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.