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A six-front attack on growth barriers

Summit follow-up narrows the focus of issues raised in Chicago and lays the groundwork for action


The industry’s collaborative effort to grow boating took some forward steps at an April meeting in Chicago.

About 40 boating industry leaders met in a follow-up to December’s Recreational Boating Stakeholder Growth Summit and began to come up with a framework for moving forward. Building on issues that arose at the winter session, participants were divided into six groups, each focused on a specific concern.

They are:

• Marketing Message/Campaign: Encouraging the universal adoption and support of the “Discover Boating” and “Welcome to the Water” campaign as a joint strategy to focus resources across stakeholder sectors on a consistent marketing message regarding the boating lifestyle for the benefit of all sectors.

• Boating Education Initiative: Implement an initiative that builds on best practices, focuses on new boaters and features on-the-water experiential programs to improve boating experiences and address the fears of new boaters.

• Youth Initiative: Create and implement an initiative focusing on drawing young people into boating.

• Recreational Boating Advocacy and Accessibility: Strengthen recreational boating advocacy through cross-sector collaboration at the federal, state and local levels to address key issues.

• Affordability: Address affordability issues by joint actions that reduce the total cost of boating and put more people on the water.

• Diversity Initiative: Create a “diversity on the water” initiative with joint actions that promote diversity within the industry and outreach and market to a more diverse audience.

In addition, the group agreed to creation of a recreational boating leadership council — a cross-sector steering committee — to move the process along. This will not be a new, incorporated organization, according to National Marine Manufacturers Association president Thom Dammrich, but will operate under a memoran- dum of understanding that will be signed by those organizations that chose to participate.


“It seemed like we made some significant progress in attacking the issues that we know that are out there, setting a little bit of a framework for what we felt needs to be done going forward to start growing participation,” says Matt Gruhn, president of the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas.

Vincent Petrella, executive director of the Yacht Brokers Association of America, agrees.

“I think the second meeting went very, very well,” Petrella says. “I think there was a good outcome from that meeting. The process that we’re going through is a very detailed process and I think it’s designed to get results. I think [that] in order to get the results that we want to get we’ve got to go through the process of weeding out what is really important to the industry and I think we’ve gotten down to those items.”

Although there are no firm action items yet — Dammrich says he expects the new umbrella group to have its first meeting in early summer — there have been positive results from last winter’s summit.

“At the December meeting there was the call to create this umbrella group that brought everybody together, and the decision has now been made to go forward with that,” Dammrich says. “There was the recommendation to broaden the American Boating Congress to the entire industry and to get more stakeholder organizations on board, and we’ve got 12 or 13 co-hosts of ABC this year and hope to see that grow significantly in the coming years. Again, another start.”

“The National Marine Distributors Association, on its own … recently decided that they would encourage all their distributor members to create a new SKU number for the Discover Boating point-of-sale materials and become a distribution point,” says Dammrich. “They touch every dealer in the country and probably every boatyard in the country. So that’s a significant new role they’re going to play to help expand the ‘Welcome to the Water’ movement.

“Things are happening,” he says. “We’re working on a 10-year vision, a 10-year plan. We’re essentially a couple of months into it.”

Moving forward

Attendees at this most recent meeting say they are pleased with the progress, but are hoping to see concrete action items come together this year.

“I want to get moving on this,” Gruhn says. “In order for us to have an impact in ’12, we need to start moving. Certainly this is a process and there’s no switch that we can flip and have it happen overnight. I think the sooner we can get moving on this, the sooner we can have an impact.”

Jim Coburn of Coburn & Associates LLC, chairman of the board of the Michigan Boating Industries Association and past president of the National Marine Bankers Association, agrees that action needs to begin soon.

“Something needs to come out concrete,” he says. “In my opinion there needs to be a feeling of good progress sometime this year. Otherwise it will retract and that will be a shame. You worry about that.”


One issue that hasn’t been resolved is funding, Coburn adds. “That’s going to be the tricky part,” he says. “My personal opinion is the funding should not be in a model that was similar to or exactly like Grow Boating.”

Petrella says the “realization is there that we need to find new sources of funding from the different industry segments, including the yacht brokerage industry.”

There are calls for those who still might not be on board with this new effort to get involved.

“Those who believe that we need to take action will act,” says Dammrich. “Those that don’t won’t. I think the data on the changing demographics of this country are irrefutable. The traditional boating market of middle-aged white men is the fastest-shrinking demographic in our country. That’s a fact,”

Gruhn, who facilitated the group dealing with boating education, encourages everyone to get involved with the process. His group, he says, came up with 17 outlets offering education, yet when they Googled boater education, the first two sites that came up were two his group hadn’t even thought of. That’s proof, he says, that there are lots of people out there who can contribute.

“We don’t have all the answers,” he says. “Get involved with it. Don’t try to shoot it down. If you think something else needs to be done, get involved. Make your voice heard. Participate in the conversation and play a role. The reality is if we want to grow, if we want to get boating back to where it once was we need to do something and we need to come together to do it.”

Petrella, who has been in the industry for more than 30 years, says he has never before seen such a comprehensive outreach effort.

“If you’re not signed on to this, if you’re not really committed to this, I don’t think you’re committed to the industry,” he says. “Every segment’s got to put their differences aside. … We all can come together for the simple idea that we need to sell more boats, we need to get more people into the lifestyle of boating.”

This article originally appeared in the May 2012 issue.


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