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A challenge to get Hispanics into boating

Companies that ignore the exploding Hispanic population in the United States and fail to engage that market will miss out on long-term business opportunities, conferees at one of many seminars held at IBEX were told.
all rights JIM GALLOP

Industry told it must change a culture to tap the vast market potential of fastest-growing demographic

Companies that ignore the exploding Hispanic population in the United States and fail to engage that market will miss out on long-term business opportunities, conferees at one of many seminars held at IBEX were told. What’s more, they were cautioned, the industry is lagging behind mainstream corporations in progressively nurturing burgeoning new markets.

“Exposure early on is your dividend that is going to pay off in the long term,” said speaker Lou Sandoval, founder and co-owner of Karma Yacht Sales in Chicago, vice chairman of the Recreational Boating Leadership Council’s diversity committee and a man of Hispanic descent. “Break down the barriers that divide us.”

The “barriers” are documented in reams of data collected by the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation, which hosted the seminar and is in the beginning stages of a five-year initiative to grow Hispanic participation in fishing and boating.

A ‘total effort’

“Hispanics don’t come from a fishing and boating culture,” said Ed Cantu of the market research firm Lopez Negrete Communications, hired by the RBFF to lead its Hispanic marketing plan. “The three key steps to overcoming those cultural barriers are exposure, experience and an invitation.”

To that end, one early drumbeat coming from the RBFF based on its findings is to encourage all industry players to make a concerted effort to better engage Hispanics in their markets.

“This effort has to be a total effort by the whole industry,” RBFF president and CEO Frank Peterson said. “That’s manufacturers, distributors, dealers and retailers.”

Other hurdles to overcome are, to some degree, a language barrier; an all-inclusive family principle for recreation among Hispanics; limited exposure to boating and fishing and the absence of a cultural identity with those activities.

“The ability to see themselves [in the boating lifestyle] is very important,” said Gerry Lorado of Lopez Negrete.

The numbers

When it comes to the changing face of America — and the boating market of the future — the numbers don’t lie.

• Hispanics make up the largest minority group in the country, at 53.5 million, according to the 2010 Census — about 17 percent of the overall population — and are expected to reach 67 million by 2020. The Pew Research Center forecasts that Hispanics could account for as much as 29 percent of the general population by 2050.

• Hispanics accounted for 55 percent of all U.S. population growth between 2000 and 2010.

Although the RBFF touts a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service survey that found overall participation in fishing was up 11 percent, Hispanic participation remained stagnant in that period at 1.7 percent of all U.S. anglers.

“[Hispanics] are not getting engaged. They’re not getting pulled in — and we have to change that,” Lorado said.

• Perhaps more ominous data for an industry whose customer base is dominated by aging Caucasians: The median age for Hispanics is 28 and the median age for non-Hispanic whites is 42

• Further, a U.S. Census Bureau report released this summer showed that the number of non-Hispanic white Americans who died in the year that ended in June of 2012 exceeded the number born during that period by about 12,400, the first “natural decrease” for this group.

As an incentive for industry engagement, Hispanic buying power is also rapidly on the rise, speakers said.

“The gap between the haves and the have-nots is narrowing,” Lorado said, noting that Hispanic households earning $75,000 or more grew 152 percent, to 3.6 million, between 2000 and 2012. The number of Hispanic-owned businesses has increased from 1.7 million in 2002 to 3.2 million today, Sandoval said.

A baby boom

Further, the Hispanic population has its own emerging baby boom (23 percent of all Americans younger than 18 and 26 percent of those under the age of 5 are Hispanic), which will have far-reaching effects on the U.S. demographic, rivaling the cultural clout of the original, now-aging baby boomers.

“This Hispanic baby boom is a huge wave that hasn’t made their impact felt yet,” Lorado said. “When we talk about exposure to boating and fishing [for Hispanics], now is the time to act.”

Speakers stressed the need for a long-term commitment from marine businesses to develop the Hispanic market.

“You need to have a commitment to developing this market,” Lorado said. “If you go into it with a series of one-offs, you’ll be disappointed.

The RBFF’s five-year marketing strategy will roll out in April with a multimedia campaign in Florida and Texas, which have substantial Hispanic populations. The program will be expanded nationally in the following years.

Throughout the campaign, the RBFF will share marketing data and insights into Hispanic culture — its nuances and differences — with the entire industry.

This article originally appeared in the November 2013 issue.

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