Grow Boating study finds drop in first-time buyers

The decline is largely the reason that the age of the average boat owner continues to increase.
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First-time boat buyers represent 33 percent of all boats sold in the United States, which is nearly a 20 percent decline since 2005.

The decline is largely the reason that the age of the average boat owner continues to increase — the number of owners under the age of 50 has gone from 55 percent of all owners to fewer than 35 percent.

That’s according to a Grow Boating study released today and titled “First-Time Boat Buyer.”

“We’ve worked very closely with Info-Link to understand the latest boat owner trends,” Grow Boating president Carl Blackwell told Trade Only Today. “In particular, two things stood out: The total number of boat owners has decreased by more than 1 million since 2000 and the percentage of first-time boat owners dropped from 42 percent to 33 percent in 2015. This confirms previous findings that showed a decline in the number of boaters under the age of 50 — from 55 percent of all owners to now under 35 percent.”

“We are losing boat owners faster than we can replace them,” Blackwell added. “Some of this is age-related, and some of it involves a lower percentage of first-time buyers becoming repeat buyers.”

Another key insight from the First-Time Boat Buyer research is that two-thirds of first-time buyers will only provide personal information at the point of purchase, which means that manufacturers and dealers are not getting traditional leads from two-thirds of first-time buyers.

“The way people shop today is very different than in 2005, and through this in-depth analysis we, as an industry, have to realize that traditional leads may soon be harder to come by and there is a need to identify more impactful ways to connect with potential first-time buyers,” Blackwell said in a statement.

Because of changes in consumer shopping and online behavior during the past decade, the board of Grow Boating commissioned the study in an effort to better understand today’s first-time boat buyer and determine how manufacturers, dealers and the industry’s marketing campaign, Discover Boating, can apply the findings to generate sales.

The study identified six types of first-time buyers: the “gear guys,” or mostly younger men who are motivated by hobbies with specialized equipment; the merry mates, those who want to connect as a family; luxurious leisurers, image-conscious people who seek status; water weekenders, those who did not grow up boating, but love hosting friends and family on their own boat; seclusion seekers, or nature lovers who seek to escape busy lives; and nautical natives, those who grew up boating and continue to do so.

Click here to read more about the study and read more from Carl Blackwell on the research in Soundings Trade Only’s May Q&A.

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