We must introduce kids to boating

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There’s no doubt our industry’s future growth will depend, in significant measure, on our appeal to kids. “Survey data tells us we must expose boating to kids,” Brunswick CEO Dusty McCoy told the Lake Erie Marine Trades Association in Cleveland recently.

McCoy was referring to research that concludes a whopping 78.1 percent of current boating participants were exposed to boating as youngsters. Conversely, 61.3 percent of people studied who are non-participants in boating reported they never boated as kids.

We assume our image as a family sport means lots of kids (aka: future boat buyers) are being exposed to the sport these days. But, while studying data can be confusing, there’s reason to believe that’s not as true as we’d like it to be. For one thing, the total boats in use that for most of our industry’s history kept pace with the rising population, has dropped by 1 million since 2004, while the population continued up by 75 million. In addition, studies show we have more boaters by age in their 50s and 60s and less in their 30s when their kids would be at great ages to experience boating and fishing. The demographics for sailing are even older. We clearly have an “aging” sport and I suspect we’d all agree that we need to reverse that for long term success.

In discussions like this, it’s the “long term” that usually trips us up. After all, we’ve been an industry that, as a whole, has never seriously invested in the long term (“Discover Boating” notwithstanding.) We’ve chiefly focused on current sales and profits. Perhaps that’s because we were always growing with the population, but that’s not true now. So, investing in the long term must become part of our plans to see future growth again. Reaching kids is one investment in the future. There are lots of ways to do it – kids' fishing opportunities (go to www.rbff.org) and kids' activities or events (ideas at www.welcometowater.com), or invite kids to your dealership. Here’s one excellent model for reaching kids with your dealership:

South Shore Marine, Huron, Ohio, (Pursuit, Scout, Regal, Grady-White) recently invited local students to its dealership as a field trip. The bus load was on a mission – to learn how a boat business works. “We told the story of how our dealership began and showed them how it works,” explained president Tom Mack. “We also answered some great questions and after our tour explaining all the areas of the dealership, we just let them freely explore the boats in the showroom."

Mack believes at least half the kids had never had the opportunity to climb aboard or crawl through a boat. “By the time things were over, they all had picked their favorite boat to tell their parents about,” Mack said. “Interesting, a handful of them were kids of customers and, surprisingly, a couple quickly converted their parents to service customers or a showroom visit.”

But Mack says the kids told the story best when, a few days later, individual drawings and thank yous came from each student. They were neatly assembled into a book. “Talk about heart warming,” related Mack. Here are a few samples:

Francis Sherman wrote: “Thank you for showing us around. We really enjoyed going in boats. Now I’m trying to talk my parents into buying a boat.” Meanwhile, Chris Jonas wrote: “Thank you . . . for teaching us about boats. You guys have great service and you all are so nice. I loved to see them working on the boats.” Logan said: “I was surprised to see a TV and a bed in the boat.” And, Taylor wrote: “It was cool how you got into the boat business. It was fun meeting you and learning how boats work.”

Each student received a special gift bag from South Shore containing key chains, cup holders and literature . . . a good investment for the long term!

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