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BRP’s Spark lights up the Affordability Pavilion

Most show managers will admit that when exhibit space is selling out, allocating good floor space to non-revenue-producing educational displays isn’t easy. NMMA vice president Cathy Rick-Joule knows that feeling. Still, she insists on earmarked high-traffic space for an “Affordability Pavilion” that she believes sends a necessary message to potential new boaters.

Such was the case at the Progressive Miami International Boat Show & Strictly Sail that ended last night. And the pavilion gave a gold-medal performance.

Literally hundreds of visitors were drawn in by the big sign proclaiming “Affordability Pavilion: Boats Financed for $250 or Less per Month.” The boats on display ranged from PWC to center consoles, pontoons to bow riders. Payments ranged from $169 per month to $249 per month.

As a side note, visitors reflected the international draw of the Miami show. Curiosity had me keep a list of countries I encountered: Columbia, Peru, Brazil, Dominican Republic, France, Norway, Argentina, the Bahamas, Canada and Britain. I probably missed some. And, while trying to explain that they could own a new boat for less than a typical monthly car payment was often a language challenge, Rick-Joule had the display manned by a bilingual team.

Undoubtedly, the hottest draw was the new Spark PWC from Sea-Doo. Deservedly, the Spark also won an Innovation Award from Boating Writers International and the NMMA this year. But, more importantly, what I saw during my five days in the pavilion was that the Spark resonated big with Generation Y and Millennials. Why?

It was the colorful styling and, above all, the price. Here was the grabber: BRP’s show package included two Sparks, trailer and choices from a long list of clever accessories … for $169 per month. “Now this is something we can afford,” I heard many times.

At a time when industry leaders like Brunswick’s Dustan E. McCoy or NMMA president Thom Dammrich are urging builders to find new manufacturing technologies and materials that can significantly reduce the cost of boats, BRP’s Spark is a great example. The goal was to develop a PWC that could sell for under $5,000 (remember those days?) and, therefore, would appeal to the younger audience our industry needs to attract if we want to grow.

The colorful Spark is made of fiber-reinforced polypropylene. It’s essentially half the weight of its glass cousins. That allows for cost-saving smaller engines while still delivering performance (speeds of 40 or 52 mph.) Moreover, BRP has masterfully assembled a host of appealing accessories from sunshades to stylish graphics that allow customers the fun of creating a look of their own.

The Spark highlights the growing awareness that we must make our products more attractive to young families and find ways to meet their financial limits. Being able to spend time in the pavilion, speaking with lots of younger couples and families, confirmed many of them would like to add boating to their lives.

But they also spoke openly that they’re in debt or feeling financial pressures (student loans, mortgages, car loans, child-care costs, the need for savings, among others cited) and the prices of boats is hard for them to deal with. It’s our industry’s job to change that perception.

I’d like to think Miami’s Affordability Pavilion planted many seeds for an early harvest. It certainly documents the value of making sure such an exhibit is part of our major boat shows. As an industry . . . we need more Sparks.

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