Industry leaders say campaign is doing the job, and they’ll spend about the same this year
Grow Boating took in more than $12 million in 2007, the bulk of which was spent on marketing campaigns, according to its recently released annual report.
The initiative is an integrated effort among recreational marine groups to promote the boating lifestyle and improve the boating experience.
Most of the revenue comes from boat and engine assessments; more than $11.3 million was generated last year. The remainder came from the Rising Tide Fund ($449,500) and accessory manufacturer contributions ($285,845).
Grow Boating officials say the $12.5 million spent on marketing in 2007 is reaping benefits for the industry, and they expect to spend about the same amount of money this year. That figure includes $970,000 that went to fund Canadian efforts.
In 2006, $10.9 million was budgeted for marketing, which includes advertising, public relations, research, Web site development, interactive marketing and collateral materials.
“I think it’s definitely paying off. We are getting more people interested in boating, and that was our goal,” said Thom Dammrich, president of Grow Boating and the National Marine Manufacturers Association. “I feel confident that when the economic turmoil that we’re in clears up we’re going to see a lot of first-time boat buyers in dealers’ showrooms.”
Research shows that at least 6 percent of Grow Boating’s target audience has moved from “not interested” to “interested,” Dammrich added. It can take up to three years for someone to move from “not interested” to buying a boat.
“We knew from the start that this was going to be a long-term effort,” he said.
Grow Boating vice president Phil Keeter, who also serves as president of the Marine Retailers Association of America, said the program has produced results in poor economic times and will produce even better results when the economy rebounds.
Just think, said Keeter, if this had been a year without high gas prices and no layoffs in the automobile industry, the results would have been even better. “Just look at what this program would have done,” he said.
Engine and boat assessments make up the bulk of the program’s funding, though each individual assessment is relatively small.
Engine manufacturers provide the NMMA with an assessment based on the number and horsepower of the engines they sell to boatbuilders and dealers. Engine makers then pass along the surcharge either to OEMs or to the dealers who buy loose engines.
Consumers do not see any Grow Boating assessment on their invoices, however, because boats — unlike cars — don’t come with detailed invoice stickers.
Engine assessments range from $1 for engines with little horsepower up to $72 for inboard ski boat engines with more than 300 hp, inboard cruiser engines of more than 300 hp and sterndrive engines with 200 or more hp.
Assessments for inflatable boats range from $2 to $40, and assessments for sailboat engines range from $60 to $144.
Dammrich said he expects money from sources other than boat and engine assessments will increase in 2008, thanks in part to the newly created accessory manufacturers’ Fair Share program.
He estimates Grow Boating will collect more than $1 million from the Fair Share program in 2009, which contributed just under $300,000 in 2007.
The program asks all accessory manufacturers to contribute 1/10th of 1 percent of annual marine sales to Grow Boating. Fair Share Leaders (companies contributing 2/10th of 1 percent of annual marine sales) and Fair Share Contributors (companies contributing 1/10th of 1 percent of annual marine sales) will receive an active link on DiscoverBoating.com in sections including “Outfit your Boat” and “Special Offers.”
Fair Share Supports, companies contributing less then 1/10th of 1 percent of annual marine sales, will receive a listing on DiscoverBoating.com.
All Fair Share contributors will be reported to boat manufacturers and other industry stakeholders each quarter.
Keeter said it’s in the best interest of everyone in the industry — manufacturers, dealers, accessory makers, marine lenders, resin makers and others — to contribute to Grow Boating. He says many in the industry need to step up and pay into the program.
“There ought to be quite a bit more in (the Rising Tide Fund). There ought to be a number of people who are contributing to that and there ought to be a number of people that are contributing more,” he said. “If we have a market that is $1 billion and we raise that market to $1.5 billion, then those guys are going to get their share of it, so why not participate?”
Keeter compared the situation to the person who likes to go to a nice church and hear a good sermon, but doesn’t give any money to the church.
“You can’t do both,” he said. “It seems like such a simple thing that everybody would want to participate, but yet it’s not easy to sell.”
Grow Boating, according to Dammrich, had planned to introduce a credit card program with GE, but that’s in limbo right now since GE sold its credit card division to American Express.
He said, however, he’d like to see that program start up in the future.
The report also discussed Discover Boating, the marketing and communications arm of the Grow Boating Initiative.
In 2007, 7,000 Discover Boating television commercials ran nationally, along with 30 full-page ads in 12 national publications and banner ads on more than 400 Web sites.
In all, these ads generated more than 1.5 billion consumer impressions.
In 2008, Discover Boating hopes to increase its brand awareness and increase Web traffic to 3.5 million visits, up from 3.2 million visits logged in 2007. The number of “hot prospects” requesting to be contacted by boat makers or dealers is expected to increase to 25,000, up from 21,000 in 2007.
Also this year, 65,000 free “Get Started in Boating” DVDs will be distributed, up from 57,000 in 2007.
The Discover Boating Web site recently went through a redesign to bring more people to the site and keep them searching longer.
Dammrich called it “probably the most content-rich boating Web site on the Internet.” In 2007, he noted, visitors were averaging 11.5 minutes per visit, and in April 2008, that was up to an average of 14.5 minutes per visit.
“That’s an astounding number,” he said.
Certification programs for products and dealers also are going well, Dammrich and Keeter said.
By the close of the 2007 model year, there were more than 280 NMMA-certified manufacturers with an additional 80 nearing completion of the process.
As of May, 400 dealers had received their certification and another 200 or so are enrolled in the program and going through the process. Keeter said this was especially noteworthy considering this has probably been the toughest year for dealers since the 1970s.
“I think next year when the economy turns around and boat sales start to go back up the other side, I think you’ll see dealers jumping [on this program],” he said. “If we’d had a robust economy, we’d have 700 to 800 dealers already certified.”
To read the Grow Boating annual report, visit www.growboating.org.
This article originally appeared in the July 2008 issue.