A View from Here

Bill's Sisson's weekly Trade Only blog

If only the sailing industry were hip and cool

I recently received a magazine published by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors that is sent specifically to PADI dive shops for their dive shops’ eyes only. What a cool and hip magazine.

It was full of suggestions on how the dive shops can continue to attract the right demographic to their industry. Part of the color, glossy magazine was devoted to a convention they had hosted to grow their industry with guest speakers from major corporate trainers.

PADI is the world’s largest dive industry certifying and training company. They take an impressive high-tech and glossy approach to marketing the dive industry, and they do a great job. They devoted a lot of space in the magazine to teaching dive shops how to present their industry — how to attract the younger generations, to make diving hip and cool.

It’s difficult to project this scene on the sailing industry. Unfortunately, sailing is still just plainly seen as a stodgy thing that boring, rich old folks do.

But there are lots of things that we all can do to fire up this industry with a bit more excitement.

I’m talking about marketing to our buyers in the year 2009. Buyers who expect a quality and professional experience of products from first exposure to post-purchase customer service. Could the sailing industry ever become like a Mac store? A jazzy and hip place to hang out, view the latest cool stuff, take your kids for a learning experience and generally be wowed. You want a Mac so bad you can taste it.

Compare that to the sailing industry, which is loaded with uninspiring Web sites, boring boring boring videos on YouTube, blackboards and broken school furniture in sailing-school classrooms, dealerships with buildings in need of serious paint jobs, and boat shows that simply don’t pass the excitement litmus test.

PADI trains their schools to sell and push the dream of diving vacations. They feature young people in their ads, which they admit is actually targeted at the baby boomers. Boomers want to feel young, and so seeing fun shots of young people in the islands conjures up purchasing thoughts.

PADI also recently made the leap to offer their class material and certification test online. A move that increased the accessibility of their industry to the general public. Schools embraced the online training because the schools now had more people to teach the practical skills, more people to sell products to, and more to sell their vacations.

Like PADI, NauticEd.org has brought sail training online. We’ve invented some cool and hip interactive teaching tools to get more people excited about the sport. We’ve made those tools FREE for everyone to use to simply drive new people to the sport, and we’re pushing those people out to the sailing schools and charter companies. We’re bringing an excitement level to the sport demanded these days across all generations.

Recently, we began working with Bic to develop an online interactive kids sailing course. I must say that I was impressed with their marketing presence and ability to bring excitement. Their Web presence, YouTube video presence, color scheme and photo shoots are all top-notch quality. My wife and I felt like we were in the Mac store.

Can we all be a little more like Mac, PADI and Bic please.

Grant Headifen, president
“The World’s Most Advanced Online Sailing Education”


9 comments on “If only the sailing industry were hip and cool

  1. Wuwei

    The industry needs to build some larger boats that don’t cost $100K to get into. You used to see families out boating–now not so much, because only boring, stodgy, old rich people can afford the sport. Of course, everything else associated with big-boat sailing is just too expensive too. I bet most sailors spend more on their annual dockage or mooring than many divers spend on all their equipment. If you can get families into sailing again the kids will get started and be life-long boaters.

  2. Dave

    “..sailing is still just plainly seen as a stodgy thing that boring, rich old folks do”?? Apparently you haven’t been reading Seafaring magazine (Latitudes and Attitudes) http://www.seafaring.com Yeah, there’s a few older rich folks but lots of young, vibrant cruisers too.
    Most of the magazine covers will give you a clue…

  3. Richard Jepsen

    Re Grant Headifen’s post on diving v. sailing; Grant makes some good points. Certainly, sailing has a reputation for being ‘expensive’. And, online education, of which Grant is a purveyor, is a good step in the right direction.. However, the rhetorical gambit to describe sailing schools with broken furniture and boat dealership buildings in need of paint jobs goes a bit far. I’ve been to many, many sailing schools and many dealerships. Most do a REALLY good job of making sailing accessible and attractive with their websites and their physical plants. Check out lots of dive shops with PADI certification offered and they look very similar to sailing schools and dealerships….. And, Grant, Blackboards, really? Sailing definitely has something to learn from diving but let’s avoid stereotypes that are at least 20 years old.

    That all said, sailing needs a better market vision, just as diving has created for itself. Part of that vision is education and standardization.. Diving’s relative success was based on the setting of reasonable national standards for instructors and divers..It gave the public confidence that they wouldn’t be at risk while they learned to dive. That gave it the money and the market base to afford a glossy magazine. While US SAILING doesn’t have a glossy magazine, it is working hard with 21st century technology to reach out. if you look at US SAILING’S website, it’s newsletter and its video podcast, you’ll be impressed with its ability to promote what is fun and unique about the sport.

    BTW, as a way to educate sailing programs about how to make our sport more accessible, fun and affordable, the National Sailing Programs Symposium, a learning conference for sailing program directors and instructors does JUST what Grant asks us to do: provide education on how to market the sport and make it more accessible with marketing tools, best practices in training and education as well as ‘out of the box’ tools to reach out to new constituents. If you are a gateway to the sport, either a sailing club or sailing school, the best investment you can make in your program is to send a senior member of your team to the NSPS – February 3-7, 2010.

  4. Les Stowe

    We need to develop Sailing Centers that will offer people the opportunity to sail Many types of sailboats. We could offer the 21 ft. China Cup Sportboat with Asym. Spins, the G-Force Yachts 25 ft. Keelboat with Sym. Spin, and a 35-40 ft. Keelboat like a King 40 to train both young people and adults with high performance sailing. I have been trying to find funding to do this, but now is not the time for finding funding for sports. We could offer different venues and keep a sailing center busy all year long in California. Why doesn’t someone with money have the vision and the love, passion, and guts to get this going. We need to do something to help our great sport of sailing and do it soon. Please feel free to contact me if you are interested in this idea. my addy is lloydstowe at yahoo dot com.
    thank you,
    L. Stowe
    Hemet, Calif.

  5. Grant Headifen

    Great comment thread. What’s great is that there are so many people interested in promoting the sport with passion. I must commend organizations like US Sailing who are really doing a great job at setting the standards. I’ve also run into the Company Shake-a-leg out of Miami and I think they are doing a terrific job as well. Any one else care to commend some organizations? Sometimes a little kudos goes a long way for those who are shaking it up and really putting it out there.

  6. David Bishop

    The analogy with PADI works both ways. PADI, from the point of view of many of the older scuba divers, has led the charge in dumbing down scuba education in an effort to make it “more accessible” to the masses. This has produced a host of divers that restrict their diving to resort dives guided by a dive master because they don’t feel comfortable diving on their own, or diving in less than perfect conditions. This would be like “sailors” who charter a boat with a captain in the Caribbean once a year instead of buying a boat.

    Of course, PADI also provides many advanced courses, at a significant fee, to make up for the inadequacy of their basic instruction. As a business model, it certainly works. As a model for growing a sport, the drop out rate is so severe that, while thousands are certified every year, the number of active scuba divers remains fairly constant.

  7. CaptainAndrew

    AS a sailing instructor and recreational sailor, I will throw my 2-cents in for what it’s worth.
    Accessablity due to high costs is the number one obstacle to sailing. I am a Gen Xer and I love sailing. Most Gen Xers I know, whom even in this economic enviroment are making six-figure incomes, can’t afford to purchase a decent cruising boat (34-38 feet LOA.) Fractional ownerships and clubs have to be the future or sailing will start to die out begininng with the post-bay boom generation. The sailingindustry needs to be targerting the post-baby boom market now! Otherwise in 20 years–there will not be a market except for the wealthy.

    1) Make new 34-36 foot sailboats affordable (i.e., $100,000-$130000 sail away price) and you will build the market. Make high quality basic 32 footers for $75000 and you will build the market. Make high quality basic sailboats and you will build the market.

    The market is going to get smaller because of the economic pressures the post-baby boom generation will have to deal with over the next 40 years. It is all about affordability.

    can anyonein the industry meet these challenges?

  8. Nis Peter Lorentzen

    But the sailing industry IS hip and cool!

    At Scandinavian Cruisers we design and produce boats that target the day sailing lifestyle because more and more families are too busy for long-distance cruising. We design boats that can be sailed by shorthanded crews, because it is too complicated and expensive to get a full crew together each time you want to go sailing.

    We aim to design boats that are beautiful, rather than just fast, to protect the long term value of the owner’s investment in our boats.

    We combine classic design lines with the latest sailing technologies, such as carbon fiber free-standing rotating wingmasts, lifting T-bulb keel and lifting rudder for improved performance and day-sailing functionality to make our boats more “hip & cool”.
    We are seeing a resurgence of interest in small affordable sailing boats. The recent global economic slump has made this more evident, but the underlying trend of making sailing more affordable, less time consuming, less complex, and yes… more “hip and cool” started years ago with the growth in day boat designs.
    For more information click at http://www.scandinaviancruisers.com

    Best regards

    Nis Peter Lorentzen
    Scandinavian Cruisers

  9. CaptainAndrew

    Nis Peter Lorentzen–Gorgeous and affordable! You should go to the Annapolis Boat Show in October–you will get orders.

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