MIAMI BEACH - A panel of seasoned marine journalists presented a discussion on the future of the industry at this morning's annual Boating Writers International meeting at the Miami International Boat Show.
The panel included Bill Sisson, editor in chief of Soundings Trade Only and Soundings magazine; Matt Gruhn, editor in chief of Boating Industry magazine; and Marilyn Mower, editor of Marine Business Journal.
Sisson said that in order to move forward the industry needs to focus on simple, sensible, seaworthy and efficient boats, predicting the days of conspicuous consumption by consumers are over.
"Technology should bring value [to a boat]," he stressed. "Technology really should make life on the water better."
The days of bigger and faster are over, he said. Boats need to be fuel-efficient, as gas prices are likely to rise again. The industry needs to stress the experience of boating, rather than power and speed.
Good service is key to keeping existing customers and bringing in new ones, he added.
Gruhn gave an overview of how the industry got to where it is today, citing the credit crisis, lower consumer confidence, too much inventory in the field and a lack of floorplanning for dealers.
"We need to reset everything we're doing," he said.
Manufacturers and dealers need to look at new models of inventory management, such as custom-ordered boats, especially on larger units; regional distribution centers; and boat clubs, which could eventually lead to boat sales.
Mower suggested the industry take a look at the past in its approach to the future. "When you lose your way, go back to the last place you remember that made sense," she said.
She talked about the 1940s and '50s, when boats were mostly custom, and the monumental shift that took place in the '70s with mass-produced fiberglass boats.
In the 1990s, she noted, many customers didn't know much about boating and some were sold the wrong type of boat by dealers simply looking to make sales. The trust was broken, she said, adding that the situation lacked nobility.
The industry needs transparency, honesty and people who can think outside the box, she said.
"No boat can be all things to all people in all conditions," Mower noted. "This is a niche business for niche enthusiasts. Don't be afraid of that."
— Beth Rosenberg