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Industry leadership council meets to advance growth strategies

CHICAGO — The Recreational Boating Leadership Council that emerged from the 2011 industry Growth Summit and two subsequent summits met Thursday to continue discussions on six long-term initiatives to implement a 10-year growth plan to transform recreational boating.

The RBLC last met at the American Boating Congress in Washington, D.C., in May.

The 20 participants at a five-hour meeting at the Hilton Rosemont hotel heard reports from the chairmen of each of the initiative committees: advocacy, marketing, education, diversity, youth and affordability.

The council agreed that each chairman needs to do a better job of conveying the content and strategies emerging from the group discussions to their constituents, including marine trades associations across the country.

Ideas discussed to improved communication and participation from industry peers in the process included more frequent, concise communications with clear directives to recipients about spreading the news and participating in the process.

Others in the industry are invited to join any of the panels.

"The council is open to anyone interested in participating," said Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association and secretary of the leadership council.

Those interested are encouraged to contact Dammrich or Matt Gruhn, chairman of the leadership council and president of the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas.

Here are highlights from the committee reports:

• NMMA senior vice president of marketing and communications Carl Blackwell, of the marketing committee, said the industry's Grow Boating campaign continues to deliver with its Discover Boating website and increasing social media presence.

For 2014, Blackwell said the campaign will add fresh photos and videos, with some of them promoting diversity in the boating lifestyle, to target a younger audience. Content marketing will also be ramped up.

• The youth participation committee, headed by Northwest Marine Trades Association and CEO George Harris and Sea Scouts national director Keith Christopher, is creating a national database on youth boating programs.

Harris said the work in progress should go online in the spring and have at least 3,000 vetted youth programs. Local marine trades council leaders will be asked to add to the database, which will have an online form to enter the information.

• John Kukuk, owner of Nestegg Marine in Marinette, Wis., and chairman of the Wisconsin Marina Association, heads the education committee, which is developing a national database of education and training programs. Kukuk said his dealership has offered on-water training to customers for years that has helped produced numerous boat sales.

"Do our dealers realize that education can aid in selling boats? I don't think a lot do," he said.

• Dammrich said he is handing over the chairmanship of the diversity committee to veteran industry marketer Wanda Kenton Smith.

Committee member Lou Sandoval, co-owner Karma Yacht Sales in Chicago, suggested that the industry should make an effort to recruit minority-group members as employees.

"We need to promote the industry as a landing deck and a career opportunity," he said. "The quickest way to have minorities assimilate is through other minorities in the industry and promoting it," he said.

• NMMA legislative counsel Jeff Gabriel, who leads the advocacy committee, touted the industry's effective fight against increasing the level of ethanol in the nation's gasoline supply from 10 percent to 15 percent, noting that the EPA backed away from the increase until further scientific testing is done.

For 2014, Gabriel said the goals include improving the NMMA’s "alert system," which acts as a two-way avenue for information on critical national legislative issues and local issues from the front lines.

• Jim Coburn, managing partner at Coburn & Associates, heads the affordability committee, which is tackling an issue that is connected to all of the other key council initiatives, particularly marketing and education.

"Perception is reality, and there is a perception that boating comes with a high cost," Coburn said, noting that auto and RV sales have rebounded far better after the Great Recession than boats "in part because new-boat costs have risen exponentially."

Alternatives such as fractional ownership, rental and peer-to-peer programs were discussed as offering some relief on the issue.

Jeff Behan, vice president of planning and business development for Brunswick Corp., noted the "costs of time and hassles" that compound the economic cost of boating.

"As a manufacturer, we see affordability as the biggest long-term threat to this industry," he said.

Brunswick announced in November a push to use multiple strategies to offer consumers more affordable boating options.

The next meeting of the RBLC is scheduled to be held in Washington, D.C., the day before the start of ABC.

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