For the boating industry to grow and prosper, it must work together and reach beyond the traditional customer to embrace millions of Americans who haven’t yet experienced the thrill and fun of boating — a close relative in terms of industry dynamics to the RV arena.
That was the message Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), presented this morning (Oct. 17) at an industry breakfast marking the opening of the 21st annual International BoatBuilders’ Exhibition & Conference (IBEX 2011), reported Beth Rosenberg of Soundings’ Trade Only.
“We must change if we want to grow,” said Dammrich. “We need more boaters. We’re going to have to work together to grow.”
Although 2011 hasn’t seen the growth the industry hoped for, Dammrich noted that retail sales through August on a trailing 12-month basis were up 2% — not a small feat in an industry that has seen continuous sales declines in recent years. “Better sales and smoother waters are ahead for the recreational boating industry,” he said.
Another silver lining: The average age of a boat today is 21 years. At 25 years, a boat is no longer attractive in the used market. This, Dammrich surmised, should lead to more new-boat sales in the coming years.
The key, he said, is to get more children out on the water on the premise that “kids that boat become adults that boat.”
Also, Dammrich said, the majority of boaters are middle-aged white men, although that segment of the population is shrinking. In a comment that closely parallels the RV sector, he claims that minority-group members need to see themselves in boating magazines and ads and see that boating is a viable recreation option.
“We need to look beyond our traditional customer,” Dammrich said.
Despite the challenges, the ARC release states, boating remains a $30 billion-a-year business, with wholesale shipments up in units and dollars this year, and that growth is expected for the next few years.
The NMMA, Dammrich said, is hosting a growth summit in December with about 200 industry leaders from all segments, the purpose of which is to figure out how to bring more people into boating. Discover Boating’s “Welcome to the Water” campaign has been successful, most would agree, but more needs to be done.
“Passion for the water is contagious. Be a part of the movement,” he urged IBEX attendees. “Together we will create a better future for recreational boating.”