In two weeks, many of us will be headed to Louisville for IBEX, with its strong lineup of technical seminars, expert speakers and a broad array of exhibitors.
Soundings Trade Only is co-sponsoring a session that is light on boatbuilding but promises to be rich in explaining good practices associated with building a potentially powerful consumer audience of tomorrow. The session is titled, “Engaging the Hispanic Audience: Insights to Actions.”
The 90-minute seminar is sponsored by the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation, which is embarking on an ambitious 5-year program to significantly boost the number of Hispanics who boat and fish.
As RBFF president and CEO Frank Peterson told me last month, “The face of this country is changing. … Boating’s penetration in the Hispanic market is so low, and the opportunities are so great.”
The new program was developed by RBFF in collaboration with Lopez Negrete, the respected Houston-based marketing firm specializing in the Hispanic market. At the IBEX session, presenters from Lopez Negrete will go over the plan and deliver advice and strategies that boatbuilders, manufacturers and dealers can immediately put to use.
The seminar is scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 18, from 10:30 a.m. to noon in Room C-109. The session is free, but please register to confirm a seat. (Click on the "IBEX Special Session" tab.)
Chicago Beneteau dealer Lou Sandoval also will speak at the seminar. Sandoval is the co-owner and co-founder of Karma Yacht Sales and vice chairman of the Recreational Boating Leadership Council’s diversity committee.
What follows is an edited version of a recent interview I had with Sandoval, who was traveling last month and couldn’t comment at the time for a story about the Hispanic market and the IBEX seminar.
SISSON: Is it fair to say that you believe that any effort by the marine industry should start from the bottom up by understanding the Hispanic community, identifying the key stakeholders and then getting their buy-in?
SANDOVAL: To truly be effective in reaching out and including the Hispanic community, the marine industry needs to make it a part of its short-term tactic but be patient in the fact that the dividends (per se) will pay off long-term. The efforts have to be deliberate and genuine. Marine manufacturing companies need to be present to the fact that one out of four children starting kindergarten today are of Hispanic origin. The largest sector of the population is the demographic from 5 to 12 years old. Fast-forward 10 years: Not building those inroads today will create a larger crisis scenario in the years to come when those kindergartners are 12 years old and enter the consumer market.
SISSON: Talk briefly about the changing face of the United States. The Hispanic population is growing rapidly as the baby-boom generation starts to age into retirement. How important is it for our industry to both recognize that demographic shift and to better understand how to sell boats and services into it?
SANDOVAL: Short-term focus needs to involve deliberate outreach and marketing efforts to the affluent sector of the Hispanic market today. A very large percentage of Hispanics are business owners and entrepreneurs. The crossover in that demographic makes for a good opportunity to invite that group into boating and have them partake in the lifestyle.
Long-term might look like including more Hispanic youth in sailing centers, Sea Scouts, rowing or community sailing programs. The effort has to be deliberate, and marine manufacturers have to understand that the results may be delayed.
Inside the industry on the manufacturing end, including Hispanics into operations and growing them organically within companies will be important.
SISSON: What sort of opportunity does this fast-growing demographic present to the recreational boating market? Their affluence will continue to grow. Why wouldn’t they enjoy fishing and boating as their discretionary income grows? In other words, they should increasingly become good prospects — if approached properly.
SANDOVAL: The biggest tell-all is upward economic mobility. Much like with other immigrant groups that have come to the United States, every generation moves up a level. It’s the American dream. Avoiding the investment today might create issues in the future. Just because six out of 10 buyers today are 58, white and upper-middle-class does not mean that will continue to hold.
The industry has seen comparisons of birth rates. It will change. Smart marine business owners will want to be in on the ground level and have the relationships established for when the growth fills in.
SISSON: Is it accurate to say that boating and fishing are not on the radar of Hispanic families at the moment?
SANDOVAL: I'd argue that is not always the case. When I go into my local Cabela's or Bass Pro Shop, I see it differently. Many of my Hispanic contemporaries are into outdoor activities.
SISSON: As an industry, is it fair to say we have a long way to go in terms of diversity?
SANDOVAL: We have a way to go, with one caveat: We are aware of what is to come. It is up to us to work toward success in a more gender-, age- and ethnicity-diverse market. The proverbial "dock line" is in our control.