Time to Increase Marine Trade Association Dues

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With virtually no boat shows run since late last February, the industry’s marine trade associations are facing major reductions in funds necessary to conduct normal activities and provide expected member benefits.

It’s time MTA’s increase their annual dues which are, by every measure, far too low for the benefits expected and received.

First, let’s be clear: Every dealer should be a member of their state and/or local marine trade association. If you already are, you undoubtedly know there are many more valuable benefits to membership than you had originally thought.

It’s not unusual for a dealer to join their MTA to get one specific benefit or achieve one goal. Some examples include: a discount on show space; access to educational/training meetings; opportunities for networking; sharing in successful marketing campaigns; and perhaps the biggest of all — influencing legislation and regulation that can make or break your business!

During my 34 years heading the Lake Erie Marine Trades Association, our boat show revenues were the must-have finances for all our other programs. But since March, when the state of Michigan shutdown the Michigan Boating Industries Association’s big Novi Boat Show after opening day, Covid-19 has forced cancellation of all key shows from the Great Lakes to Florida, Washington to California.

At the time of this writing, the success of the few majors still on the fall schedule — Annapolis, Ft. Lauderdale, Ft. Myers, St. Petersburg — remains uncertain.

Still, in spite of all the lost income, MTA’s throughout the country have continued to provide important benefits for members.

Rhode Island ‘s MTA has made communication to members their highest priority with daily emails, one-on-one phone calls, impact surveys and even some site visits. RIMTA has also been the liaison and key influencer with the state Covid-19 response team as it relates to phases of recovery and economic impact.

The Marine Industries Association of Central Florida continues to successfully influence the governor’s office, a six-member county commission, the Florida Wildlife Commission and even county and city marine patrols to recognize marine businesses must remain open as essential along with keeping waterway access open to the public for safe, necessary recreation.

In Maine, the MTA has focused on providing members with information on 27 business resources, including email blasts with key links. MMTA has also created a social media private chat page to discuss how to reopen this summer. It has hosted Zoom meetings for members to openly discuss issues and review new guidelines, including legal advice on HR issues, PPP and other programs. And, MMTA is established as the key point of contact for state agencies dealing with boating/maritime guidelines.

Up in the Pacific Northwest, the Seattle-based Northwest MTA has stressed their relationships with government officials as decisions impacting marine businesses of all kinds are being made by the governor, county executives and mayors.

But driving dealer boat sales has not been overlooked, either. With the belief that “the show must go on,” the cancelled Anacortes Boat & Yacht Show became a virtual experience benchmark in the industry with more than 30 participating exhibitors interacting live with consumers. Also, witness the launch of NMTA’s “Seattle Boat Show Live,” which is held every Thursday to keep boaters informed, while reports consolidating, vetting and simplifying the overwhelming amount of information for members captures some of the highest open rates ever.

A one-stop source of all applicable Covid-19 information became an immediate cornerstone member benefit of the Marine Trades Association of New Jersey as soon as the pandemic was acknowledged back in late February. In addition, an immediate and aggressive outreach by Melissa Danko and staff quickly established and has systematically maintained direct lines of communication with all relevant state agencies, lawmakers and the administration to successfully ensure boating needs and interests are recognized and accommodated.

And if you are a dealer or marina in Ohio you owe a debt of gratitude to the Boating Association of Ohio: their quick, decisive action led to all marine businesses in the Buckeye state being considered “essential” and allowed stayed open from the very first orders covering Covid-19.

Today, I’m urging each of you to stop and look at what your MTA has done to help you between March 1 and today, in the midst of the worst pandemic and economic disruption of our lifetime.

For all national or state MTA’s the story is the same. The inability to produce boat shows has already hit all of them with serious revenue shortfalls for 2020. Moreover, it isn’t even clear what 2021 holds for our industry, particularly the earliest major shows like Houston, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, and more.

But what is clear right now is that MTA’s provide benefits no manufacturer or dealer or marina or supplier could engineer on their own. It’s the power of the collective. The current level of dues paid by all members in all MTA’s are unreasonably low compared to the positive economic benefits received from the work of these organizations and the staff.

Accordingly, the boards and members of every MTA should be ready to stand up and vote for: (1) an immediate special assessment to make up some of the lost revenues that would cover and continue current operations; and (2) approve a permanent increase in dues for the coming year that is more reflective of the value of the MTA’s services.

It’s payback time. 

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