MIAMI - "Building Momentum" isn't just a catch phrase. It genuinely describes where the marine industry stands at the beginning of 2012, according to presentations from officials of GE Capital Distribution Finance and the National Marine Manufacturers Association.
Although no one is calling for this year to be record-breaking, there is room for growth, and there are opportunities out there for the taking, executives of the two groups said Wednesday at a seminar.
Slow growth is projected for the next two to four years, NMMA president Thom Dammrich noted, but participation is up, and that should lead to new boat owners in the future. Bringing new people into boating was the focus of the growth summit held in December in Chicago, and plans are under way for a follow-up meeting of industry stakeholders in late March, he said.
Bruce Van Wagoner, president of the Marine Group at GE Capital Commercial Distribution Finance, noted that the average boat out there is 21 years old. “That speaks to opportunity,” he said.
Although 2012 isn’t expected to be dramatically different from 2011, certain segments are seeing more growth than others. The outboard market, for example, should be relatively strong this year. Inventory levels are healthy, Van Wagoner said, and most older boats are out of dealer showrooms.
GE, he noted, remains committed to the recreational marine industry. The company has invested in technology, as well as in its people. Last year, 57,000 dealer orders were approved, and GE provided $360 million in new credit lines.
“I feel good that we have supported you,” he told seminar attendees.
Rob Podorefsky, managing director of the GE Capital Interest Rate Management Group, provided an economic overview that also projected slow growth for the economy as a whole in 2012. In 2011, growth was less than anticipated, he said, and in 2012, U.S. GDP is expected to grow about 2 percent.
Some of the good news: Last year saw more job creation in this country than had been seen since 2006, which means more tax revenue is coming in; consumer confidence has generally improved; personal savings rates are coming down, which can mean people are feeling more secure; and consumer debt is rising, with auto loans topping the list of new debt.
Also, Podorefsky said, consumer spending on all goods and services is about $9.5 trillion. Durable goods, which include boats, make up 14 percent of that, and recreational goods has grown from 4 to 6 percent. Most of that, he said, is attributable to consumer electronics, but because boats are in the same category that’s “very, very good news.”
One area that has yet to stabilize is the housing market, which has not finished its "adjustments,” he said.
Some things GE is carefully watching:
• developments in Europe
• central bank policy easing
• retail gas prices
• U.S. income tax receipts
• upside to housing/labor markets
“We’re not due for a downturn,” he added. “We’re building momentum.”
Also at the session, Carl Blackwell, the NMMA’s chief marketing officer and vice president of marketing and communications, presented an overview of the “Welcome to the Water” campaign, as well as updates to the program that are coming this year.
The 2012 media plan will focus on the Internet, especially videos, which are one of the fastest-growing areas online. Also on tap are improving lead generation efforts, a mobile advertising campaign and making ads as effective as possible — for example, through weather triggering or geo-triggering.
Facebook, Blackwell noted, is one of the top 10 referral sites to DiscoverBoating.com, and the Discover Boating Facebook page has more than 218,000 “likes,” with a goal of reaching 500,000 by next year.
Launching soon is an app that will allow people to create their own “Welcome to the Water” ad/video with their own pictures and personal information.
“Imagine 3,000, 5,000 of these, all on Facebook,” Blackwell said.
Several contests will be launched this year, with opportunities for industry stakeholders to be a part of a “prize page.” Blackwell also urged marine businesses to “share” Discover Boating news or features on their own Facebook pages.
In addition to Facebook, the Discover Boating website is undergoing an upgrade and will be easier for consumers to navigate. A new boat selection tool will be introduced, and consumers will be connected with brands much faster.
Also, an accessories section is being added.
— Beth Rosenberg