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Family sport? Think again

Boating – it’s a family sport, right?  We’ve been touting that for as long as I can remember. And while we’ve been on target with that claim in the past, here’s some new information that should start us thinking.

According to the recent Census, for the first time in U.S. history more households are headed by single adults than married people. Specifically, 50.3% of the 111 million American homes are now headed by a single adult. U.S. marriage rates have been slipping for many years for a variety of reasons. For example, divorce no longer bears the stigma of past decades and people are generally tying the knot later. Also, co-habitation without marriage is up and the vastly improved earnings power of women means the need for a husband to afford luxuries isn’t as necessary. The bottom line of all this is a large target for sales.

Generally speaking, businesses have a history of not treating singles as equals to marrieds. Consider that singles are routinely charged higher auto insurance premiums. They’re also routinely offered lower salaries for the same job. And singles must anti-up more for an identical vacation package on a cruise or at an all-inclusive resort.

But singles, all 87 million of them, have real buying power. Contrary to stereotyping that assumes all singles are primarily looking for mates, many are single by choice. Singles were a significant force in the recent real estate boom — some estimate as much as 25% — and they were not typically the sub-prime borrowers, either.

As I see it, all this raises the question: Should we consider dumping the old “family sport” mantle? The answer: No, that wouldn’t be smart. After all, we have too much invested in that image and it does reflect one of the great benefits of boating. But the shear number of singles should make us consider investing in efforts to develop an image as a sport of choice for singles, too.

For starters, we might add a new TV commercial and/or print ad aimed at singles to next year’s Discover Boating campaign. Manufacturers might develop literature and/or POP materials that sell the idea of singles and boating – how about a “girls just wanna have fun in boats” theme. As dealers, we might consider using direct mail to reach local singles clubs in the community. Or, how about an in-store “Intro to Boating Day for Singles” presented by some singles who boat.  Perhaps start a Boating Singles Club with special offers and programs. If you want to find out what “hot buttons” singles might respond to, ask your single employees or have them ask their single friends, etc. I think a little brainstorming could go a long way in helping reach new market segments, like singles, that we haven’t really pursued in the past.


7 comments on “Family sport? Think again

  1. Scott

    Many, many years ago in Buffalo, NY, The Seven Seas Sailing School had an informal Seven Seas Swinging Singles Sailing Club that would meet once a week, take sailing lessons, do some beer can racing and mostly have fun. It was an opportunity for like minded adults to get together, enjoy an activity they liked and have a good time. And if I am not mistaken, some of these singles did get married, have kids and are still boating. Oh, and swinging back then did not mean the same as it does today!

  2. Susan Wendt

    Point recognized, and we have been including marketing to singles for years. “Girls just wanna have fun” definitely used. One that was most fun to create was a print ad with a guy and girl heading out in a fishing boat. Beneath was the personal ad: SWF desires SWM with fishing boat 24′ or larger. Send picture of boat.

  3. Todd Markusic

    Norm, you make some interesting points and I think you are on target with some of your ideas. Although according to our latest marine syndicated survey, 87% of boaters are married, I agree with your premise that many of the marketing campaigns target the masses and therefore, the message does not get to these smaller consumer bases. In addition to singles, dealers should consider targeting women and minorities as well given neither segment has much presence in the boating industry so there is a lot of potential to grow these segments. Keep the positive ideas coming.

  4. Brian Minton

    Market segmentation is a logical analysis. Given the two very large segments of family / single it makes sense to develop different creative since it will motivate to purchase more effectively. This only makes sense if the media vehicles can be segmented along the same lines. Nationally this is no problem. Local dealers will have a greater challenge and may have to be tactical as you suggest and work around conventional media.

  5. Nyla Deputy

    Yes, I agree, the singles market in boating has been completely overlooked. Kids these days would rather sit on a couch and play video games. And it’s hard for parents to get them off it. And a lot of people get out of boating because the kids don’t like it. I have seen this cited quite a few times, as reasons for selling the boat. Not all kids like it. Especially the girls or when they get in their mid-teens. When my daughter was a teen, she hated the boat. (she still does as an adult) She claimed it was too confining. She said it was boring. It was a battle to get her to go. Most of the time, she stayed with friends while we went because she had absolutely ZERO interest in it and we were not going to have a good time if she went along. Families just are not like they used to be back in the 50’s. So I think marketing to singles is the new frontier. I know of a group called “Singles On Sailboats”. I think somebody needs to come up with a Singles on Powerboats network. You could start testing the waters by putting up a website and advertising the address in boating magazines and see where to go from there.

  6. Jim Burroughs

    The idea is sound Norm and it could go places. The problem with our industry, as we both know, is that our marketing has stunk forever and it isn’t a lot better now though I think we are headed in the right direction with our new campaign. Any marketing will help; we just need to get better at it as an industry.

  7. Roe OBrien

    You go, Norm. The only thing I like as much as singles (and maybe more) is DINKS (dual income no kids.) Empty nesters. You know, folks with money and the time to use a boat. Families juggling the costs and time constraints of raising kids have an uphill battle to find the money and the energy and the kid-interest it takes to take a family boating. We need a subtle, gradual shift to marketing that targets those who can more easily and more comfortably buy our products.

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