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Appealing to minorities is key to boating growth

I attended a meeting last week in which several participants shared ideas about growing boating. Among them: more promotion of the family benefits; aim harder at Gen X and Gen Y; get kids involved at an early age; sell the boating lifestyle, among others - all good ideas, to be sure. But one was missing: chasing minorities.

It’s undeniable -- the number of minorities continues to go up while the white population does not, according to U.S. census. Minorities now make up 35 percent of the U.S. population, up 5 percent since 2000. That year, California, New Mexico, Hawaii and the District of Columbia had minority populations exceeding 50 percent. Texas joined that group in 2009 and more states will follow.

It’s simply a numbers game. Census data shows, for example, among Hispanics and Latinos there are nine births for every one death. For the white American majority, the ratio is one-one. We are now a nation of 308 million people (102.4 million are minorities) and we’ll add another 100 million in the next 25 years.

The 20th century witnessed the transformation of the United States from a predominately white population rooted in Western culture to a society including large racial and ethnic minorities. Immigrants and their U.S.-born descendants are expected to provide most of the U.S. population gains ahead. Hispanic and Latino Americans, along with African Americans, are the largest minority groups, by ethnicity and race, respectively.

It should be obvious, as we look ahead to growing boating again, our traditional promotion only to the white American male audience will no longer get it done. Wanda Kenton Smith, long regarded a top marketer in our industry, first identified all this years ago. She’s been preaching this message ever since. And while it hasn’t resulted in much change to date, it’s compelling now that manufacturers and dealers purpose to include large and lucrative multi-cultural markets.

Clearly, if we continue to ignore one third of the population, we’ll miss the boat! The industry’s ads, brochures, commercials, websites and catalogs should include pictures of minorities enjoying boating. Participating in local cultural or ethnic community events and advertising in ethnic publications or on local ethnic radio stations are more ways to engage minorities. The point is people must first see themselves as boaters if we stand any chance of having them become boaters. Seeing is believing!

The Discover Boating campaign is showing leadership by carefully including minorities in its broad array of Internet materials. But Discover Boating is just a start – alone, it won’t get this job done. A much wider effort by the industry as a whole is needed. If there are manufacturers or dealers out there that have done this in the past, or are doing it now, please let us know. Right now, I’m not aware of any.

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