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‘Choice overload’ in boats should end

If we can wish for anything good to come from this deep recession, it should be less boats! No, I’m not talking about less boat sales, just a lot less models.

Aside from the fact that the current economic debacle will likely take out some boatbuilders and their dealers, when things finally turn around our industry needs to move away from the “choice overload” scenario we helped foster in the last decade or so.

Choice overload has made its way into virtually every part of our lives, and it’s not good, according to Business Week magazine. For example, in recent years automakers have offered a staggering 1,100 model combinations, while local supermarkets bombard shoppers with 120 pasta sauces or 360 shampoos. As best I can tell (I’m not sure anyone really knows) we were offering more than 700 boat models before this downturn slammed on the brakes.

What researchers are finding is that when buyers have to sit down and review too many possibilities, they often push back from all of them in frustration and buy nothing. Or, if they do buy, they don’t enjoy the one they’ve selected because they think they may have passed up a better choice. The truth is, as choices multiply, the odds actually do increase that a better choice exists! So some experts now say that while we once clamored for more choices as consumers, we now generally feel less satisfied when we have so many choices.

Clearly this recession is going to force some restructuring of many business models in our industry. One change should be a reduction in the number of boat models offered. Doing so will not just move us away from the consumer’s frustration with too many choices; it will streamline those manufacturers and dealers who are still standing after this storm ends. The fact that, in the past, many major builders tried to be all things to all people has resulted in dealers having to seek ever-increasing floorplans to accommodate too many models, leaving them more vulnerable to economic downturns like this one.

In the future, success for boatbuilders will be in making themselves “leaner and meaner” by producing fewer models with higher quality, which will also result in a stronger, more profitable distribution system of dealers and satisfied customers.

Comments

13 comments on “‘Choice overload’ in boats should end

  1. Mike Bart

    I think you are dead wrong!!! Choices bring competition and a steady improvement in product. Perhaps each manufacturer should produce one model and paint it Gray. Mmmm! sounds a little like the former Soviet Union, doesn’t it?

  2. Peter

    Your comments are well taken, we have been providing model level new boat sales statistics for the marine industry for the past twelve years. In addition to the exponential growth in models within segment, historically manufacturers that specialized in a particluar segment have also been branching into multiple market segments (for example Bass manufacturers making Saltwater boats etc). What we usually find when looking at brand level model statistics is that there are 3-5 models that account for 80% or more of total unit sales.

  3. Bill Y.

    I agree with you. A good healthy weeding out will only help us in the long run. It will enable the builders and dealers who operate smarter to increase the margins that have been suffering since this all began.

  4. Doug Reimel

    Choices are a wonderful thing. I for one am all for choice. The presentation of the choices is were the marine business fails to deliver the message

  5. David R.

    Peter’s comment reminds me of the 80/20 rule: 80% of your sales come from 20% of your products, the remaining 20% of sales come from 80% of your products. And 20% of your sales should not be ignored.

  6. CarlM

    To: Mike Bart — Hey comrade add a little water to that drink.
    I believe Norm & Business Week magazine are not speaking about Choice but “Choice Overload”.
    or “Offering Overload” in the case of manufacturers.
    I’ve watch this since the government broke up Ma Bell…
    Have you tried to buy & compare cell phones lately?? Now that’s a pushback & they still don’t meet the primary use objectives but you can get them with a heck of alot of other functions & applicstions including internet & video recording…Shamwow!
    The businesses that get through this will be niche manufacturers along with those dealers with the same business niche mindset.
    In the Marine segment of the Recreational Industry the same will be true,
    Niche manufacturers partnered with exclusive niche dealers and of course some, not all, of the pervebial big guys will prosper after the wave passes over.

    Hey maybe with production levels at a trickle, if that, & a vast amount of “new inventory”(unsold from 12 months or longer ago) in the field maybe it’s it’s time, dare I say, to think about dropping model years for boats ??? Are they all not new boats???

  7. Schwarzel

    Henry Ford one said, “You can have any color model T as long as it is black” No choice there but the model T put Ford on the map. I have seen the choices of boat brands shrink. Think back to the 80’s. Remember names of boat company’s that are gone. Hydra-Sports bass boats, Winner, Fabuglass, Astroglass, Sea Star, Vision, Ray Craft, just to name a few. Those company’s are long gone! Other company’s got stronger, built smarter and survived the down turns of the past. We are going to see the weeding out of boat builders, boat models. Company’s are fighting to keep alive. When we come out of this the company’s that made it will be strong, very strong. Reminds me of what a boat company rep told me once, “The strong will get stronger, the weak will fall away”. Starting to see that now with dealers and some boat builders.

  8. Tom Mack

    Norm –

    It almost seems that manufacturers have RACED to introduce new product in the last decade – and in many cases have sacrificed better engineering and quality just to get their product to the marketplace faster or by the next Miami show, etc. We’ve seen alot of industry examples of products with poorly concieved ideas or manufacturing processes, which as a whole hurts the industry. While choices have their merits in creating good competition, BETTER choices even if fewer would do us all a favor. Look what happens when a high quality manufacturer really does it right with a particular model; in some cases a great boat like could have a VERY long production run with many more years of success than others with truly little change because it was simply a winner from inception. Good Points – Thanks Norm.

    Tom

  9. LARRY RODRIGUEZ

    IN TODAY’S WORLD, IN BIG CITIES & TOWNS, AS WELL AS MANY OTHER PARTS OF THE COUNTRY………….
    ASIDE FROM THE DIVERSITY IN BOAT MODELS, THERE ARE SO MANY OTHER THINGS TO DO, SO MANY ACTIVITIES TO TAKE THE KIDS TO, SO MANY CHANNELS TO WATCH, SO MANY CARS TO CHOOSE FROM AND SO MANY BRANDS AND MODELS, SO MANY CELL PHONE COMPANIES, AND FORGET ABOUT THE MANY CELLS PHONES TO CHOOSE FROM, SO MANY SPECIALTY STORES TO SHOP AT, SO MANY FAST FOOD RESTAURANTS, NEVER MIND THE ETHNIC ONES, AND THE FINE DINING ONES, SO MANY FORECLOSURE, SO MANY CREDIT CARD COMPANIES, SO MANY HOUSES FOR SALE, SO MANY SHOPPING CENTERS, AND ON, AND ON……..YET only 24 hours in a day of which they say we need at least 8 to sleep, otherwise our health and life becomes stressed out!
    HECK I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO THINK ANYMORE, SINCE THERE ARE SO MANY OPINIONS…….

  10. arch

    Ok MIKE BART, your comments are a little overboard, don’t you think? And that says something coming from me, mr. big mouth.
    I do agree with your comment that choices bring competition.
    NORM, in a perfect and simple world, I would agree with you. But this world, and US CONSUMERS are neither simple or perfect. They are selfish, demanding, and very particular.
    Builders can obviously maintain profitability by offering multiple models, which is why they do it. We will have less models next year, but we will also have less manufacturers. Let the market decide. This is after all a free market. The market will take care of this issue, not us.
    If only OBAMA understood that concept.

  11. Gordy McKelvey

    Wow Norm, I think you’ve hit on a topic that could be discussed and cussed for months. The possibile scenerious for arguments concerning this topic are expotentionially mind numbing. When all avenues of discussion have been exhausted, we’d still be in the the same place we started. How many different ways can you build a mousetrap? Personally I don’t think it’s how well the mousetrap works or how many moustraps are in your inventory but it’s the kinds of mousetraps you customer base perfers and how well you can sell the mousetraps. And that, is up to the mousetrap dealer.

  12. Tom Marlowe

    Years ago when things were much simpler I was working a retail sales lot. Part of my job was to keep inventory for sale. The major builder I represented introduced accent color choices and we jumped on that band wagon. I quickly noticed a reduction in closed sales which I attributed to the couple going home to decide which color they wanted. I trimmed back to one color, the most popular one, and everyone was happy again. I eventually lost that battle when all builders introduced hulls in every color of the rainbow. Buyers love a choice whether it helps them make a decision or not. I do agree that there were far too many brands. How many 19′ CC or 21′ bowriders do we really need to chose from, let alone all the colors? I’ve seen countless folks get so confused while boat shopping they drive themselves and the sales folks crazy. I can’t tell you how many folks have asked me about a brand I’ve never heard of. These days the chances that an obscure brand is out of business are good, but still they are out there muddying the water, and when a buyer accepts that brand along with it comes no warranty. A possible nightmare that could drive that consumer out of the boating market forever.

  13. JJK

    Reality is settling into the boating industry and will be similar to what is and will happen in the auto industry. Less dealers and less choices overall to improve profitability. Lets face it gang, we all know the benefits of boating and the lifestyle it offers to families and individuals alike, but we promote and sell product people really do not need. In “normal” recessionary economic slowdowns the marine industry is hit but in unprecedented times we are in now, the red flags are huge. Irwin Jacobs and Dustin McCoy have turned the 500 pound gorillas into a manufacturing contest producing far too many models and brands. Market saturation has given way to a full-on deluge. It cannot sustain itself and the consequences are severe.

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