Bryant Boats CEO taps into Millennials’ talent

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People in the marine industry often discuss ways to reach the millennial generation, or Generation Y, but Bryant Boats CEO John Dorton is taking a different approach.

Instead of talking about how to reach the group, Dorton partnered with Lawrence Technological University, a Detroit design school, so students could take a class and take on the challenge of designing a boat that would appeal to their generation.

“Right now you’ve got 50-year-old men trying to think like 20-year-olds, so I wanted to get their perspective,” Dorton told Trade Only Today.

Many of the details are being kept under wraps, but Dorton says he is using a substantial amount of the ideas they brought to the table.

Andrew Hanzel, a professor of industrial design at Lawrence Technological University who has deep design roots in the auto industry with General Motors — he helped to design Cadillac’s new look and worked on the Chevrolet Volt before retiring to his teaching career — said the exercise also helped the students from various disciplines be a part of the entire design process.

“Our kids all take physics and advanced mathematics,” Hanzel told Trade Only. “Some design schools don’t require math, and that’s OK for drawing pictures of boats, but doesn’t help them design software or help the kids engineer a boat. This way, they see the continuity, and it’s not just a class. Coming up with ideas, crafting them and even building prototypes: That’s the new world. You don’t have to sell things as a drawing like you did before.”

Dorton says the results taught him a lot about not only what the upcoming generation of potential boat buyers wants, but just as important, what they do not. “They want the control to make the boat their own, not to show off like past generations, but just to be different,” Dorton said.

“I really think our greatest growth in the marine industry period is that retiring empty nester and that millennial,” Dorton said. “The retiring boomer, that’s who the pontoon is appealing to. Their spawn, their kids are the ones who are 35 and under. They’ve got that water bug, and they’re moving into boat-buying demographic ranges, so we’re really trying to work on those groups.”

Dorton says the first in a “very long series” of boats derived from the results of the class will be introduced in November at the Marine Dealer Conference & Expo.

Read more about Bryant Boats’ endeavor and appealing across age demographics in the July issue of Soundings Trade Only.

— Reagan Haynes

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