The marine industry is thriving, but it has to do more to attract a younger and more diverse audience to ensure its long-term success.
That’s according to National Marine Manufacturers Association president Thom Dammrich, who gave the state-of-the-industry address this morning at the International BoatBuilders’ Exhibition and Conference.
Americans spent $39 billion on boating in 2017, and that’s projected to grow to $41 billion this year. “This is the seventh year of growth,” Dammrich said. “Boat registrations are growing for the first time in 10 years. The next three years look really positive, and it could be even longer.”
The number of households that own boats is declining, but the rate of decline is slowing, he said. The average age of today’s boat owner is 58, and the average first-time boat buyer is 46, he said.
“We should begin to see that age of an average boat owner decline,” Dammrich said.
The industry could face some headwinds, he said. “The pace of change is accelerating, and we as an industry need to lead change, not follow change,” he said.
Demographics are changing, and the industry must do a better job reaching a more a diverse customer base and engaging millennials, Dammrich said.
The lack of diversity is a product of a sales-focused industry, he said. “We’re not focused on the lifestyle,” he said. “The RV industry has focused on the lifestyle, and they’re growing much faster. We have to do a better job selling the lifestyle.”
By the time a customer walks into the showroom, 70 percent have made up their mind what they want to buy, said Dammrich said.
“Marketing gets them through 70 percent of the journey,” he said. “We need to focus more on a pipeline of future customers. We have to market and nurture them along, and reach out to the younger generation.”
Millennials are the most diverse audience in history, and the industry can’t attract them without allowing them to see themselves in the boating lifestyle, Dammrich said.
The industry also has to be more politically engaged, he said. To that end, the NMMA is going to invest more in state and federal advocacy.
“We need to start action today to make sure the industry is here in 20 years,” Dammrich said.