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Where will all the money go?

If you don’t know that the NMMA Board has voted to temporarily dock the industry’s “Discover Boating” national media campaign, you haven’t been reading the news. If you think allowing the manufacturers to use 85 percent of the money to spur sales is a high risk gamble, you’re not alone.

Now it’s not my view that the decision is necessarily a bad one given the economic realities. However, it is surely an unfortunate one. Dropping the excellent national media campaign that has been building momentum over the last three years is a major setback at a time when it would be most desirable to continue the forward motion. Moreover, although the NMMA Board included a sunset provision ending June 30, 2009, it will also revisit the matter in early May and that will risk keeping the campaign at the dock. After all, not all manufacturers supported the Grow Boating engine assessments in the first place. The debate could start all over again and that wouldn’t be desirable.

But the real gamble here becomes obvious when you realize that it’s up to each manufacturer to decide how to spend the money to help “bolster dealer sales.” The manufacturers will be required to sign a pledge that they will do so, but if you’re looking for any genuine oversight in this, can you say Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae?

The greatest risk in all this will be the nearly impossible task each boat builder now faces in trying to deal fairly and equally with all dealers. After all, one of the key facets of the Discover Boating ad campaign was that it never favored any region or area – it was strictly national and directed from one source. Now, the funds (estimated to be $7.5 million) will be in a hundred different hands. Their marching orders are to: “create marketing and promotional efforts that will assist their dealers in moving product during this difficult economic climate.” A grand goal, to be sure. So, why is Abba’s “Mama Mia, here I go again” ringing in my head?

I can see it now. . .every dealer lining up for a share of the handout – sorta like the banks, yesterday, all trying to get a chunk of the bail out billions without any plans or commitments to use the funds in a beneficial way. Well, we won’t have that problem distributing the Discover Boating money – isn’t that like saying “if you jump out of the boat, you may experience contact with the water!”

So, I have a couple of recommendations. For dealers, you should contact your manufacturers now and find out what may be under consideration. Remember, another of the NMMA Board’s directives to its members is: “Fully inform their dealer network on how the credits [funds] are being spent.” So, don’t sit on the sidelines – you gotta squeak to get oiled!

For manufacturers, to keep it simple, I recommend the money be spent to help dealers with the costs of this winter’s boat shows. Like them or not, shows are still the single most effective way to put prospects face-to-face with the boats and the sales force. It seems logical that if we’re not using the funds to convert newbies, we need to convert shoppers into buyers and the most likely shoppers are always current boat owners. And, who goes to boat shows – mostly current boat owners.

One thing is certain – it will be interesting to see who does what.


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