Some years back, I happened upon a novelist who had received impeccable, glowing reviews for a debut literary masterpiece, and who was said to be long overdue on its follow-up. The publisher first gave the scribe a wide berth, but with the desire to sustain booming sales, soon began to exert enormous pressure. It was a simple ask, the publisher posited: Finish something in the same vein as the best-seller to send the book-buying public into another reading frenzy.
Sadly, the writer died about 70 pages into the tour de force, leaving the publisher hamstrung and holding the bag on lucrative contracts it had cashed in from (what was then) our nation’s armada of independent brick-and-mortar merchants and larger booksellers.
The title of that never-finished novel: Change or Die.
Sustaining one’s place in the market is a tender trap. On the one hand, you are giving the boat-buying public what it wants, now — and, for many of the marine industry’s large companies, you’re also keeping the bean counters and shareholders happy via dividends.
However, sticking to one’s guns can leave you like those booksellers, hit with a lethal combination of body blows from online marketplaces that can do everything you do but cheaper, faster and with total control. Sadly, nearly all of the booksellers are now out of business — or in a punch-drunk state of their former glory.
The boating industry is facing similar challenges. We are at the apex of fortune’s wheel, with more buyers flocking to the sport than in recent memory. However, these buyers are an order of magnitude savvier than they were just a few years back. Blame technology and our overstuffed calendars.
Companies that fail to keep innovating and — as Correct Craft CEO Bill Yeargin points out in these pages — that fail to understand the marked difference between sustaining and disruptive innovation are bound to be the next Borders bookstores.
On the other hand, our annual Most Innovative Marine Companies Awards program, now in its fourth year, honors forward-looking businesses that continue to inspire us with new initiatives, processes, technologies, directions and more. The companies you will read about, starting on page 38, inherently understand that the boating world is changing, fast.
This year’s crop of winners is led by two heavyweight pugilists sharing the top spot: Brunswick Corp. and Mercury Marine. Powerhouse companies Correct Craft, Garmin, MarineMax and Volvo Penta round out our top five. The rest of our list includes up-and-coming outfits punching well above their weight, and well-established industry brands that refuse to rest on their laurels.
The business leaders who are capturing today’s customers understand that we are in the throes of a massive renaissance, and that boaters are busier than ever. Boating is in a fierce battle, competing with any number of activities for leisure time. Those brands that succeed inherently recognize what we want before we realize that we want it. They are the true disruptors, the creative thinkers with eyes trained several years ahead to prepare for the technological wave that’s cresting, with a common goal: to get more people enjoying themselves on the water.
This article was originally published in the November 2021 issue.