeable about our industry, but they are REPEATING the same mistakes and blaming the same nonsense as others have the last 10 years. ANd guess what, here we are, still losing ground.
    Unfortunately, this industry and the people that run it have caught the same disease our politicians in Washington, DC have. They are taking the path of least resistance and not rocking the boat.
    At some point, a high level marine industry expert will be brave enough to speak the truth and adddress the real problems. He will be shunned and villified for it, but years later, he will be credited for being the first to say what no one else had the gall to say.

  24. John Wisse

    Outstanding commentary Norm. If very few African-Americans, Hispanics and other non-Caucasians are not enjoying boating today, how is the marine industry going to reach the public in the future with its message and product lines? Our most recent efforts in Ohio included developing and operating a kayak pond at our 12-day Ohio State Fair that ended Aug 10 in which more than 3,500 children under age 18 became introduced to kayaking — including a significant number of non-Caucasians. This was the No.1 new attraction at this year’s state fair. Ohio’s next public relations effort comes later this month when ODNR is to host the editorial staff of Black Outdoors Magazine, which is conducting a one-week tour to sample Ohio’s state parks and to enjoy boating, fishing and other outdoors opportunities. The magazine is preparing a special Great Destinations feature story for its Fall issue and now will also showcase Ohio because of the outreach efforts by the state parks staff.

  25. Jim

    Ok Arch and points well taken. When the builders all wake up to the notion that we have stopped ordering product from them–maybe we’ll see some action. And Yamaha is growing as a boat builder as we speak. As agressive as they are, not to mention Honda, Suzuki, and Kawasaki; we may see more building both here and overseas by the Japanese.
    We can repeat the mistakes of American auto builders then and send our boat building to Mexico, as we already have, and the Japanese will come in and build boats in America that are better quality and less expensive. And maybe that’s just what needs to happen.
    In the meantime, aggressive dealers will sell product even if they have to buy late model used distressed product to do it. And the woe is me dealers will fold—just like always. Then things will improve again and everyone will want to be in the boat business—just like always. And so it goes.

  26. Sunshine State

    We as an industry applaud in the name of ‘boating access’ and ‘reasonable regulation’ when jet skis are allowed in previously off limit areas such as national Parks.We are an anxious,often dysfunctional industry in a state of deep anxiety-hence the discourse on “minority” sales growth.
    Here is my final thought- speaking on behalf of so many customers:A benefit of the boating experience and ‘lifestyle’ is the absence of minorities.

  27. Wally

    Guys, Stop pointing fingers, step away from the key board, look around your dealership, take a deep breath and go do something positive. Make a sale, sweep the floor, water the plants. Heck; how about a boat ride for your self!!
    It’s not up to any of us to change the world.

  28. Scott Croft

    “Here is my final thought- speaking on behalf of so many customers:A benefit of the boating experience and ‘lifestyle’ is the absence of minorities.”

    Sunshine State: Totally inappropriate. While I’m old enough to admit America’s race relations are not perfect, the depth of your backward thinking makes me wonder if some of us in this industry will survive the next 20 years, when you and your customers will be the minority.

    Your candor saddens me because of what it represents for our industry.

  29. Jim

    Sorry Wally, but I can’t agree. It’s high time we pointed fingers and changed the world. For too long all of us in this industry, let alone this country, have allowed the world to change us. It is high time we took the bull by the horns and took back control of our industry and our country. And it’s high time we stopped watering flowers and taking boat rides and ignoring all else.
    Where we agree is that we need to do something positive while looking at our own dealerships—and make sure we treat the entire public, despite race, color, or crede like we want their business. And then we need to make sure we darn well get it….at a nice profit!!

  30. Am I confused?

    Sunshine States comment about the lack of minorities being a positive: for a moment, I thought to myself “he’s right. When I go to the local Mall, I am sick and tired of roving groups of young adults being rude, obnoxious, intimidating others, etc. 99 out of 100, these youths are minorities. I guess I feel the same way?”

    Then I sat and thought about my last trip to the river with my family. I was so disgusted…groups of rude, disrespectful young adults…primarily Wake specific boats…hip hop blaring from tower speakers so loud no one within a 500 yard radius could carry on a conversation….obscene hand gestures, provocative clothing and dancing….more than a few boats had “Stripper Poles” installed, and the related activities….truly a sad scene in total. But guess who was in those boats….idiot over-priveleged white folks…100 percent of them.

    So maybe it’s not the people, it’s the activity. Unfortunatly, stereotypes exist for a reason. It seems now that the glorification of “Thug Life’ has bypassed all issue of race, and become one of lifestyle instead.

    Either way…i don’t like the direction it’s going.

  31. Sunshine State

    10/4 on the comments re:white dislikeables.And Scott- I am well entrenched/established in this industry-my comments simply reflect what my customers tell me.
    Here is how I beat all of this and enjoy the water ways personally: Small vessels/Kayaks on more remote waters. But of course this boating style generates little $$$ for the ‘industry’.

  32. Arch

    I don’t agree with all of SUNSHINE STATE’s comments, but he is right. You might not hear people say it because of the POLITICAL CORRECTNESS now, especially when it comes to RACE, but it’s true. Most boaters like the fact that there are few minorites in the business.
    I’m just being honest. It’s a fact, ugly or not.

  33. Sunshine State

    33 comments on this piece not counting my diatribes; the subject generated some interest! Hopefully the comments will spare the industry from an expensive, likely ineffective ‘campaign’.Onward-

  34. Scott Croft

    Sunshine State-

    I appreciate your honesty and understand that people, and customers have racist issues – and that goes way beyond this industry. As I previously posted, I’m old enough to know this country has some serious problems. I would also consider myself a realist, and do not stand behind the banner of political correctness.

    My point is, will your – and not your customers’ – perceptions of race prevent you from growing your business? If your customers tell you not to market or sell a boat to a person of color, will you follow their instruction? I, for one, want you to grow your business and make a sale, so I can have more members.

    Arch- again, I also appreciate your honesty, but to say “most boaters like the fact that there are few minorities in this business” is pitifully close-minded, and sad. Just because you may live in a part of the country that may accept this doesn’t mean you have to as well. You have the choice – not anyone else – to market to minorities. Don’t hide behind your current customer base.

    I can’t wait for the day when a minority walks into either one of your shops and asks for your help in buying a boat or getting repairs – all of the data out there says It may happen much sooner than you think.

    Both of you gentlemen have the ability to grow your minority – soon to be majority – business. Both of you also have the ability to ignore change, and fail.

    I, for one, would prefer you stick around by adapting, and remain successful for a long time.

  35. Arch

    Scott, you are implying that I will have an issue with selling a boat to a minority or servicing their boat. You are wrong. I’ve been doing it already for 20 years. It’s not common, but has happened dozens of times over that period.
    I live in an area where there has been an EXPLOSION of the black population. THere are 10 times more than when I started 20 years ago, but I hardly see any more at the dealership than I did 15 years ago. WHat does that tell you?
    The “DATA” you are referring too is being misinterpreted by YOU. Just because there are more minorities, it doesn’t mean they are going to take over boating.
    ANd when it comes to customers, I don’t care what creed or color they are. I give them all the best service and treat them with kindness and respect.
    RACE doesn’t enter the equation.

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