A View from Here

Bill's Sisson's weekly Trade Only blog

A new definition for ‘BOAT’

You probably know the old saw.

Q: What does the word “boat” stand for?

A: Break Out Another Thousand.

At the Recreational Boating Leadership Workshop in Chicago yesterday, NMMA president Thom Dammrich provided a different interpretation of the acronym.

BOAT: Best Of All Times.

The two acronyms nicely frame the chasm between selling a commodity (the boat) and selling the experience (boating).

Dammrich’s remarks came at the end of a presentation on affordability, which was the topic that a group of seven of us had been brainstorming and discussing for several hours. We presented our findings to the larger body. MarineMax chairman, CEO and president William McGill Jr., a member our small breakout group, helped put an exclamation mark on what we had been wrestling with.

“I don’t sell boats,” McGill said. “I sell a lifestyle. Boating changes people’s lives. It’s important to understand that the reason why people boat is in the emotional part of the brain. It’s hard to articulate. But that is boating.”

Dammrich agreed. “We have to sell the ‘ing’ and not just the ‘thing,’ ” he said, referring to the experience of being on the water rather than the product itself. “We have to sell the value and the lifestyle.”

Could it be that some in the industry have more of an issue with affordability than do consumers themselves? It’s possible.

Rising costs are a concern, but our small group came to the conclusion that that was something best addressed by individual manufacturers and not easily or practically within the scope of an industrywide initiative. The marketplace will reward builders that can best control, maintain or even pull costs out of their boats, where appropriate. Those that can’t probably won’t see the same results.

There are a fair number of relatively inexpensive entry-level new boats on the market today. And the relative success that aluminum pontoons and other small aluminum and fiberglass boats have enjoyed of late suggests that if you build it, they will come. Pontoons offer affordability, economy, simplicity and fun. There is a broader lesson there.

Making boating more affordable was one of six key issues or areas identified as priorities last December by the Recreational Boating Stakeholders Growth Summit, and it needs to be addressed during the next three years to help the industry grow and move toward its overall 2021 vision of success.

Yesterday in Chicago, 40-some industry representatives from more than a dozen categories broke into six groups to flesh out the half-dozen key areas identified last year and develop possible action plans for the highest-priority initiatives.

I went into our discussion on affordability thinking we’d be talking a good bit about dollars and cents and entry-level product. I was pleasantly surprised to be part of a broad discussion that kept coming back not specifically to the boat or the cost but to the experience — the ‘ing’, if you will.

An avid water skier, McGill said on more than one occasion: “Boating changes people’s lives.”

That’s a powerful message. (Click here for my Soundings column on the power of the boating experience.) The consensus of our group was that we had to work toward getting consumers to believe that boating can improve their lives and to understand clearly the affordability issues around boating.

We also concluded that there was a perception (or misperception) on the part of many would-be boaters regarding the actual cost of owning and maintaining a boat, something that certainly is within the purview of an industry task force to address. Like the five other groups, we came up with a number of possible joint actions.

I don’t think any of us around the table had our heads in the sand on the issue of cost. We all recognize that there are plenty of boats that are more complicated than they need to be and that it’s not difficult to find boats that are overpowered and overcontented and aren’t affordable by any measure.

The buyer will vote with his wallet. But rather than just sell price, we were of the camp that espoused emphasizing value and focusing on what the boat can do for you — how it can change lives, bring families together, provide an unmatched sense of freedom and independence and a ton more.

I’ll end with the quote that Dammrich used to open the workshop, one that I think accurately captures all of our businesses:

“The boating industry is like an ecosystem. Anything that affects any one of us will eventually affect all of us, both negatively and positively.”

Look for more on the Recreational Boating Leadership Workshop in the next issue of Soundings Trade Only.


11 comments on “A new definition for ‘BOAT’

  1. Rod

    The powerboat industry has done a slightly better job than the sailboat industry on this, but overall, one factor would help sell “boating” and thus boats. The industry needs to do better at promoting small ,affordable boats. Toos often I think, many potential buyers feel that in order to have fun, they need to look at 35′ or larger boats, that to accomodate even a small family (Mom, Dad and 2 small kids) for a weekend…they must buy a 40′ boat. I grew up sailing when a 20′ to 25′ boat was average for families, one would start out with a 16′ to 18′ boat…..then move up after a few years. The 25′ boat might get replaced in a couple more years by a 30′ model….. and if family enjoyment expanded…. then 35-40′ boats were sought out. We went boating to enjoy time as a family, like camping on land, we went cruising to get away from TV, away from phones, we lived out of a sea bag and had FUN!!
    Now, even small boats have a TV or two….or 3 or 4 or……. We have DVDs, CDs, WiFi, lap tops, etc. None of which really likes the saltwater environment (or even freshwater for that matter! More features mean more to break down, more initial cost, more complication to maintain…

    I’m a traditional boater, so..I’m not impressed by the latest runabouts and cruisers, styling gets uglier every year…… but I do have to stil lsay that at least someone new to boating can easily find a “starter” size powerboat with out much searching. I know cost effectiveness drives builders to concentrate on bigger boats….but remember, it is the smaller boats that are more likely to get someone interested, more likely to be used and enjoyed! The buyer who “cuts his/her teeth” on a small boat may very well buy a bigger boat next year. and eventually an even bigger boat. They wil lbe less intiminated by a smaller boat, and care and maintainance is less for small boats. Confidence builds easier o na small boat, confidence and skills that will be needed on bigger boats. Joysticks and thrusters don’t make a better boathandler, learning to do it right o na small boat Does! Joysticks and thrusters have their place……but they need to be seen as optional tools, not as necessary for operation of the boat. Perhaps dealers could include a boathandling lesson when they sell a boat, teach the basics of operating the boat, how to get out of a slip, off a mooring/anchor, how to get the boat back into the slip, how to anchor, and how to practice to the point of being able to handle the boat with pride (and learn from mistakes! We ALL make them!!). Confident boaters, buy more boats and may lead to friends buying boats! A newbie that gets scared or frustrated doesn’t lead to more sales, and may hurt future sales.

    “nuf said!

  2. Bill Sisson

    The six topics are (in no particular order):
    1. Marketing message/campaign
    2. Boating education initiative
    3. Youth Initiative
    4. Recreational boating advocacy and accessibility
    5. Diversity initiative
    6. Affordability


  3. Joe Lewis

    Selling “Boating” and all the positive aspects of the boating lifestyle is what the “Discover Boating” Campaign has been promoting since it began. Bill I’d like to invite you and all your readers to visit http://www.discoverboating.com and tell us how we’re doing. We’ve got some pretty compelling content and great tools but there’s always room for improvement. When it comes to ideas to make this program better, we’re all ears.
    P.S. Don’t forget to check-out our FaceBook page as well. If you like what you see….just hit the like button!

  4. Ken Stofflet

    The six Topics are vey valid and the industry must address them. However it seems to me that the industry’s problems are political as much as anything. Some would say it’s a PR problem but when you look back at the “lows” this indsutry has had to over come, it has come in the form of gov. regulation and public opinion of boat owners.

    Think back to the Carter administration who’s goal to “BAN BOATING” on weekends to save fuel was actually given real consideration and the media when reporting on it would show clips of yachts in a high end marina, saying something to the effect that the “rich” would have to find something new to play with. One could argue this was the birth of the 1% vs the 99%. They didn’t show the weekend fisherman in aluminum boats that were handed down from father to son or the families having fun together. No it was the rich vs the poor.

    This industry and boaters in general have been easy targets for those who see us as the 1% and deserve to suffer additional taxes and regulations, tarriffs and what ever else they can think of to drive revenue back to the fed and states.

    So in the end it is a PR problem, we need to help change the image most politicans and many americans have of boaters. We must overcome this stigma of 1% and show them who and what we are really all about. Get your state and local representatives invited to your dealership promotions, get them on the water and let them see that it is a family driven business not corporate suits. Kids having good clean fun and without and iPad or cell phone in their ear.

    Get the local press involved as well, I don’t caare if it has to be the local weather gal covering your event, the sports guy or a hardcore business reporter. Make sure you get your points accross that boating is an affordable family fun form of recreation. That brings in plenty of local tax revenue and means jobs both on the local and national level. That boating is more fun and more affordable than most folks might think.

    Just a thought.

  5. Thaddeus B. Kubis

    Thanks Bill,

    The 6 points are really 2, perhaps 3 targeted points, which makes the solution simple and complex at the same time. What are the next steps, are you looking to develop an advisory board to provide an expanded industry response? I say expanded not in the number of words or pages but the broad base of the ENTIRE marine industry.

  6. Thom Dammrich

    Lot of good comments here. Let me respond to some of them. Ken, I agree we do have a political and a PR problem. That is why public policy advocacy is one of the six major areas we need to work on to get more engagement from the entire industry on a more regular basis. And, PR is a MAJOR part of Discover Boating. As far as affordability, why do we always focus on 35 foot, 40 foot or larger boats. 95% of the boats in use today and 95% of the boats sold each year are less than 26 feet in length! Boating is affordable! There truly is a boat for every budget. And, any size boat can change your life! It doesn’t have to be a big boat. Affordability is an issue for the media and politicians and we need to change that. But, we all have to be communicating the same message on that issue to overcome the stereotypes. 83% of all boat owners have a household income of less than $100,000. Boating is solidly middle class America!

    We have to be more effective at creating the ‘want’ and let the customer decide what is affordable instead of us talking about it all the time. I sometimes think it is a bigger issue for those of us in the industry than it is for the boat buyer. We need to sell the value of boating and the lifestyle rather than the features and benefits of the boat. Buying a boat is an emotional choice to fill a want. People buy a lot of things they want that aren’t logical or perceived as affordable. But, the customer decides on affordability. Not us.

    All six of the joint action areas are related but there distinct efforts that can be undertaken in each of them. A full report of the meeting will be available within a couple of weeks. There are no easy answers. If it was easy we’d have done it already.

    And, yes, Thad, we are going to need all hands on deck from the industry to successfully undertake initiatives in these six areas. We will be inviting anyone in the industry that wants to get involved and join in the work to do so. Many hands make light work. We need everyone in this industry working on these initiatives.

  7. CaptA

    Three words:


    Cost–Need to find a way to allow potential boats to boat at a lower cost; Solution: Fractional Ownership/Membership

    Time: Need to find a way to give potential boaters time on the water and not fixing things because future customers don’t have alot of free time due to current and future economic trends; Solution: Fractional Ownership/Membership

    Education: People do not know how to go about learning good seamanship; Solution: Dealerships and Sailing/Power boat schools should be working more closely together and offering customers a wide range of educataional opportunites—not just a “this is how your new boat works” training.

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