LOUISVILLE, Ky. — 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.
That was the message Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association, presented this morning at the industry breakfast that marked the opening of the 21st annual International BoatBuilders’ Exhibition & Conference.
“We must change if we want to grow,” he said. “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 percent — 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 said, should lead to more new-boat sales in the coming years.
The key, he said, is to get more children out on the water — 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. 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, boating remains a $30 billion 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: Figure out how to bring more people into boating. Discover Boating’s “Welcome to the Water” campaign has been successful, 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.”
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During this morning’s breakfast, Eldon Nysether, of Sea-Dog Line, was recognized with the Mel Barr Award. The award was established in 1967 in memory of Barr, founder of the National Marine Representatives Association.
The award is presented by Boating Industry magazine.
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The morning event also included a talk by acclaimed international speaker Mikki Williams, whose talk was titled, “A Balancing Act: Walking the Tightrope of Life.”
Using humor and anecdotes from her own life, Williams admitted that she didn’t know the difference between a galley and a head, but she had advice to help attendees in their business and their lives.
Change, she noted, “is one of the greatest things we deal with today. Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.”
She suggested a simple foundation for life: PMA plus RDL. Have a positive mental attitude and recommended daily laughter.
Also, Williams said, strive to be a car fixer rather than the person who sits in the car honking the horn and waiting for something to happen.
“Everything we do is a choice that we make,” she said. “You can shape your life or your business any way you want.”
— Beth Rosenberg