Fostering diversity? ‘That’s our job’

Posted on Written by Bill Sisson

Bill SissonWith millennials marshaling on the horizon, everyone, it seems, has an eye on younger buyers. But here’s the thing: Younger, by definition, will also mean more diverse.

“You can’t have one without the other,” says NMMA president Thom Dammrich. “It’s just a demographic fact. The younger buyer is more diverse.”

Increasingly, taking advantage of shifting population trends will mean selling more boats into non-Caucasian markets, which will require dealers, builders and others to broaden their customer focus.

Dammrich made a case for diversity at a luncheon at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show in November. His presentation was part of the industry’s New Markets Task Force initiative, which had a goal (among others) of identifying companies already successfully selling to Hispanic, African-American and Asian markets.

“The whole focus is we need to educate the industry about the business opportunities that exist,” Dammrich said in an interview after the show. “And we need to educate them that there are people in the industry who are successful reaching out to more diverse customers.”

For years, the NMMA president has been urging members to pay attention to changing population trends and to prepare for a more diverse customer base, but clearly more work lies ahead.

Dammrich points to a survey by Boating Industry magazine indicating that about 73 percent of respondents either were not concerned or “somewhat unconcerned” about the lack of diversity in the industry. That amounts to missed opportunities, he contends.

Dammrich says there is a misplaced belief that members of minority groups do not have the financial wherewithal to become boaters.

“There’s still too much stereotyping going on where people think Hispanic or African American, and they think they don’t have any money,” he says. “Minorities have money. We have the demographic data, and there are huge numbers of minorities who have the household income that is commensurate with today’s boat buyer.”

Many people don’t have the money to buy a boat, regardless of color or ethnicity. “You can go to parts of the country where Caucasians are very poor, just like blacks and Hispanics are very poor,” says Dammrich. “But there’s also those who have reached the middle class and above who have money, and I think there’s going to be more of them in the years ahead.”

The average new-boat buyer today is a boomer, about 55 years old, the youngest of a generation headed into the sunset.

“They’re still a very healthy part of our customer base,” says Dammrich. “But the number of boomers isn’t growing. It’s shrinking. Over the course of the next 20 years there aren’t going to be many boomer buyers. To grow, we’re going to have to penetrate other segments of our population.”

Dammrich says there is some truth to the concern that limited exposure to boating will make it more difficult to bring minority-group members into the sport.

“But that’s our job, to get them exposure to boating,” he says. “If we were all color-blind, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. We’d just be pursuing families, young families. But when you hear stories from minorities about how they’re treated in our industry, you recognize that there has to be a transformation.”

The problem does not arise from malice or bad intentions, he says, but from a lack of education. “Education is the only way,” he says. “We just need to be more open-minded about who our customer can be.”

One way for boating to appear more welcoming is to feature more Hispanics, African Americans and Asians in photography and videos.

“We need to show all kinds of people in our photography,” Dammrich says. “West Marine — they’ve got it now. Most of the industry still doesn’t have it. You look at most of our magazines and most of the product brochures, there’s very little diversity in the photography. If you want to make someone see themselves in boating, put people in pictures that look like them.”

Five videos focused on five marine companies that have had success marketing to diverse communities were shown at the presentation in Fort Lauderdale. The businesses are: Prince William Marine; M&P Mercury (Vancouver); TUI Marine/The Moorings; West Marine; and Freedom Boat Club. The Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation provided the seed money for the videos.

“The bottom line is we need to be inclusive,” Dammrich says. “We need to be pursuing everybody, whether they’re X, Y, or boomer. Whether they’re white, brown, black or yellow. We need to be inclusive.”

In other words, cast a wide net.

The New Markets Task Force is chaired by Wanda Kenton Smith. Go to www.rblc.org for information.

This article originally appeared in the December 2016 issue.

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