Expanding your share of the boating market in a down economy

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The days of the "order taker" are over. No longer can a retailer continue doing business the same way as in the past. Look for opportunities, experiment, try something new and monitor the results.

I have a few ideas that I would like to share. I suspect that some of you will think I have lost my way or that, frankly, I don't know what I'm talking about. Regardless of your immediate reaction, why not give some thought to what I suggest. In this market, the ordinary is not being ordinary anymore.

Racial and ethnic diversity
If a segment of our society is non-white, I've been wondering why I don't see more African American, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, Asian, Native American or other non-Caucasian salespeople working in our industry and also appearing in industry advertisements. This question is even more relevant if your primary marketing area has a mixed population.

I think having a more diverse staff, which represents the racial and ethnic diversity of your market, is an indication of your company's sales philosophy; you're interested in doing business with everyone in your community. That may sound patronizing, but people like to buy from someone they can relate to.

To make my point even stronger, consider the fact that African Americans make up over 14 percent of Michigan's statewide population, Asian persons about 2.5 percent, and persons of Hispanic or Latino origin about 4 percent in my home state. This ratio, obviously, may vary depending upon the city and/or region of your state where you conduct business.

This is the time to stop stereotyping racial and ethnic groups, and reach out to the non-white population and broaden your potential client base. Our population of marriages between persons of different races is also increasing and has tripled since the 1960s. The U.S. population is dramatically changing. It is estimated by the Bureau of the Census that these groups will account for almost half of the U.S. population by 2050.

Advertising in non-traditional ways
My idea, considering the previous paragraph on diversity and ethnicity, is advertising in publications and Web sites that are oriented toward our racial and ethnic diversity. Considering the fact that there is a significant portion of the population in Southeast Michigan that has a Middle Eastern ethnicity, why not consider advertising directly to this population in the media outlets that cater to this portion of the society? Has any marine retailer placed an advertisement in a paper directed to this or any other non-traditional market, and printed the messages within the ad in Arabic or another appropriate language?

I recall that one marine trade association, a few years back, advertised a boat show in a gay and lesbian publication. Guess what folks; there are gays and lesbians who buy boats. We also should be spending more time addressing the female market. We must continue to communicate the benefits of boating to our traditional market, white men between the ages of 26 and 54; however, now is the time to branch out.

Partnering and packaging
I have a pet peeve. Why do golf and boating have to compete with one another? I can't tell you how many times I have heard, "I'm not a boater; I'm a golfer," meaning a person can't be one if they are the other. I have conducted an unprofessional personal research project (I've talked to a lot of people), and I have determined that there are a huge number of boat owners who are also golfers.

I have also determined that a significant number of waterfront communities have golf courses within a reasonable distance from their waterfronts. If you are a marina operator and want transient visitors, I suggest partnering with golf courses, motels, hotels and resorts promoting boating/golf overnight packages together. This doesn't have to be directed just toward large-boat owners; trailerable-boat owners want fun and exciting trip opportunities as well.

Even though I drive a better boat than a golf ball, one of the best times I have had is golfing early in the morning and following golf with a quality day of boating. You can take this thought even further when considering the variety of events, restaurants and attractions that are within close proximity of the waterfront and marina facilities. Partner with other community businesses and create fun boating destinations.

Staycations
What’s a “staycation?” Wikipedia, the free Internet encyclopedia, defines it as: “A period of time in which an individual or family stays at home and relaxes at home or takes day trips from their home to area attractions.”

With difficult economic times and higher gas prices, “staycations” have gained in popularity. We are a staycation industry. Boating lends itself to this concept. Visit a different lake or bay each weekend. Larger vessels serve as second homes, and marinas continue to expand their amenities — cable television, wireless Internet, swimming pools and playgrounds, just to name a few. Take this opportunity and develop a marketing/advertising plan that can build on people’s desire to travel less distance and stay closer to home.

Children — our future
There are many great programs directed to young people, giving our youth boating, sailing and fishing experiences that groom their interest in water-based recreation. The National Youth Marine Alliance is an example of the support for engaging young people through water-based recreation and educational programs.

My suggestion is that each marine business owner consider what he or she is doing within their own business environment to get kids involved with boating. Many of us can attest to the benefit of having children pushing Mom and Dad to get a boat, and we all know the best way to have quality time as a family is when the entire family enjoys the boating lifestyle.

Grandparents & grandkids
I suspect that those of you who are grandparents know what I’m about to say. There isn’t anything that grandparents won’t buy for their grandkids. I have some personal experience here. My grandkids love our boat, riding in the boat, swimming from the boat, and fishing.

If you are a boat dealer or marina operator, take advantage of this opportunity to market to the older baby boomers that are in the grand-parenting stage of their lives, especially considering the size of the baby boomer generation. Figure out methods to push that button.

There are lots of ideas on how to survive in a challenging market, mine are just a few. As is commonly stated, there are no bad ideas. What is bad is not trying something new. What are your ideas?

- Van W. Snider Jr., CAE
President, Michigan Boating Industries Association

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