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Diversity confirmed at the Miami Show

Regular readers of this blog will recall I’ve previously written about the need for our industry to address diversity as an important pathway to future growth.  After  all, the U.S.  Census alone tells us that the population of Hispanics, African-Americans and Asian- Americans is growing rapidly in America.

I’ve previously cited other studies that support this, and I’ve reported industry leaders like Dusty McCoy (Brunswick chairman) and Thom Dammrich (NMMA president) have been urging  the industry to appeal to a diverse consumer base.

But I had the unique opportunity to witness it first-hand during the Miami International Boat Show & Strictly Sail that closed yesterday. Thanks to Cathy Rick-Joule, NMMA vice president, I was able to spend five days in the show’s “Affordability Pavilion” meeting and talking with several hundred show visitors. If it was nothing else, it was a confirming experience for me.

Rick-Joule created the pavilion to illustrate that a variety of boats can be purchased for less than an average car payment. Specifically,  an information center was surrounded by  11 boats from, 17 to 22 feet, all available for a monthly payment of $250 or less. And it was a draw to a lot of people.

I was expecting to meet a number of people, hopefully would-be boaters with limited knowledge about buying a boat and the mistaken belief that boats were not affordable. I literally met hundreds. What I didn’t anticipate was about 65 percent of all the people I talked with were minorities. The overwhelming majority were Hispanic, but there were some Asian and African -Americans, too.

Now if you’re going to tell me that‘s because I was in Miami where there’s a huge Hispanic population, I acknowledge that. But it’s not my point. Rather,  the experience showed me three interesting things:

First, minorities are clearly more interested in boating than I would have guessed. They liked the analogy that buying a boat was just like buying a car, i.e. payments they could afford. Seeing the low payments was particularly surprising to many of them. But, our conversations often went well beyond price and payments. They wanted to talk about things like maintenance, safety equipment, trailering vs. dry stack, insurance, education classes, even  licenses.

Second, a large percentage of the visitors, particularly the Hispanics, had two-three children with them. I observed that the kids’ reactions to the various boats on display was notably important to those parents. It confirmed for me the various studies that have concluded family and family activities are “prime drivers” for Hispanics, greatly influencing how they use their time and spend their money. Family time together tops the list with Hispanics.

Third, they indicated they were seriously considering boating and they had money to spend on it. When you think about it, a couple with two teenagers had just paid $60 for show tickets, plus parking, just to get through the boat show gate. That alone was a major qualifier of interest and hopefully intent. Moreover, although the whole point of the pavilion was to effectively present the message that boats can be financed resulting in very affordable monthly payments, many came right out and said: “We’ll just be paying cash.”  So, the old stereotype that minorities don’t have economic means, if ever true, appears dead today.

For me, it all constituted three good confirmations that there is real sales potential to minorities. Clearly, regardless of any other  industry-wide initiatives that may be in the offing as a result of continuing market and demographic studies, as well as any developments expected to come from the recent Growth Summit in Chicago, recognizing and advancing programs that appeal to minorities should now  be past the discussion stage and moved to a priority for action in our industry.



6 comments on “Diversity confirmed at the Miami Show

  1. Rusty

    Finally. It just goes to show you that those who occupy “higher” positions with their various entities need to spend more time in the trenches learning what those of us who do have already known. Amazingly, there are “other” human beings out there on this earth who share the same struggles, wants and desires. We need to realize too that this revalation needs to go beyond the marine industry as well.
    Thanx to those for thinking “outside your box” in the recent efforts in Miami.

  2. John Hockenberry

    Any person walking through a broker’s front door must be considered a serious buyer until proven otherwise. This is the only acceptable policy.

  3. Lou Sandoval

    Norm: Astute observations. It’s not just in Miami, it’s in Chicago, it’s in Texas it’s in NJ. The age old excuse of “I don’t know where to start or find “minorities”” will seperated the successful dealers from the not so much. As stated here before- the boating industry needs and infusion of younger, gender diverse and ethicity diverse customers and that will be the responsibility of ALL the stake holders at every level. Thank you for highlighting this need. It’s up to everyone to put the appeal into action.

  4. brad

    Norm, I am glad you got to spend time there. I have promoted the south florida boat show in miami for 18 years. The most succesfull dealers here have embraced the latin community. Dade is 68% Latin! The cubans love there boating and watersports, probably to a higher degree than anglos. I have seen the dealers who do not embrace marketing to non english speaking customers wither away over the years.

  5. dave

    race has nothing to do with a person’s ability to enjoy boating…and every dealer should treat everyone who enters the store as a potential customer, one he values, long term, until he learns otherwise.

    That being said, the customer needs a job, or a way to pay for, or make the loan payments for his hobbies.

    The dealer SHOULD have been selling and courting all folks all along, and if he is targeting minorities this year to replace his previous customers, he will likely be disappointed…

    sell to the people with the means to enjoy the hobby, it is simple

  6. Arch

    LOU, really? Do you actually think there are dealers out there that say, I DON”T KNOW WHERE TO FIND MINORITIES”. Seriously? THat has got to be the most *^%$! comment I’ve read on Trade Only. This race thing is out of hand and brainwashing so many of you. We should be race neutral and color blind.
    BRAD, I’m Cuban, and next to Lou’s ignant comment, yours has to be next in line. Explain to me how a south FL dealer does not embrace marketing ot non-english speaking customers and how it impacts sales? Let me guess, the dealer only advertises in English. YEAH, and I’m sure that is exactly why they go out of business. Seriously?
    I’m Cuban and live in South FL. The Cuban’s down here actually read and speak English. The ones that have the means to buy boats live in the same communities as anglos, have the same jobs, read the same papers, go to the same boat shows, visit the same dealers, etc. It has NOTHING to do with race or pandering to a certain class of people.
    Seriously, I just can’t believe I’m reading this. It’s unbelievable. It seems like half the country has been brainwashed to believe that IF YOU AREN”T A WHITE MALE, YOU ARE A VICTIM.
    DAVE, thank you for making sense and being one of the few rational ones here.

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