IBEX, the Hispanic population boom and our industry

For the longest time, the face of modern pleasure boating pretty much mirrored the face of America. It was predominantly Caucasian, middle and upper-middle class, white- and blue-collar, and the wealthy.

That’s still the predominant picture, but a shift is starting to occur within both the industry’s core market and the overall demographic makeup of the country, one that portends change in the form of greater diversity and inclusion.

“The face of this country is changing,” says Frank Peterson, president and CEO of the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation. “The Hispanic population continues to grow, and it’s growing organically. It’s not growing through immigration.”

The Hispanic population by 2050 could represent nearly 30 percent of the U.S. population, according to some estimates. At the present time, boating and fishing are not even on the radar of most Hispanics, Peterson says. Only about 1.67 million of the 53 million Hispanics in this country fish or boat, according to the RBFF, which developed the successful Take Me Fishing campaign. “It’s a whole new customer base,” Peterson says. “Boating’s penetration in the Hispanic market is so low, and the opportunities are so great.”

Peterson is taking an active role to jump-start the current tepid growth crawl. RBFF in July unveiled a five-year, multimillion-dollar outreach plan to significantly increase the number of Hispanics who fish and boat. The program, slated to begin in 2014, was developed in collaboration with Houston-based Lopez Negrete, a leading marketing firm specializing in the Hispanic consumer market.

With due respect to the handful of builders and dealers who today are effectively communicating with and selling boats to this emerging market, the vast majority of us are not. Where does one start?

The best place to get your feet wet on this subject is a free seminar at IBEX in September, titled “Engaging the Hispanic Audience: Insights to Actions.” The session not only will outline the strategic plan that Lopez Negrete and the RBFF created but also will provide strategies that manufacturers and dealers can immediately put to use to better capture this demographic.

The seminar is scheduled for Sept. 18 between 10:30 and noon in Room C-109. There is no cost, but please register in advance to reserve a seat. Soundings Trade Only is co-sponsoring the session, and we’ll be there scribbling notes, too.

In addition to presenters from Lopez Negrete, Beneteau dealer Lou Sandoval, the co-owner and co-founder of Karma Yacht Sales in Chicago, will speak. Sandoval is vice chairman of the Recreational Boating Leadership Council’s diversity committee. Coming from a Fortune 100 background — his first career was in the biomedical industry — and being of Hispanic descent, Sandoval is an articulate and vocal speaker on the subject of diversity and inclusion and its impact on business.

“In our defense, the marine industry never really had to reach out beyond their traditional buyer demographic,” Sandoval told Trade Only in an interview earlier this year. But, he noted, “Our country is changing. We operate in a more globally oriented marketplace, and the fact that the buyer demographic who so often supported boating over the past four and half decades has a flat to declining birth rate and increasing age are all indicators of a need to alter course.”

To wit, the U.S. Census Bureau reported earlier this year that for the first time in modern history more white Americans died in the year that ended in June 2012 than were born. As I reported in my blog earlier this year, researchers didn’t anticipate reaching this inflection point — where deaths of non-Hispanic whites would exceed births — until about 2020.

“We are jumping the gun on a long, slow decline in our white population, which is going to characterize this century,” Brookings Institution demographer William Frey told The Washington Post. “It’s a bookend from the last century, when whites helped us grow. Now it’s minorities who are going to make the contributions to our economic and population growth over the next 50 years.”

The RBFF initiative will begin by targeting 15 million of the 53 million Hispanics in the United States, with an emphasis on Florida and Texas. At the end of five years, Peterson would like to see 3 million Hispanics out on the water fishing and boating.

“That doesn’t mean they’ll all buy boats,” Peterson says, but they will have gotten their feet wet, so to speak, through a positive experience on the water — boating or fishing or both. “They have the same aspirations as we do,” Peterson says, “and they will get there.”

This article originally appeared in the September 2013 issue.


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