Q&A with Jason Pajonk-Taylor, NMMA chairman

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08_qa_1Jason Pajonk-Taylor is chairman of the board of the National Marine Manufacturers Association and the president of Taylor Made Products. He is responsible for the overall management, strategic direction, and profit and loss of Taylor Made Products.

Pajonk-Taylor, 42, has been with the Taylor Made Group for 17 years and has been in his current role for 10 years. Other positions he has held at the company include group product leader, regional sales manager and general manager of the windshield operation in Templemore, Ireland.

08_qa_2Pajonk-Taylor has been active in the NMMA for eight years, having served as chairman of the Accessory Manufacturers Division Board in addition to his current position. He also has served on task forces and committees during his career, including as chairman of the Mutual Efficiency Forum, a group that was tasked with improving supply chain logistics in the aftermarket segment of the marine industry.

Pajonk-Taylor attended Bentley University in Waltham, Mass., where he earned a bachelor’s degree in management. He lives in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., with his wife, Aimee, and their three children.

Q: As we near the end of 2011, how would you characterize the year for the NMMA and its members?

A: I would characterize 2011 as a better year. We restarted Discover Boating, which I think was great, with the Welcome to the Water campaign. Wholesale shipments were up about 16 percent in units. We acquired a title sponsor for the NMMA boat shows, which I thought was key. We saw attendance at boat shows up 15 percent, which was a reverse and has been great. We continued to reduce costs while increasing member value, which was indicative of the show costs. We launched Boat Show Exhibitor magazine. And probably one of the biggest things is we continue to lead on federal legislative and regulatory issues like the E15 issue.

Q: The NMMA recently announced Progressive Insurance as the title sponsor of its shows. What led to that decision and how will it affect the shows?

09_qaA: We decided several years ago to pursue a title sponsor for NMMA boat shows. We aim to produce the best boat shows and provide a great experience for the consumers and a great selling environment for our exhibitors, and this title sponsorship provides additional resources to create innovative programs, increases promotion and helps to fund the important programs and advocacy for our members.

I think, if anything, you’ll see added features. You’ll see no detriment at all. I think it’s only positive. I also think it brings a great avenue for the NMMA members to showcase boating as a lifestyle. It’s just another entity that is promoting boating. So I think it’s only positive. It’s a powerful sponsorship.

Q: Is the NMMA happy with the performance of its 2011 boat shows and are there any plans to buy or sell shows?

A: We’re definitely pleased to see the shows recover in 2011 after stronger space sales and increased attendance, which was key for us. We expect to see them continue to grow stronger in 2012 as the industry grows. In 2012, we’ll continue to use the boat selector tool that we’ve done, which highlights and promotes the boats that will be on display, which is a really cool feature.

We’re expanding education at shows, with an emphasis on DIY programs. We’re introducing a new feature called Fred’s Shed, which is a DIY type of program, so I think that will be a really cool feature. We’re adding some video walls to some of the shows and improving marketing.

There’s no doubt the world has changed and so has the role of boat shows. Independently we’ve had research from Foresight Research that shows that boat shows continue to be a vital marketing channel for the industry and that boat shows are the third-strongest influencer of consumers on the boat they will buy. For those who attend shows, they are the No. 1 influencer of the boat brand the consumer will buy. So it is certainly a very important part of the sales process.

[In terms of buying or selling shows] we would look at any opportunity we think would be a benefit to the members.

Q: With the industry shrinking, are there any plans to combine trade shows — for example, joining IBEX with the dealer conference?

A: I think it would be too early to say. Inclusion is absolutely the right path. We are a smaller industry and we all care about the same thing, which is improving and growing the boating lifestyle and boating marketplace. So I think anything that would lead to that in the end we would be absolutely in favor of and open to.

10_qaQ: Recent NMMA data show a slight decrease in boater registration from 2009 to 2010. Are you concerned about this?

A: It’s always a concern. Total boat use has been declining for five years after a 15-year run of increases. It’s a significant concern because fewer boats in use affect every aspect of the industry, from dealers to marinas to accessory manufacturers. Fewer boats will certainly lead to fewer sales for every sector.

Boats are aging rapidly. The average age of a boat in use today is 21 years, compared to 16 years old in 1997. During the prolonged downturn we’ve been in, we’ve seen more boat retirements each year than new-boat purchases. The silver lining for us is that once the boat reaches 25 years old they don’t really have much resale appeal and generally begin to be retired. So this will create a shortage of used boats and stronger demand for new boats in the years ahead.

We are concerned enough about these things that the NMMA is hosting a recreational boating stakeholders’ growth summit in December in Chicago. Nearly 200 leaders from every segment of the industry, in addition to consumer organizations, are being assembled to address these challenges.

Q: Do you think boat usage will turn around once the economy turns around?

A: I absolutely believe that. Certainly the economic forces that have been applied to us over the last several years have had a major impact on discretionary spending and, in turn, it affected our industry. I’m an avid boater, so I’m an incredible proponent of the boating lifestyle as a way to live your life. I’m on my boat every weekend. I’m a lake boater with my kids and just love it. I think it’s just getting that message across that will help us recover from the economy.

Q: How is the reinvigorated Discover Boating campaign going and what can we look forward to in 2012?

A: It’s called Welcome to the Water, and it’s been well-received by the industry. It’s not really an advertising campaign; it’s really a movement to be on the water. With social media today really touching all aspects of how to reach the consumer and reach potential consumers, we’re creating this movement to be on the water.

We need every marine business engaged in this movement. We’re beginning to see the industry get engaged. We’ve sent out thousands and thousands and thousands of these Welcome to the Water window decals. In 2011 we saw slightly improved retail sales, and in a full year of collections we should see funding for Discover Boating rise to $6 million. When funding reaches the $7 million to $8 million level we can effectively begin using cable TV in our campaign again. So as the economy recovers and the industry recovers I think that campaign will continue to grow.

Q: Heading into a presidential election year, how important is it for the industry to keep an eye on what’s going on in Washington? Are there concerns that issues such as E15 will fall by the wayside as elections take center stage?

A: One of the key initiatives that the NMMA focuses on is advocacy. The legislative and regulatory threats to boating grow every year. We cannot let our guard down for a minute. We have one of the finest legislative teams representing our industry, and I would encourage anyone to get to know them.

E15 is in the courts and the NMMA is one of the plaintiffs as part of the larger group. We hope to see this resolved in our favor in 2012. The EPA is working on best practice regulations for discharges from boats under the Clean Water Act. We continue to work on legislation to fix a broken system of salt fisheries management. National oceans policy continues to be a major concern. We have to be very vigilant on it. Reauthorization of the Sport Fish and Boating Trust Fund in the transportation bill is a top priority, as it is every time it comes up. This is the program that finances boat access, pumpout stations, transient slips in marinas, boating safety and fish restoration — all very important, obviously, to the boating industry and the boating community. We will be working with our partners to enact the new model legislation on boat titling in state legislatures. As Congress works to reduce federal deficits and reduce spending, we will have to be vigilant to ensure boating is not singled out with onerous changes.

Q: How would you characterize the general relationship between manufacturers and dealers these days?

A: I would say on 95 to 98 percent of the issues affecting boating and the boating industry, manufacturers and dealers are completely aligned. You look at any industry where manufacturers distribute products through dealers, and you can certainly find a certain level of friction built into the relationships, but manufacturers and dealers need each other and, in most cases, work incredibly well together. We’ve worked very well with the Marine Retailers Association of America over the past decade. On almost every single issue we are completely aligned. We’ve enjoyed a great productive relationship with Phil Keeter and the leadership of MRAA, and we look forward to building on that with the new president, Matt Gruhn.

Q: What do you see for the industry in 2012 and beyond?

A: I expect that the industry has turned a big corner after the last two years, and I expect that we’ll see slow growth over the next few years. I think a portion of that will be attributable to a general economic recovery, and then part of the job of our industry as a whole is to make sure that we focus on the Welcome to the Water campaign and looking at bringing new participants into boating.

This article originally appeared in the December 2011 issue.

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