A View from Here

Bill's Sisson's weekly Trade Only blog

Expanding your share of the boating market in a down economy

The days of the “order taker” are over. No longer can a retailer continue doing business the same way as in the past. Look for opportunities, experiment, try something new and monitor the results.

I have a few ideas that I would like to share. I suspect that some of you will think I have lost my way or that, frankly, I don’t know what I’m talking about. Regardless of your immediate reaction, why not give some thought to what I suggest. In this market, the ordinary is not being ordinary anymore.

Racial and ethnic diversity
If a segment of our society is non-white, I’ve been wondering why I don’t see more African American, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, Asian, Native American or other non-Caucasian salespeople working in our industry and also appearing in industry advertisements. This question is even more relevant if your primary marketing area has a mixed population.

I think having a more diverse staff, which represents the racial and ethnic diversity of your market, is an indication of your company’s sales philosophy; you’re interested in doing business with everyone in your community. That may sound patronizing, but people like to buy from someone they can relate to.

To make my point even stronger, consider the fact that African Americans make up over 14 percent of Michigan’s statewide population, Asian persons about 2.5 percent, and persons of Hispanic or Latino origin about 4 percent in my home state. This ratio, obviously, may vary depending upon the city and/or region of your state where you conduct business.

This is the time to stop stereotyping racial and ethnic groups, and reach out to the non-white population and broaden your potential client base. Our population of marriages between persons of different races is also increasing and has tripled since the 1960s. The U.S. population is dramatically changing. It is estimated by the Bureau of the Census that these groups will account for almost half of the U.S. population by 2050.

Advertising in non-traditional ways
My idea, considering the previous paragraph on diversity and ethnicity, is advertising in publications and Web sites that are oriented toward our racial and ethnic diversity. Considering the fact that there is a significant portion of the population in Southeast Michigan that has a Middle Eastern ethnicity, why not consider advertising directly to this population in the media outlets that cater to this portion of the society? Has any marine retailer placed an advertisement in a paper directed to this or any other non-traditional market, and printed the messages within the ad in Arabic or another appropriate language?

I recall that one marine trade association, a few years back, advertised a boat show in a gay and lesbian publication. Guess what folks; there are gays and lesbians who buy boats. We also should be spending more time addressing the female market. We must continue to communicate the benefits of boating to our traditional market, white men between the ages of 26 and 54; however, now is the time to branch out.

Partnering and packaging
I have a pet peeve. Why do golf and boating have to compete with one another? I can’t tell you how many times I have heard, “I’m not a boater; I’m a golfer,” meaning a person can’t be one if they are the other. I have conducted an unprofessional personal research project (I’ve talked to a lot of people), and I have determined that there are a huge number of boat owners who are also golfers.

I have also determined that a significant number of waterfront communities have golf courses within a reasonable distance from their waterfronts. If you are a marina operator and want transient visitors, I suggest partnering with golf courses, motels, hotels and resorts promoting boating/golf overnight packages together. This doesn’t have to be directed just toward large-boat owners; trailerable-boat owners want fun and exciting trip opportunities as well.

Even though I drive a better boat than a golf ball, one of the best times I have had is golfing early in the morning and following golf with a quality day of boating. You can take this thought even further when considering the variety of events, restaurants and attractions that are within close proximity of the waterfront and marina facilities. Partner with other community businesses and create fun boating destinations.

What’s a “staycation?” Wikipedia, the free Internet encyclopedia, defines it as: “A period of time in which an individual or family stays at home and relaxes at home or takes day trips from their home to area attractions.”

With difficult economic times and higher gas prices, “staycations” have gained in popularity. We are a staycation industry. Boating lends itself to this concept. Visit a different lake or bay each weekend. Larger vessels serve as second homes, and marinas continue to expand their amenities — cable television, wireless Internet, swimming pools and playgrounds, just to name a few. Take this opportunity and develop a marketing/advertising plan that can build on people’s desire to travel less distance and stay closer to home.

Children — our future
There are many great programs directed to young people, giving our youth boating, sailing and fishing experiences that groom their interest in water-based recreation. The National Youth Marine Alliance is an example of the support for engaging young people through water-based recreation and educational programs.

My suggestion is that each marine business owner consider what he or she is doing within their own business environment to get kids involved with boating. Many of us can attest to the benefit of having children pushing Mom and Dad to get a boat, and we all know the best way to have quality time as a family is when the entire family enjoys the boating lifestyle.

Grandparents & grandkids
I suspect that those of you who are grandparents know what I’m about to say. There isn’t anything that grandparents won’t buy for their grandkids. I have some personal experience here. My grandkids love our boat, riding in the boat, swimming from the boat, and fishing.

If you are a boat dealer or marina operator, take advantage of this opportunity to market to the older baby boomers that are in the grand-parenting stage of their lives, especially considering the size of the baby boomer generation. Figure out methods to push that button.

There are lots of ideas on how to survive in a challenging market, mine are just a few. As is commonly stated, there are no bad ideas. What is bad is not trying something new. What are your ideas?

 – Van W. Snider Jr., CAE
President, Michigan Boating Industries Association


4 comments on “Expanding your share of the boating market in a down economy

  1. Norm Schultz

    Van – What a great blog! All the ideas you have suggested have powerful potential for those whio take them seriously and investigate implimentation. Not every idea will work for every dealer nor could every dealer afford to tackle so many at once, but I hope every dealer takes time to reflect on each one and select those that will have the greatest impact for their business. Sure we’re in very tough times, but there are always winners and losers in every business in every economy. That includes our industry. Those who will be the winners will be those dealers who seek new ideas, like those you’ve presented and more, and move on them. Your blog reminds of that old expression: “If we always do what we’ve always done, we’ll always be what we’ve always been.” You blog surely encourages a lot of us. Thanks.

  2. Doris Colgate

    Because we are so involved in bringing new people into the sailing market, and have been for 45 years, much of what we do to reach that market mirrors Van’s advice. It works.

    The “stars” in our DVD, which is available through our website or by mail and handed out at boat shows, are graduates of our courses. They are: an African-American gentleman from Texas, an Asian couple from San Francisco, and a caucasian woman.

    Our ads feature an African American man, the Asian couple, an Hispanic man, many women and baby boomer or even older couples.

    We run special programs for women every year, started these in 1990. In 2009 we have five special Escapes scheduled.

    Since 1970 we have PACKAGED our courses with first class destination resorts – six of them currently – and teach roughly 2000 people a year who devote their vacation to learning a skill they can use for a lifetime. 90% of these people go on to bareboat charter. 30% buy boats.

    We promote heavily our Private Family Learning Vacations, taking kids as young as 7 with their parents in our Learn to Sail and Cruising courses.

    This season we promoted stay-cations for our courses in New York and New Jersey and are continuing to run this in 2009.

    We also promote heavily our Private Couples courses – appealing to baby boomers.

    And we are always promoting giving the gift of sailing, which many younger people are buying for their parents and vice versa.

    Best of all, we have a PR firm that is reaching out to multiple lifestyle, family and adventure travel media. We had feature stories in the past 18 months in Delta’s SKY, Southern Living, Boston Globe Vacation section, and several others. Coming up — New York Times PLAY.

    There is nothing more relevant now than telling people that choosing sailing as a vehicle to get away will be one of the most rewarding and satisfying activities they have ever done. It will give them a skill they can use for the rest of their life, one that will bring them together with friends and family in a way they’ve never experienced. it will reduce their carbon footprint every minute they are under sail alone. And if they want – they can opt for the live aboard world someday and leave all the news overload behind.

    Doris Colgate
    CEO and President
    Offshore Sailing School

  3. John Wisse

    Great points. Additionally, the Marine Marketers of America (MMA) and its Pro Bono Special Projects Committee is working on finalizing a project proposal for early 2009 that encourages marine dealers to offer a combined boating safety education and hands-on training program for women. By adopting an education-to-sales buisness model, which has been accomplished in other recreation industries, seems to be another viable option that marine dealers as an industry may want to consider. MMA’s program is known as the B.E.S.T. Course — Boating Education Safety Training — Just For Women.

  4. Arch

    ARE YOU KIDDING ME? We are back to discussing race? An I thought OBAMA played the race card too much. Listen folks, race has nothing to do with our industry and little to do with anything else. Racism in this country is taking hold again and it’s not because OBAMA is running. It’s because people keep bringing up RACE.
    It just amazes me that people in this industry bring up race as if it’s going to be our savior. Our industry is in the tank right now and it has NOTHING to do with race, and getting out of the tank will have NOTHING to do with race.
    The most well to do demographic is having a hard time justifying the expense of boating, yet you now want to go after a demographic that has even less discretionary income? Not to mention that boating is not real popular with their culture.
    All you have to do is poll minorities and they will tell you. I’ve asked many.
    Minorities that have money seek out new hobbies and interests. Having a few black guys in a Sea Ray brochure isn’t going to get a black person to buy a Sea Ray. Not only is it insulting to suggest it, but it’s got to really insulting to the minority that thinks his business can be bought that way.
    I”m not saying change is wrong. I’m all about change, but you guys are looking in the wrong direction.
    Here are 38 posts about race. It’s from last months TRADE ONLY blog.

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