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.