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What the Toys “R” Us closing can tell us

There’s little doubt the demise of Toys “R” Us can be laid, at least in a major way, to the dominance of Amazon and Walmart. But, it’s a mistake not to dig deeper and see the radical changes in kid’s interests in toys today. And it’s in that realm that dealers can influence parents and kids in a positive way.

I remember when I was growing up, I gravitated to things like building plastic cars and ship models, playing board games and, especially, spending time outdoors riding my bike and, as depicted in the movie “The Sandlot,” playing a ball game that never ended.

Today it’s different. I see it in our grandchildren all the time. Kids are now indoors, glued to tablets and video games, including ones that make it appear normal and acceptable to blow up properties and shoot the other guys. Indeed, when I watch some of these games I shake my head and feel the need to tell the kids that’s not real — that they should never assume that such actions are right or acceptable. I suspect there are lots of parents and grandparents doing the same.

I was fortunate growing up. My father was a boater. That positively exposed me to the sport early. Why I even received my very own first boat for my 12 birthday — a 12-footer I named “Spark” in which I plied the waters of Long Island Sound. Did boating at a young age influence my life? That’s a no brainer.

As I see it, we are blessed as an industry, because what we offer can influence families and kids just the way it did me. Truth is, no dealer just sells boats. Every dealer sells connection. It’s primarily family connection. That’s our strength and we need to blast that message as never before.

Dealers should purpose to connect the boating dots for the marketplace. There are many ways it can be done. For openers, there’s a great collection of free photos and, especially, videos from the industry’s Grow Boating Initiative. The Discover Boating series offers excellent video stories, like: Vacation on Demand, Stories of Discovery, Refresh Your Relationships and many more. These are professionally produced, available free to dealers and can be powerful additions to websites, incorporated in emails to prospects, played as a loop in the showroom or even on wall mounted small screens in sales offices. (I now watch “healthy living” videos in my doctor’s exam room while waiting forever!)

Dealers with marinas (or coop with marinas) have an additional advantage of creating special family day(s) on the water. But each of your customer families must bring along guests who are not boaters, especially if there’s a kid to kid connection. Cruise, cookout, music, games, prizes — use your imagination.

The same can go for fishing programs and activities, particularly if there’s a local fishing club or organization to hook up with and support. For example, I’m a member of the Old Salt Fishing Foundation in Madiera Beach, Fla. Old Salt programs fund youth and family fishing opportunities. For example, we assemble dozens of member boats to take out families with special needs kids for a day of fishing. Dealerships can sponsor similar family activities or directly support local fishing groups that have good family programs with cash contributions, prizes and the like.

With today’s media reports of growing medical and psychological concerns about the time and influence of digital media on kids, our message that boating gets kids off the couch and into America’s top family sport cannot be over promoted. So, while some may mourn the end of Toys “R” Us, the real story is that we in boating have the way to draw families and kids into the great outdoors.  

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