Let’s sell boats like they’re ukuleles

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Can the ukulele and a boat have anything in common? Probably more than you’d first think.

What triggered this blog is that I recently walked into a Guitar Center store and right up front was a big display of ukuleles. “They’re hot right now,” the salesman said. “We’re selling so many we’re even giving free lessons every Saturday morning.”

Checking out his story, I found that ukulele sales are “on fire” these days, according to the National Association of Music Merchants. Specifically, between 2010 and 2012, sales of ukuleles in the U.S. jumped from 581,000 to more than 1 million.

What’s going on? First, it appears to be that teens that are causing the surge in sales, according to a recent CNN Money report. But the appeal is clearly being attributed to two things: price and simplicity.

When it comes to price, ukuleles cost much less than guitars. As for simplicity, there are only four strings, not six, so it’s easy to learn. The owner of a music shop in South Carolina reportedly said the ukulele is "pretty much idiot-proof. Anyone can learn to play it in a short amount of time." I can vouch for that because I admit I played one for fun in college.

Now I’m not implying we’re going to sell boats to teens. Rather, it is the price and simplicity model that’s worth attention. As to price, dealers have little control. But, I’m reminded of Brunswick’s chairman and CEO Dusty McCoy and his keynote speech at METS when he said: “We need value for the money and a $70,000 or $80,000 25-foot open bow for most people just has no real value. We need to make owning a boat affordable and not just by financing it for 50 years.” Amen. And clearly our boat and engine manufacturers must make this happen if we hope to experience industry growth going forward.

Dealers, on the other hand, must lead the simplicity model. Among the cited reasons younger families aren’t getting into boating is “the hassle of ownership.” We can’t let that perception (or reality) persist any longer.

Therefore, dealers must take time to review every aspect of the dealership’s operations and philosophy, asking how to simplify the selling, delivery, education and maintenance processes for the customers. Once done, it’s also a major selling advantage over the dealer down the street that fails to see the importance and take any action.

OK. Yes, I’ve decided to buy a ukulele. I will go to the free class on Saturday. I know I can easily learn to play it. I think I’ll have fun doing a little strumming. And, frankly, it’s really all because of . . . price and simplicity.

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