2020 Outlook

Experts discuss the boating industry in the year ahead — and beyond — while predicting boat sales and other trends
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New-boat sales: 3 percent growth in units over 2019, with higher dollars

Bruce Van Wagoner

Bruce Van Wagoner

As the year comes to a close, it is a great time to reflect on how the industry performed in 2019. When it comes to inventory levels, the industry is in a better position than we were a few months ago. The reduction of factory shipments, coupled with good retail growth in the third quarter, helped pull through two weeks of inventory hangover in the third quarter. As of the end of November, the weeks on hand for most segments is plus-two to plus-three weeks, versus the same time a year ago. Overall, inventories are about 5 percent higher than last year, but as mentioned, we’re in a better position than at the end of the second quarter. We’re even in a better position from where the RV industry was a year ago. It took a lot of good work by boatbuilders and dealers to address the inventory issue.

At this point, I’m not especially concerned by the current state of the industry. There may be individual dealers carrying an excess of inventory, and that will weigh on them and their local markets in 2020 as they move out the overstock at discounted levels. However, I would say generally, we’re in a good place.

We haven’t seen boatbuilders cut back production in the second half of 2019, but strong sales of some larger models at FLIBS will keep a few manufacturers busy going forward. Depending on where they are with overall demand and inventory levels, boatbuilders will need to decide whether they’ll go up or down with production. Looking ahead to the first half of 2020, the winter shows will provide a backdrop for the status quo, shipment growth or more shipment contraction.

Boats under 22 feet are down 8 percent at retail in 2019. Boats over 22 feet are flat, despite the poor weather in 2019. The industry will continue to build to where the demand is.

For 2019, retail unit sales will be down 4 to 5 percent, while retail dollars will be slightly up. This will require dealers and Wells Fargo CDF to stay ahead of dealer credit line needs, despite the market headline numbers. The biggest and best dealers continue to expand their footprint, selectively calling for larger credit lines.

For 2020, we’re forecasting 3 percent growth in unit retail sales. That is based off of the 4 to 5 percent decline we saw in 2018. Essentially, we are predicting to be back to 2017 levels of unit sales in 2020, though dollars will continue to grow. We’re not expecting a slowdown in lending activity, and we don’t foresee any economic bumps beyond what is being broadcast today.

- Bruce Van Wagoner, President, Marine Group, Wells Fargo CDF

This year, an increased focus on ‘they,’ ‘she’ and ‘us’ 

Brenna Preisser

Brenna Preisser

2020 will be a transformative year for the marine industry. Together, we weathered the storm in 2019 — a slow start to the season due to bad weather, the consistent threat of tariffs and other headwinds — and through it all, we grew our industry, attracting new boaters and leveraging technology to create a better boating experience.

However, the future is not only about what we can deliver and create; it’s about why and for whom. It’s about change, courage and a relentless focus on the consumer. I believe the industry is building toward a tipping point, where we have introduced new technologies and understand the importance of the consumer experience. We know that connectivity is part of the future — not the end goal, but a gateway to solve problems and enhance the experience. In addition, the sharing economy is not competitive to boat ownership. Instead, it is a powerful tool to expand industry participation, and Brunswick is well positioned to lead that charge.

At Brunswick, we have a saying: “No posters without progress.” This means that before we take something public, we must have evidence of our beliefs, values and progress. In 2019, we had many exciting milestones, including partnerships and technology implementation toward autonomy, and connectivity (standard on Sea Ray and Boston Whaler models, 25 feet and larger) and the acquisition of Freedom Boat Club, with more than 200 locations and growing. We have embraced technology and the sharing economy as powerful levers to engage a broader and more diverse set of consumers. We refer to the ACES acronym, which is common in other verticals, to describe the future consumer experience: autonomous, connected, electrified and shared.

Labor costs and availability remain challenges for manufacturers.

Labor costs and availability remain challenges for manufacturers.

In 2020, these efforts will continue with an accelerated pace. There will also be an increased focus on “they,” “she” and “us.” The marine industry and boating are about community, with relevance across all generations and demographics. Women, specifically, are interested in participating on the water and are the most powerful consumers in the economy. Brunswick recently conducted a study to reflect a representative sample of the U.S. population. We learned that in the last year, nearly 6 million women ages 18 to 85 went powerboating frequently (more than four times), and more than 30 million women participated infrequently. These were all non-owners. Those are powerful numbers, numbers we need to embrace as an industry.

Strengthening our engagement with women and broader consumer segments is reflected in our commitment to shared-access models and solving barriers to participation, such as time, hassle and mastery. Joystick Piloting, Skyhook, Active Trim, Vessel View, Nautic-On and CZone digital switching are just some of the products with the purpose of creating a “frictionless consumer experience.” In fact, Brunswick’s new Harris Solstice is one of the most connected pontoons in the world — the only pontoon with CZone digital switching. The next chapter, which will gain traction in 2020, is about technology integration and working within an ecosystem to successfully move to the future faster.

The actual tipping point will be better understood in the rearview mirror, where consumer-focused technology, product and lifestyle investments result in new boating participants and enable boaters to stay on the water longer. These same touchpoints will also allow us to grow our industry, and we are well positioned to do that. I’m confident that 2020 not only will take us another step forward, but that our brightest days are ahead.

- Brenna Preisser, President, Business Acceleration and CHRO, Brunswick Corp.

Remaining relevant in an age of diversity

Frank Hugelmeyer

Frank Hugelmeyer

We are fortunate to be in the “pursuit of happiness” and “quality of life” business — a business that happens to be one of our country’s most significant economic drivers. This past year, the U.S. Department of Commerce identified boating and fishing as the top contributor to the outdoor economy, ranking above such activities as RVing, golf, tennis and motorcycling. Combined, outdoor recreation has been outpacing overall economic growth (at 3.9 percent compared to 2.4 percent), while generating 2.2 percent of U.S. GDP. To put this into perspective, outdoor recreation’s contribution to the economy is on par with telecommunications — a stat that speaks volumes about how Americans prefer to spend their time and money.

There’s no question that Americans’ interest in spending time outdoors will never go out of style. The question lies in how we ensure boating and fishing remain in the top spot as competition for our end consumer’s time and mindshare increases. If we hope to keep pace and build market share, it’s important that we provide the kind of highly accessible experiences our consumers seek — from the moment they consider boating to the many moments after.

But interests and behaviors always evolve, so who are our current consumers and what do they want? Research from Info-Link tells us that today’s first-time boat buyers are different than past generations. First off, there are fewer of them, as younger boaters demonstrate they’re not boating in the same way their parents and grandparents once did. What’s more, first-time buyers are older than when existing boat buyers purchased their first boat (45 compared to 39).

If our existing new customer base is getting older and shrinking, how do we attract the next generation?

For starters, we need to be talking to the next generation now. Lucky for us, they value and seek experiences — the kind of experiences that boating delivers, from adventure and fun to relaxation and respite. But the secret sauce to long-term success is keeping entry into the lifestyle affordable while promoting the coveted connections that unfold during boating adventures.

Boating has the experience part cornered. We offer lifelong connections with nature, with ourselves, and with our family and friends that you can’t get anywhere else. But future customers, who happen to be more ethnically diverse, increasingly female and purpose-driven, are forcing us (and every industry) to reconsider our traditional approaches to serving customers, selling products, supporting employees and managing the supply chain.

As a result, we’re being challenged to continuously improve on multiple fronts — or face disruption. That ranges from how we talk to consumers as they explore boating to how we deliver on a rental or ownership experience.

The consumer experience will continue to drive innovation and technology.

The consumer experience will continue to drive innovation and technology.

The consumer of the future needs to become part of our DNA. They must be reflected in all we do — beyond our advertising campaigns. Presently, diversity (age, ethnicity, cultural, gender) is one area where the marine industry is far behind other business sectors. From the Discover Boating campaign, to industrywide hiring practices, to executive leadership development, to product development, to salespeople in marine dealerships, to the boardroom — we must reflect the face of America. Doing so is essential to our long-term relevance: All potential customers need to feel welcomed and see themselves, their friends and their families in the boating lifestyle and our products.

NMMA is committed to helping unite the industry as we map our path forward and keep pace with the consumer of the future. The great news is our industry has two distinct advantages to engage potential customers in meaningful ways: Discover Boating and boat shows. Looking at these two programs in new, strategic and integrated ways can help us begin and accelerate our journey forward.

We all have a stake in growing the recreational boating market, and to be successful we must work together. Each person we can excite about the boating lifestyle is a valuable advocate who will spread the word and create more enthusiasts.

As we head into 2020, NMMA is laser-focused on creating a foundation that ensures boating not only remains relevant to the consumer of the future, but also maintains its pole position in the outdoor recreation economy. Join us and help to ensure recreational boating and fishing remain the most sought-after outdoor recreation experiences in North America.

- Frank Hugelmeyer, NMMA president

Reasons for both optimism and caution

Michael Swartz

Michael Swartz

What does the year ahead hold for the marine industry? This is a question that we field frequently from investors. Near-term sentiment can influence the pace of capital formation, broader stock market movements and valuations for publicly traded companies in the recreational goods industries that we follow (including marine, RV and powersports). Certainly, we do not have a crystal ball, and myriad factors can influence the industry’s fate between now and Dec. 31, 2020.

That said, there are reasons for both optimism and caution over the coming 12 months. The domestic consumer has rarely been healthier. Record low unemployment, improved wage growth, near-record-high consumer confidence, and rising home and stock market values provide a fertile backdrop for most discretionary goods sectors. This is particularly true for industries like marine that rely, in part, on the “wealth effect” to stimulate demand. To this point, as of November 2019, household wealth of $113 trillion stood at an all-time high. When combined with easing interest rates and stable inflation, it would be difficult to blame anyone looking at the year ahead through rose-colored glasses.

Ah, but not so fast. The U.S. economy is arguably in the later stages of the longest expansionary period on record. While it is true that economic expansions rarely, if ever, die of old age (they are typically preceded by discrete catalysts like oil shocks, interest rate spikes and credit crises), the tax reform sugar-high is now behind us, and business/capital spending has decelerated for four straight quarters. An increasing onus is now on the consumer to fuel economic growth. (Consumer spending represents 70 percent of GDP.)

While we do not see an imminent threat to the U.S. consumer, red flags including rising household debt, growing income inequality and the strain lower interest rates place on those living on fixed incomes (e.g. retirees) are worth watching. We would also be remiss not to mention ongoing political turmoil as we head into an (likely contentious) election year.

This all comes at a time when RV and boat sales growth have moderated, and industry participants are reassessing inventory and production levels. Many are left wondering if these typically staid leading indicators are (again) serving as proverbial canaries in the coal mine ahead of impending economic malaise. There is no consensus on this front (that whole crystal ball thing), and we do believe a combination of the late 2018 rate tightening, tariff-related cost pass-through and historically bad spring weather in 2019 are partial explanatory factors.

In any event, 2020 will undoubtedly come with its share of highs and lows. Here is how we are talking about the marine industry in 2020 with investors:

• New unit sales are likely to be flat to slightly down, with slowing trends into the 2020 election.

• Month-to-month volatility persists. Political, economic and trade headlines remain the largest risks to consumer sentiment.

• Pontoon, ski/wake and large outboard-powered center consoles will remain relatively more attractive retail segments.

• Industry consolidation accelerates as well-capitalized businesses take advantage of more attractive valuations, low interest rates and motivated sellers.

From a stock perspective, a defensive stance is more appropriate in a slower-growth, higher-volatility market. We prefer higher-quality companies with clean balance sheets and strong cash flow. Those who can generate market share gains and demonstrate pricing power, while investing for long-term growth should fare better in a slowing macro backdrop.

- Michael Swartz, Director, Equity, Research, SunTrust Robinson Humphrey

Advocacy is industry sustainability

Ben Speciale

Ben Speciale

Pundits have been offering new-year prognostications for industries and markets since the beginning of business itself, but I have found the best way to prepare for the future is by advocating for it.

I truly believe we can have sensible regulations while growing access to clean water and fisheries, and our industry can and will grow as a result.

As chairman of NMMA, I work every day to ensure the industry achieves a stable regulatory structure; sensible requirements for boating safety and emissions in a timely way without interrupting business; and access to clean water resources and fishing opportunities.

In recent years, NMMA has made great strides advocating for and passing sensible regulations and laws that safeguard the sustainability of both the environment and our industry. In 2018, for example, we helped pass the Modern Fish Act. A great accomplishment in fisheries management, but we cannot rest on past victory. We must be sure the Modern Fish Act is understood and acted upon by regulators. This will be an ongoing effort, but it requires action in 2020.

There are more opportunities before us, such as returning water flow from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades, ending overfishing of forage fish and menhaden, and tackling the multispecies, multiregional problem of invasive fish and aquatic plants. Working in Washington is a long-term process. It will take years before we see change. But these three issues are priorities, and we must make significant progress on them in 2020.

Indeed, there are more challenges and opportunities in our industry today than ever before. NMMA policy priorities now include trade, conservation, infrastructure, recreational fishing access, fuel policy, boating safety and workforce development. That’s a big portfolio.

Thankfully, it’s supported by a strong, expanded staff. The D.C. office of NMMA has one of the most talented and active staffs in the organization’s history, and they’re deploying their skills to champion stable, sensible regulation at the state and local levels. However, they can’t do it alone.

We can and will improve these items with time and dedicated effort, but each of us must help. We must all assure the future of our businesses by making the industry sustainable through our advocacy.

As we start this new year, I have a simple ask for dealers, boatbuilders and anyone else who might be reading this: Go to NMMA.org and click on the “advocacy” tab. Once there, go to “get involved” and learn about BoatPAC, then sign a prior approval form. After that, go to “take action,” where you will find Boating United, NMMA’s advocacy website. There you can send a prewritten letter to your senator, member of congress or state representative, and make the case for sensible laws and regulations.

Finally, go to “American Boating Congress,” and read about how you can join what will be an incredible show of our industry’s economic power, May 12-14 in Washington, D.C. You will learn more about the many issues before us, and then you can take action in person by visiting your senators or representative in congress. Please join me there.

I look forward to seeing you in Washington and to working with you. Together, we will grow our wonderful industry’s future.

- Ben Speciale, Chairperson, NMMA Board of Directors, and President, Yamaha U.S. Marine Business Unit 

New-boat sales could be up 2 percent in 2020

Vicky Yu

Vicky Yu

Despite recessionary anxieties in 2019, the economy remains stable. The future for recreational boating is bright. In fact, we remain in one of the strongest periods in more than a decade. NMMA expects 2019 to have seen more than 280,000 new boats sold, marking the second-highest level of new-boat sales in 12 years.

While this is on par with what we saw in 2018 (an 11-year high), for some segments — personal watercraft, wake-sport boats and jetboats — it will be the highest level of sales in 12 years. Early indicators tell us that personal watercraft will have jumped an estimated 8 percent in 2019, wake-sport boats 7 percent and jetboats around 2 percent. On the same note, pontoon and saltwater fishing boats are expected to be near the second highest sales level they’ve been in 12 years. Together, these segments represent the majority, or 65 percent, of new-boat sales.

From 2012 through 2018, we saw seven years of consecutive growth, an incredible run that has seen our industry evolve and innovate its product offerings and technologies, providing more varied experiences for customers.

While 2019 brought another healthy year, there was a slowdown in the high-volume freshwater fishing segment and continued drag from sterndrive segments, such as runabouts and cruisers. This caused total new-boat sales to flatten and signaled the potential for a small decline last year. Those dips happened around the same time we saw unseasonably cold and rainy weather across much of the country during the peak spring and summer selling season.

As late summer arrived with warmer temperatures that led well into fall, we saw an encouraging pickup in sales in both of these segments. By the end of 2019, our forecasts show new freshwater fishing-boat sales coming in at 2015 levels, and even within these trailing segments, in larger aluminum fishing and fiberglass fishing boats, as well as outboard-propelled midsized cruisers and runabouts, we’re seeing healthy increases over last year.

As we look ahead at 2020, we’re on solid footing. The economy continues to grow with strong consumer spending growing at 4 percent annually over the past five years; wage growth that’s outpacing inflation and household savings rates up a healthy 8 percent, raising consumer spending power; and new residential home building up 8 percent over the past 12 months. What’s more, we’re seeing GDP growth at around 2 percent, which is expected to continue through 2022, according to the Fed’s Survey of Professional Forecasters.

All of this bodes well for recreational boating and signals that the forthcoming boat show season will bring confident buyers looking to get on the water. In fact, we’re expecting 2020 to be another good year, with new-boat sales up as much as 2 percent.

We’re also keeping our eyes on any potential headwinds. Labor cost and availability remain a top challenge for marine manufacturers, with a tight labor market constraining growth. With a healthy year on the horizon, as you plan your approach, consider investing in technology, talent retention and recruitment, marketing, and managing backlogs. If there’s any slowing in 2020, it will likely be brief and mild, so businesses will want to make sure they’re positioned to take advantage of that upswing when it happens.

Vicky Yu, NMMA Director of Business Intelligence

Tariffs, conservation and implementing the Modern Fish Act

Glenn Hughes

Glenn Hughes

Yes, we have a strong economy, and fishing participation is at its highest level in decades. However, I am cautious about 2020 for several reasons. Of course, it’s an election year, and we’ve been riding a strong economy for several years. While we don’t see the same issues we faced from 2008 through 2011 we need to be cognizant of what’s ahead.

China tariffs are still front and center for the fishing-tackle industry. Almost 60 percent of fishing equipment is imported, with two thirds from China. The continued unknowns of whether the tariffs will be enforced or not, and when, or whether they’ll go up or down, has our manufacturing sector scrambling. Looking for alternate production locations and working with the OEMs and retailers on pricing is making for a tough business environment. The American Sportfishing Association is working with a number of our members on submitting product exclusion requests on imported Chinese goods because many can’t affordably or realistically produce their products anywhere else.

Everyone agrees that their time could be spent more productively developing new, innovative products, working on marketing and distribution, and building brands.

Besides trade, we still have plenty of activity on fisheries policy and conservation.

In 2020, our government affairs team, along with our members and partners, will be focused on conservation policies, including ensuring healthy populations of forage fish, prohibiting destructive commercial fishing gear like drift gillnets and longlines, and improving the survival of caught-and-released fish. Please don’t get me started on menhaden, one of our nation’s most important forage fisheries currently at risk due to blatant industrial overharvest in Chesapeake Bay. We remain busy on that issue. There is always plenty of activity in Florida regarding the Everglades, clean water and coral reef restoration. Looking for more funding and expediting the work being done to move the water south of Lake Okeechobee is at the top of the list.

Of course, we must ensure that the requirements of our top legislative priority of last year — the Modern Fish Act — are carried out. Signed into law by President Trump at the end of 2018, the Modern Fish Act is a very big deal for our industry. Much of that law provides guidance and direction to federal marine fisheries managers to oversee our marine fisheries for enhanced recreational fishing as the outcome. Our team is diligently following up with NOAA Fisheries and the regional fishery management councils to ensure the law is properly implemented so that our industry can see more reasonable and consistent federal marine fisheries regulations.

Growing demand for high-horsepower outboards will keep production lines busy for engine manufacturers.

Growing demand for high-horsepower outboards will keep production lines busy for engine manufacturers.

For example, one of the central themes of the Modern Fish Act is encouraging consideration of new, innovative ways to collect recreational fishing harvest data using electronic reporting, such as smartphone apps. NOAA Fisheries recently announced a new task force to review the generation, delivery and use of electronically reported data.

In 2020, we must also reauthorize the Sport Fish Restoration Act. Introduced as the Sport Fish Restoration and Recreational Boating Safety Act of 2019, this bill needs to be signed to extend the authorization of the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund to 2024. Unless Congress acts, the Trust Fund will expire in 2021. Since 1950, the Sport Fish Restoration program has provided billions of dollars to fund fisheries conservation and public access to aquatic resources.

We must also get our arms around aquatic invasive species, which are having a devastating impact on our native fish populations. More money, effort, regulation and cooperation between agencies are needed to stem the tide of Asian carp and many more. If we don’t stop them, the impacts on the Great Lakes and its fisheries, which are valued at $7 billion, will be devastating.

All of these efforts translate into benefits for the sportfishing industry: better data, science, fisheries management, fishing, more anglers, and more boats and equipment sold.

Generally, our marine fisheries are in relatively good shape. As an industry, we’d like more days to fish for red snapper because we believe they are there. But as recreational anglers who care about conservation, we do understand there will be tighter measures on striped bass, bluefish and other species that may be overfished.

Our goal is to achieve healthy, sustainable fisheries and keep the waters open to anglers and boaters to enjoy all year long, all leading to a strong recreational fishing industry.

- Glenn Hughes, President,, American Sportfishing Association

Signature 2020 legislation: Sport Fishing Restoration and Boating Trust Fund reauthorization

Nicole Vasilaros

Nicole Vasilaros

From the trade war to the latest ethanol battle, the recreational boating industry was active on multiple fronts in 2019. As these issues continue into 2020 amidst a shifting political landscape, reauthorizing the Sport Fishing Restoration and Boating Trust Fund remains at the top of NMMA’s advocacy priority list.

The Trust Fund is a voluntary, user-fee system created by recreational boaters and anglers in 1950 to pay for conservation programs and recreational boating infrastructure projects in all 50 states. As a user-pay, user-benefit system, taxes paid by boaters and anglers go to state fish and wildlife agencies for fisheries research, fish habitat protection and restoration, aquatic education, and fishing and boating access facilities, such as docks and ramps.

Since 2010, the Trust Fund has helped with restoring and improving more than 28,000 acres of habitat in coastal wetland ecosystems, building over 18,000 structures to protect and enhance the natural habitats of aquatic species, stocking more than 2 billion fish in lakes, rivers, and streams across the country, and educating nearly 3.5 million students on the benefits of conservation, boating and fishing.

The Trust Fund collects $650 million each year and is the largest source of funding for marine conservation. The current lack of reauthorization for the fund jeopardizes the advancements in conservation made throughout the years.

A significant portion of the Trust Fund is required by law to be reauthorized every five years, and lawmakers must greenlight this program again in 2020. The importance of the trust fund for conservation is not new to the recreational boating industry. In fact, the industry has long been a leader in these efforts and engages with policymakers about the effects of climate change and its impacts on marine ecosystems.

There are important legislative issues for recreational fishing in 2020, 
including carrying out the priorities of the Modern Fish Act.

There are important legislative issues for recreational fishing in 2020, including carrying out the priorities of the Modern Fish Act.

The recreational boating industry has made progress toward becoming more environmentally friendly by reducing emissions and its carbon footprint. Emissions from marine engines are 75 to 95 percent lower today than they were just 20 years ago, and fuel efficiency has increased by more than 40 percent.

Despite this momentum, federal support remains necessary to ensure the continued enjoyment of our nation’s diverse ecosystems. NMMA is working to educate policymakers on the importance of the trust fund and help usher through its reauthorization in 2020.

Earlier this year, Representatives Garret Graves (R-La.), Joe Cunningham (D-S.C.), Austin Scott (R-Ga.), Marc Veasey (D-Texas), and Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) introduced the Sport Fish Restoration and Recreational Boating Safety Act of 2019, bipartisan legislation that will reauthorize the trust fund for another five years. NMMA is working with boating industry champions on the other side of Capitol Hill to introduce a Senate companion bill.

We need Congress to come together to ensure this vital progress is not jeopardized and the trust fund can continue to support conservation efforts for years to come.

- Nicole Vasilaros, NMMA Senior Vice President of Government Relations and Legal Affairs

The meaning of comfort

Martin Bjuv

Martin Bjuv

In 2020, we will continue to build on our successes and new Easy Boating innovations, such as silent and smooth shifting and “dipstick free” oil level checking. We will also work closely with OEMs and dealers to roll out the new re-engineered engine package we unveiled in 2019.

A major focus for Volvo Penta in 2020 will be to push forward our automation and electromobility initiatives to meet our pledge of offering electrified solutions by 2021. We are well underway with a number of initiatives in this area, working together in collaboration with OEMs and other key stakeholders across the entire Volvo Penta business with the aim to test and learn. A few examples include development of an electric saildrive proof-of-concept for a Fountaine-Pajot sailing catamaran, participation in the city of Gothenburg’s electricity project with aims to electrify a passenger ferry for commercial use by the end of 2020, collaboration with ABB and Chalmers University for a feasibility study on fast charging at sea, and even teaming up with fire service vehicle manufacturer Rosenbauer on an electric fire truck.

These aren’t the only significant trends that will impact our industry in the year — and years — ahead. It doesn’t take a crystal ball to see that in the 2020s, boomer consumers will pass the torch to millennials. Now’s the time to plan for this sea change.

The definition of comfort is evolving. It’s a function of all the senses working in unison to create and define a singular experience. Research shows that today’s consumers tend to gravitate to experience over product. To compete against other lifestyle options, we will need to deliver the same seamless experience consumers have come to expect on land, with the aim of turning experimenters into purchasers.

Millennial consumers also have a visceral sense of environmental consciousness. Responding to this imperative means going the extra mile — beyond mere compliance with emission regulations. Just as with cars, boaters will expect better fuel economy and a cleaner, greener experience. And as electric cars become commonplace, so will electric boats.

A key to meeting the challenge of millennials’ experiential expectations will be more system integration that takes the complete boat into perspective. That’s what we mean at Volvo Penta when we talk about our Easy Boating vision: delivering a seamless and intuitive process when it comes to buying, owning and operating a boat.

We also see another important trend evolving in boat sharing, charter and rental operations. We believe these will help to grow boating by creating opportunities for consumers to learn how much fun they can have on the water.

The new generation of consumers will expect a unique experience no matter where they are — on land or at sea. At the same time, they’re also actively seeking adventure, and that’s something that boating delivers like nothing else. Our job, as we face the 2020s and beyond, is to deliver a truly memorable experience, time and time again.

- Martin Bjuve, President, Volvo Penta of the Americas 

Investing during a reset year

Bill Yeargin

Bill Yeargin

The past 10 years have been an exciting ride for our team at Correct Craft. We have seen our revenues increase 15X over the past decade and have grown from one facility in Florida to 14 facilities across the country, from coast to coast. During 2019, we acquired three new companies in addition to 60 acres adjacent to our Orlando Nautique factory.

While we have growth in our DNA and will never stop looking for growth opportunities that are good for our business, we are also dealing with many of the same issues others are wrestling with in our industry. Dealer inventories across the industry are higher than many would like because of poor weather during the 2019 peak selling season, and the trade war continues to impact our global business. These challenges are going to make for a different environment in 2020, which will result in non-acquisition growth being tougher to achieve.

While Correct Craft excels at employee development and Lean Six Sigma execution, we are going to use the changing environment as an opportunity to redouble our efforts in these areas during 2020. We are always focused on employee development, but the emphasis will shift some from growth to optimization.

Our Correct Craft University is already developing hundreds of our employees, and we will be offering new programs in 2020 to further encourage our employees to be learners. We have already helped nearly 30 of our employees go back to school and earn their MBAs, and we have more employees starting MBA programs in January. We have a slew of industrial engineers working constantly to make our businesses better, but they’re also investing in several more employees starting Lean Six Sigma black-belt certification programs in January.

The past few years we have completed plant expansion initiatives at Nautique, SeaArk, Bass Cat, Yar-Craft and Pleasurecraft Engine Group. In 2020, we will be finishing plant expansions at our Centurion, Supreme and Parker boat plants. We are going to be using a reset in the market to ensure we are prepared to excel during the next growth spurt. For instance, under Paul Singer’s leadership we have seen tremendous growth at our Centurion and Supreme plant the past few years and know we have tremendous upside with these brands. Therefore, even in a flat market, we are investing to expand their plants, ensuring we can meet demand during the next market upswing.

Finally, no matter what 2020 brings, we will continue investing in innovation. The world is going to be much different in 10 years, and we want to embrace change that will likely put others out of business.

The best leaders are not one dimensional; they can lead well in growing, resetting, flat or down markets. Whatever 2020 brings, our team will be ready to tackle the year’s opportunities. 

Bill Yeargin, President and CEO, Correct Craft

A new type of affordable boat

Scott Lewit

Scott Lewit

We’re introducing advanced materials to the boatbuilding industry that we developed in our Navy Small Business Innovative Research program for Advanced Combatant Craft. These innovations resulted in significant weight and cost savings, as well as big improvements in boat durability. In the case of our Navy effort, we were able to reduce the weight of a 7M standard RIB with a single inboard diesel from 5,600 to 3,600 pounds on the new 7M RIB with twin multifuel outboards. When we apply that to recreational boats, we’ll see similar reductions in weight and cost, along with improved efficiency and performance.

To achieve this large weight savings without increasing cost, we used advanced Prisma preform framing to replace more expensive core materials. We also invented a new gelcoat replacement called Advanced Marine Coatings using CoCure technology. It replaces conventional gelcoat, which is much more brittle than AMC. We introduced our CoCure Strain Tunable Coatings at IBEX (and won the IBEX Innovation award for materials) and have been working with several boatbuilders on prototypes.

CoCure blends polyester and urethane resin chemistry in a new way. The ratio of polyester to elastomers determines the coating or resin property. Add more elastomers, and the coating becomes elastic and tough. The exciting part of this is that the boatbuilder can set the coating property with a simple adjustment to the dispensing equipment. The current system allows for coating elongation adjustment from 1.5 percent up to 35 percent just by changing the blend ratio.

What does all this mean to our industry? Well, a lot. Gelcoats are a major source of customer issues—and warranty costs for builders. CoCure coatings’ adjustable elongation capability eliminates premature cracking. The urethane component also dramatically improves weathering, color retention and abrasion resistance, and it can double impact resistance.

Boaters expect an on-board experience similar to what the auto industry provides.

Boaters expect an on-board experience similar to what the auto industry provides.

That’s just the beginning. CoCure, combined with Prisma preforms, allows for weight reduction without increasing cost. For recreational boats, the gains can be used to improve performance and efficiency. It’s on the efficiency side that we see a big opportunity. We see CoCure as having the potential to create a new generation of affordable boats for entry-level boaters. The weight-reducing technology also has a knock-on effect that impacts the entire boat package. A significantly lighter hull allows the builder to reduce engine size by 20 to 30 percent without reducing the size of the boat. That brings the engine cost down by thousands. A lighter boat with a smaller engine also requires a smaller, lower-cost trailer and, more important, a lower-cost tow vehicle. The owner will also see significant fuel savings.

Bringing these innovations to market via affordable boats will not only encourage first-time owners to get into boating, but it could convince existing owners to purchase more efficient, durable boats. We’re already seeing the technology being used by the Navy and in other non-marine industries, such as Wabash trailers. For boating, Interplastic Corp. and Structural Composites are now working with key industry players to bring these advances to market in the year ahead.

- Scott Lewit, President, Structural Composites 

In pursuit of world-class experiences

Matt Gruhn

Matt Gruhn

There’s a great deal of talk these days about the value of experiences. First, we were shocked by the revelation that millennials were experience-focused. Then Gen Xers wanted experiences, too. Now it seems everyone wants an experience.

This is not a new desire, and it definitely didn’t originate with millennials. Experiences will always be what recreational pursuits are all about. People don’t buy a boat so they can say they own a boat; they buy a boat because they envision the experiences it will bring — cruising into the sunset, catching fish, surfing the perfect wave, creating memories with their kids.

Our industry’s experiential shortcomings are encapsulated in the tired best-two-days-of-a-boater’s-life joke: The day they bought the boat and the day they sold it. There is no better illustration of an experience that failed to meet the boater’s expectations.

That failure is on us, as an industry, to fix.

Today, the experience economy is providing new pathways for boaters to get on the water; clubs, rentals and peer-to-peer programs have exploded in recent years. These are testing grounds for consumers to see if boating fulfills their dreams of being on the water and their desire to spend their discretionary dollars wisely. They are also safe havens where consumers retreat after boat-ownership-gone-wrong. According to a research project by Thom Dammrich, NMMA president emeritus, nearly 40 percent of first-time boat buyers sell their boats and leave boating within five years of buying. In real numbers, that equals 148,000 boats that were sold and not replaced.

This trend has to change, and in order to do that, our industry needs to rally around the customer experience we provide, improving every single touchpoint a consumer has with us. Sometimes, it starts with the sharing economy, but it also includes the sales cycle, transition to ownership, marina experience, warranty work, service process and, hopefully, the trade-in-and-upgrade process.

Customer experiences, as Dealer Week speaker and regular MRAA contributor Theresa Syer points out, are defined by the total of all touchpoints in the buying and ownership process. Customer experiences are not about ensuring we get all 10s on our surveys. They’re not about ensuring consumers choose us for their service work (but only if they bought the boat from us!). And it’s certainly not just about closing the sale and moving on to the next transaction.

For 2020, think about how your business can do a better job of welcoming new people to boating. Think about how you can remove some of the hassles inherent in boating. Think about how to keep boaters engaged on the water through events and activities. Think about creating a community of boaters for your customers. Think about how every person on your team knows their role in fostering rewarding customer experiences. Finally, think about how your business can work with others in the industry to make boating the seamless experience that new owners want to invite their friends and families into. There are so many opportunities for us to do better.

Author Doug Stephens writes in his book ReEngineering Retail that a “customer’s experience comprises moments: moments of discovery, moments of interest, moments of need and moments of trial. It’s in these moments that a retailer will exceed expectations, meet expectations or fail miserably.” I’d add that the same applies to an entire industry.

I challenge you to not just think about it, but to enact real change in 2020 to deliver boaters with an ongoing world-class experience.

- Matt Gruhn, MRAA President

How Groupe Beneteau is growing the sailboat market

Nicolas Harvey

Nicolas Harvey

The sailboat market in North America is healthy, and the industry is continuing to invest. That was clear from the 30 new sailboat models from many builders at the Annapolis Sailboat Show last fall. The number will probably rise to more than 50 by the time we attend the Miami show in February, according to Sail America.

For the segments that Groupe Beneteau participates in (30- to 77-foot cruising and racing monohulls and catamarans), demand seems stable for monohulls while continuing to grow for catamarans. Our dealer network has appropriate levels of stock that we monitor, and we’re seeing a good level of activity.

In order to stimulate sailboat cruising, Jeanneau, Beneteau and Lagoon are bringing experiential marketing to potential buyers. During the Annapolis Sailboat Show, Beneteau was the sole sponsor of the First Sail Workshop. Participants at the workshop learned the basics of sailing in a 45-minute classroom session, followed by 90 minutes on the water aboard a Beneteau First 22. At Annapolis, Jeanneau was also the monohull sponsor of the “Take the Wheel” program, an on-and-off water learning experience. The morning session covered sailboat design, how to maximize your boating pleasure and budget. In the afternoon, participants chose two from a collection of eight yachts to get a stem-to-stern look with wind in the sails.

As our client demographics and habits are changing rapidly, we continue to lead the market to bring future sailors new experiences that they often did not know existed. Groupe Beneteau is the exclusive monohull partner of SailTime, a company that uses a fractional sailing model. Jeanneau and Beneteau sailboats, exclusive to SailTime, are included in the fleet for members and owners. This type of strategic partnership with SailTime provides Jeanneau and Beneteau an additional way to access the sharing economy and tap into this growing market of buyers and boaters.

Ancillary businesses are capitalizing on the growth in the motoryacht segment.

Ancillary businesses are capitalizing on the growth in the motoryacht segment.

The Paris Olympic Games in 2024 will feature a mixed double-handed offshore competition that we expect will bring a lot of public attention to offshore racing. With its Figaro Beneteau 3 and Jeanneau Sun Fast 3300 fleets growing around the world, and specifically in North America, the group is looking to involve more sailors in the sport of short-handed racing. With pregame events, such as the Annapolis Yacht Club double-handed race down Chesapeake Bay or the New York Yacht Club Offshore Worlds, more events are starting to materialize in North America. Groupe Beneteau can play a major role in the development of this activity.

Next to Lagoon, the world leader in cruising catamarans, Groupe Beneteau has developed a second brand called Excess. The line made its debut at the Cannes Yachting Festival, where two models — the Excess 12 and 15 — were launched. The third model, the Excess 11, will be launched at the Düsseldorf show in January.

- Nicolas Harvey, President, Jeanneau America

Changing the social media status quo

Brad Dreyer

Brad Dreyer

2020 promises to bring interesting times to the social and digital world as the country gets ready for a heated election cycle that will affect the platforms on which we interact with consumers daily. Most digital marketing experts agree that the average person is exposed to approximately 5,000 marketing messages each day. The three big social platforms — Instagram, Facebook and Twitter — consistently change the way advertisers and businesses reach their target audiences.

Instagram announced the removal of the “like” feature to spur more meaningful content engagement, while Facebook, Instagram’s parent company, vowed to scrutinize political ads this election cycle across all its platforms. Twitter will ban political ads.

These types of changes triggered by political agendas can have a ripple effect in the social world.

When Facebook initiated changes during the 2016 presidential election, Yamaha had to alter the way we communicate and market conservation issues that impact boaters and anglers across the country. One example is the Modern Fish Act, which passed at the end of 2018. In order to properly market advocacy for the Modern Fish Act, Yamaha had to follow new Facebook protocol, which requires a multistep verification process that includes the submission of identification documents and associated company ownership for the goal of improving the page. Facebook also requires advertising transparency through disclaimers about ad funding.

In 2020, we will likely see social platforms pull back the traditional newsfeed advertising to show more organic content that should spur more consumer engagement. Facebook groups will continue to grow as they did in 2019, keeping the user on the platform for longer periods of time, with more meaningful content. Video and story placement on audience network pages will continue to allow advertisers to explore creative ways to communicate their messages.

The growth of influencer marketing, which assists in brand awareness and builds brand advocates, will also continue in 2020 as more companies see the cost-effective value of third-party endorsements. According to a recent study from the Association of National Advertisers and PQ Media, brands will spend more than $101 billion on influencer marketing in 2020. That is up more than 25 percent from 2016, when brands spent $81 billion on influencers.

In other trends, Google recently announced efforts to label slow-loading pages with a warning message alerting the user that the page they’re trying to access loads slower than most others. While it’s still unknown if these tags will affect search-engine rankings, it’s a trend that businesses should follow, especially those with older, out-of-date websites. Missed Internet opportunities can lead to missed business opportunities, and these tags could send customers to faster competitive sites.

TikTok and Snapchat continue to grow, but the numbers of followers on these two platforms are nowhere near those of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. However, that doesn’t mean consumers and business owners should ignore them. In fact, getting on board early and watching changing trends can be an advantage in the years to come.

TikTok is more popular overseas and with Android users, but it’s rapidly gaining ground in the United States, especially with iPhone users. In true social media fashion, key features of the TikTok platform are starting to show up in Instagram as a “reels” feature, with the ability to mirror the function of TikTok inside the Instagram stories platform.

Just like previous years, 2020 will continue to move social media, but at the end of the day, each platform aims to do one thing: keep the consumer engaged as long as possible.

- Brad Dreyer, Social Media Coordinator, Yamaha Marine

Marina sales to smash all records in 2020

Rick Roughen

Rick Roughen

Last year ended with a bang as the big consolidators finalized acquisitions for larger marina properties, then began to buy smaller, less-sophisticated properties. In 2019, we also saw a number of private investors and smaller owner-operators enter the market, focusing on less-expensive properties.

The buying trend and growth of new investors will continue into 2020. The field is growing as marina demand continues to heat up. Only a handful of the larger firms were active in the marina sector a few years ago. Now dozens have entered the fray. The first half of 2020 should continue to produce strong sales results — in my opinion, it is likely to smash all records. The “marina space” has become, in Wall Street parlance, a highly desired asset class.

Our firm is helping to broker 25 deals for both public and private investors. At this point, the smaller consolidators are closing smaller deals on niche properties that need work. These groups are paying more for the opportunity to enter the market, and they are investing capital expenditures with an eye on long-term profitability.

The problem is that there are too many owners who are under-represented and likely to fall prey to high-pressure predatory transactions. Some of these owners will leave millions of dollars on the table in transactions because they are not prepared for the best way to sell their properties.

Small electric motors continue to see strong growth as applications extend to kayaking, fishing boats and other small craft. 

Small electric motors continue to see strong growth as applications extend to kayaking, fishing boats and other small craft. 

There’s also a time pressure before the next presidential election. My guess is that, by August, market uncertainty will force investment money to tighten up, so sales activity will drop before the election. As we get closer to the election, that pressure will force deals to get resolved quickly.

Before then, it will be a bonanza in marina sales. There has never been so much slobber on the docks from marina-crazed investors wanting something sexy and profitable that they can sink their dollars into.

There will be downsides. I fear the point when the honeymoon is over and the new owners learn that running a marina or a boatyard is not a walk in the park. It’s a tough industry. I also fear the lack of experience as corporations replace mom-and-pop owners who treated their customers in a special way.

But for now, the marina acquisition market is booming. Sellers should start preparing if they have succession plans. An experienced broker will not only help safeguard your financial interests, but you won’t go through the process alone.

- Rick Roughen, Owner, Expert Marina Brokers

Electronics and the integration game

David Dunn

David Dunn

If you are in the marine industry and have not enjoyed the past few years, then respectfully, you are doing something wrong. The segment has seen pre-2009-like successes, and we do not see any major warning signs in the immediate future. This year should shape up to be another positive year for the marine segment and customers can expect to see more innovation, integration and consolidation.

While we do think that things will slow in 2020, we still expect to see growth. Boat dealer inventory levels are healthy, and dealers generally retain positive positions. Yet, it is an election year and that leaves room for uncertainty.

In order to continue to propel the segment forward, we need to focus on how marine electronics can be a catalyst for growth.

One of the major buzzwords over the last few years has been integration. It is such a broad term and can mean a lot of different things, but for electronics it means becoming the command center for the vessel. The marine industry still lags the automotive industry in features and comforts, but customers expect the same now in their boats. The challenge for marine electronics manufacturers is figuring out how to narrow that gap, while factoring in challenges like the marine environment and economies of scale. It is safe to assume that all marine electronics manufacturers are leveraging relationships with engine manufacturers, lighting companies, etc., to integrate as many components as possible on the vessel to a single display or helm. Integration on the vessel is the primary focus, but as cell coverage gets faster and more reliable, integration off the vessel will garner a lot of attention, too. We have luxuries that give us the ability to check on our house or our car from remote locations, so why can’t we do that with our boat? There are solutions out there today that do a great job, but again there is a vast difference on what you can do today, versus what will be possible in the future.

Another trend that will most likely continue is for marine electronics manufacturers to venture outside their normal product offerings. This year alone we have seen two major manufacturers enter the trolling motor market, and this bolsters the idea of integration. These two companies want the best integration with their electronics and a trolling motor, so the only way to do that is to build both.

Cartography and content also follow along these lines of logic. We have seen consolidation between standalone cartography companies and electronics manufacturers over the past few years so that the manufacturers can better integrate the cartography into their electronics. It’s mind boggling to see how far marine electronics have come in the past 10 years, and the exciting part is that the best is still to come.

- David Dunn, Director, Marine Sales, Garmin 

On the right side of history

Sean Marrero

Sean Marrero

I recently attended a class taught by Chet Huber, a former General Motors executive who started OnStar. I couldn’t imagine starting an IoT business 25 years ago. Even today, IoT is far-reaching and complex from a technical, legal, organizational and business perspective. I had no idea that I would soon be asked to do something similar for boats under Watershed Innovation.

Thankfully, a lot has changed in technology and consumer’s expectations over the last quarter century. Not only is any modern car (or boat) part of the Internet of Things, it is literally an Internet of Things itself. For years, drive-by-wire and other systems have required computers to communicate continuously for the safe, reliable operation we expect. Today, many car companies include telematics to connect vehicle systems to the cloud as standard equipment regardless of whether customers pay extra for subscription services such as OnStar. Why?

Remember Moneyball? Moneyball is the story of the Oakland A’s turning undervalued baseball players into winning teams using data. This was controversial at the time but not anymore. I have a relative who works at perhaps the most recognizable sports franchise in the world. They had to adapt quickly to this new reality. Today, a whole floor of statisticians use data to make their team better. Car companies need data to make cars better, too. Even if customers won’t pay extra for it, companies would rather give telematics away than compete without data.

Boat companies will soon make this choice. Telematics allows manufacturers to see improvement opportunities instantly if they know how to use the information effectively, responsibly and legally. Most boat companies can’t — yet. Instead, most wait to find trends in warranty data and anecdotes. This creates delays and inaccuracies that the best companies will eliminate.

Smartphones are also changing consumer expectations. Software updates used to be sold in a box full of disks under costly development/revision cycles driven by planned obsolescence. They were notorious for things breaking and costing more money. This mindset has flipped. Today, updates are nearly instant and synonymous with product improvements. If an update can make my boat better without lifting a finger or paying extra, I am all in.

How will companies compete with these new norms? Of course, boats must meet requirements for safety, reliability and performance, but these new expectations favor speed over perfection. The future is for those who can iterate. Forward-thinking manufacturers are already hiring data scientists to identify problems and software engineers to eliminate them before other companies even know they exist.

Customer expectations are changing. Our organizations must use technology and adapt with them. Watershed got involved in telematics through our work on electric propulsion. Once this knowledge became a platform any boat can use, Osmosis was born. While it is impossible to know how telematics will evolve, it’s not going away. Machine learning, artificial intelligence and autonomy already rely heavily on data. Whatever comes next, we are on the right side of history and are excited about the future of boating.

Sean Marrero, President, Watershed Innovation

Diversifying for success

Rob Soucy

Rob Soucy

In 2020, dealers need to be ready to adapt to be successful. For a long time, we carried Sea Ray, Grady-White and Boston Whaler, but in 2014, I was at a dealer meeting with my brother and fellow owner, Mark. I was talking with one of my 20 Group members about the Tracker Marine Group. I had heard some of the negative things other dealers said about working with Tracker. All I heard from my friend was the positives, how they helped drive traffic, facilitated delivery and supported the dealer.

There wasn’t a Tracker dealer in Maine, so I reached out to the company’s rep for the area, and we put together a deal. Since then, we’ve increased our market share in the pontoon and aluminum-fishing boat segments, but it wouldn’t have worked if we didn’t adapt. Instead of expecting Tracker to adjust to work with us, we had to follow their model.

The speed at which the transaction takes place is much faster, and the customer expects a shorter delivery time, so we added a make-ready department independent from our service shop. So much of the buying process takes place before a customer ever sets foot in our front door, and a lot of that is driven by the Tracker websites and the up-front pricing, so we need to be prepared to encounter an educated consumer.

By taking on Tracker, we adopted the mindset of being able to sell a boat to anyone who walked through the door, not just the high-end or luxury buyer. We are delivering boats to customers that we never would have had the opportunity to work with. We carry different lines at different locations, depending on what we think will best serve the consumers in that area. We might offer more builders than we used to, but we may only stock two models from some of them.

Regarding Sea Ray, it’s still a little early to predict the success of the relaunch. We were a sportboat and sport cruiser dealer, so getting rid of the yachts didn’t directly impact us, but the uncertainty that it brought in consumer minds was felt across the brand.

One of the biggest challenges facing the industry is keeping prices down. The Bayliner Element is supposed to be an entry-level offering, but in the last couple of years, the price has gone up about 20 percent without the model changing. It changes the whole dynamic. You go from selling 25 or 30 of them to selling 15 or 16. Technology is one of those good and bad things. On certain boats, it makes it more attractive, but on other boats, it just may not be needed.

Like many dealers, at our five locations throughout Maine, the aging of our inventory is a concern because old inventory sells at lower margins. Our goal is to be sold out of a current model year by Aug. 1. We achieved that in 2018, but because of last year’s slow start, we have a few more 2019s on hand than we would prefer. Because we have longstanding relationships with the manufacturers we carry, they will work with us on what we take in for inventory and when we take it. For the coming year, we’ve told the builders that we don’t want to take in as many new models, and they’re working with us.

Rob Soucy, President, Port Harbor Marine

Replacing, ‘This is the way we’ve always done it’

Stephen Waller

Stephen Waller

As a lifelong boatbuilder, I have witnessed the evolution of the bass boat. As a young child at Bumble Bee, then later at Stratos/Javelin/Hydra-Sports, and now at Falcon, I have watched materials change, prices go up and electronics innovate the sport of fishing.

The general design of bass boats has not changed much. However, the materials we use continue to improve. For example, we have been installing carpet in bass boats since the very beginning, and no one can give a valid reason why we continue to do this, other than it is the way we have always done it. When we first started building bass boats, carpet was used to cover a multitude of sins; however, with better manufacturing processes, this is no longer needed. Recently, a few bass boat manufacturers have created a no-carpet model that replaces the traditional carpet with a closed-cell foam padding.

As we go into 2020, I think that the trend of eliminating carpet in bass boats will continue. It just makes sense. The new foam decking that numerous companies offer is a much better option. Closed cell foam won’t absorb water and dries exponentially faster than carpet, which can take days to dry. Additionally, it provides a nice padded feel under your feet to help limit fishing fatigue. The padding also comes in dozens of colors and patterns that provide additional boat customization, which we know bass fisherman love.

While the basics of bass fishing have not changed much over the last few decades, modern electronics are rapidly changing the sport. With so much information available on today’s electronics, it lessens the advantages that older, more experienced anglers once possessed. This technology provides anglers such varied information with multiple layouts and preferences.

We have come a long way from the 5-inch screens of the past. Now that we have larger screens with split-screen options, more information can be viewed easily. These large screens do complicated things. On a bass boat, you only have so much real estate to install these larger electronics, and they consume more power. More power consumption means more batteries, which means more weight. These things will need to be considered as we move forward with model changes. We will be tasked with finding ways to incorporate these larger innovations without sacrificing form and function, as I believe the large screens are here to stay.

Modern electronics are not only increasing in size and power consumption, but also in cost. It wasn’t that many years ago that you could buy a really nice, new bass rig for around $40,000. Those days are gone. As raw material prices increase, labor wages go up, and demand for more technologically advanced products rises. I do not see prices going down unless something changes. When you add $15,000-plus for propulsion, $10,000 to $15,000 in electronics, $3,000 for a trolling motor and $5,000 for shallow-water anchors, I feel like we are reaching the tipping point for bass boats — something will have to give. I believe we could see this change if marine electronics follow televisions and home computers, and prices drop as technology advances.

Stephen Waller, Co-Owner, Falcon Bass Boats

The electromobility revolution continues

Steve Trkla

Steve Trkla

We have seen significant growth in several segments in 2019. At the low end, we have had a tremendous surge in retail and OEM sales of lightweight electric drives for kayaks, dinghies and daysailers. At the other extreme, the Spirit 111, the world’s largest sailing yacht with a Torqeedo electric drive, was launched this year. An increasing number of sailboat builders, especially in Europe, are offering electric and hybrid propulsion packages, often integrated with sustainable recharging from wind, sun and hydro generation. In the United States, we’re also seeing a substantial increase in electric powerboats for rental fleets and virtual boat clubs, as well as a new class of electric dayboats with amenities like a below-deck head and sleeping area.

We expect to see continued strong growth in these segments in 2020. Looking at the longer horizon, I can safely say that in the 2020s, the marine electromobility revolution will continue to gain momentum, driven by consumer demand and an increasing focus globally on reducing carbon emissions and improving air and water quality.

This year we’re celebrating our 15th year of business and the delivery of our 100,000th electric drive system. While we focus on the segments where emission-free and hybrid drives are competitive today, we also continue to build on our institutional knowledge to develop the products that will power a climate-friendly future.

In many ways, the electromobility revolution on the water parallels the land transportation market. It’s estimated that today’s global market share of electric boat drives is approximately 2 percent, similar to the overall market share of electric cars. Industry statistics predict that electric vehicle sales will surpass fuel-fed cars within 20 years. The increasing popularity of electric and hybrid cars will shape consumer demand for electric and hybrid boats, especially among younger buyers.

Around the world, national, regional and municipal authorities are looking to reduce congestion by shifting traffic from roadways to waterways. At the same time, they are adopting dramatic measures to make their waterways emission-free and carbon-neutral. A good example is Amsterdam. The city has an aggressive timetable for making its canals 100 percent emission free.

Sailing is enjoying a resurgence, as the crowds at the U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis indicated.

Sailing is enjoying a resurgence, as the crowds at the U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis indicated.

The increasing market for sustainable mobility is speeding technological innovation. The transition to zero-carbon drives will not happen all at once, but in a step-by-step process. Motors, batteries, fuel, charging and recycling technologies are all advancing, but at different rates. Over the next few years, battery-electric drives will be the technology of choice for sustainable transportation, with hydrogen-powered drives becoming more relevant as the technology matures.

Forward-looking boatbuilders, perceiving the upswell of consumer demand for greener and more sustainable products and the rapid advances in battery and recharging technology, will follow the lead of major mainstream car manufacturers and begin offering electric and hybrid options for their new boats. OEMs will look to the suppliers of electric drive systems, such as Torqeedo, to implement completely integrated electromobility solutions for new boats.

The electromobility revolution is not coming to the boating industry. It’s already here.

Steve Trkla, President and General Manager, Torqeedo

The best days are right in front of us

Tracy Crocker

Tracy Crocker

We think the future for boating is very bright. In fact, we believe the best days for the industry are right in front of us, as long as we continue to stay focused on the “consumer experience.”

At BRP Marine, we believe we will be a big part of this bright future and our new strategy will help bring that “experience” to boaters all over the globe. It starts with Evinrude Direct Injection advanced technology that changes the boating experience. We believe our automotivelike technology is integral to the boating experience — faster hole shots, midrange acceleration, 20 to 30 percent more torque and best in class fuel consumption all packaged in the Evinrude E-TEC G2 platform. Direct injection technology will be more and more a standard expectation from boaters looking for performance and lower cost of ownership, driven by reduced fuel consumption.

Our new strategy is about integrating our technology into a new way of boating. We created a three-tiered strategy, which we began executing in 2018, to “buy, build and transform.”

The “buy” is intended to create a global marine business through acquisitions to reach a “critical mass.” This will allow the brand to become a significant player in the industry. We have already started with the acquisition of Alumacraft, Manitou, Telwater and Quintrex, all of which are reputable boat brands with tremendous potential for growth.

The next year will be about building the network, synergies and leveraging BRP’s manufacturing know-how to get ready for transforming the marine industry.

By relying on our heritage of ingenuity, technical expertise, design and innovation, we ultimately think the time is right to transform the marine industry, just as BRP is doing in the powersports business. We recently announced Project Ghost and Project M in our investor call. These concepts provide what consumers are asking for in their boating experience. Ghost will provide more useable space in the deck area with an unseen and integrated engine. Project M will be the Sea-Doo Spark equivalent within the pontoon industry with a lineup of boats under 20 feet. With entry-level pricing and ease of operating, Project M will provide a unique fun factor and functionality combination, enticing first-time buyers and ultimately growing the boating industry.

We anticipate bringing these projects to market within the next few years. In the meantime, we will focus on telling our story.

- Tracy Crocker, President, BRP Marine 

Repairing ‘tired’ marinas

Bryan Redmond

Bryan Redmond

A wise man in our industry once told me about the “water gene” and about how every human has it inside them. It explains why all of us want to be around the water, whether looking at it, gliding across it or swimming in it.

This innate human desire is why Suntex believes that all marina owners should provide — and promote — greater access to the public: so that every individual can pursue their sense of unity with our natural waterways. We believe that everyone deserves to enjoy the wonder of our “oneness” with the water.

But this is not just about responsibility — we are also facing a time full of exciting possibilities. Suntex has been educating the institutional market on the opportunities that are now emerging when it comes to investment. Many of our fellow marina owners have joined us in this important endeavor.

In 2020, we expect to see significant growth when it comes to marina investments. This will increase visibility and inspire new engagements with boaters and non-boaters alike. Many more people will be able to come and experience the beauty of our nation’s coast and inland lakes by visiting marina properties.

But here’s the truth: Today, many assets in our industry are tired. They need to be updated in order to bring our boating enthusiasts what they deserve — and to attract new guests. Happily, we already know that change is coming; now that we are working on getting the word out, we are prepared to get excited about the years ahead.

Acquisitions in the marina sector will continue through the first three quarters of the year, according to industry experts.

Acquisitions in the marina sector will continue through the first three quarters of the year, according to industry experts.

Preparation entails planning. Our implementation of these forthcoming investments will not just cater strictly to boaters; they will also incorporate complimentary assets (for example, upgrading some of the many perks that already make being a member of a marina so great). This includes greater selection of new boats and other water toys that are available to rent; restaurants (and other recreation facilities); and everything else that helps welcome “one and all” to a day at the marina. Furthermore, it will include investment into the essential technology that keeps a marina afloat. For so long, this is an area where our industry has fallen behind; however, Suntex and many other marina owners are ready to catch up and amplify the ease with which one can engage with all property services in order to enjoy themselves in and around the water.

- Bryan Redmond, President, Suntex Marinas

Sailing is coming back

Adam Cove

Adam Cove

Our industry is about to change dramatically. Sailing is coming back. While we have been acknowledging small indicators over the last year, the U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis put this trend in bold.

The show featured the youngest crowd we have ever seen. They were all owners, or soon to be owners, of older boats and working through extensive refits. They appreciate pretty lines and seaworthiness; they demand a boat that is practical and will work hard for them. As this generation graduates to new boats, I look forward to seeing the design changes in production boats. Meanwhile, baby boomers are actively purchasing new boats and craving new designs. This keeps the Edson team busy across the board, from production systems to spare parts and accessories.

This developing picture also allows for a well‐funded wave of creativity, since there’s no better time to push the limits of imagination and enhance the experience on the water. Even products that have been around for years could use improving. There is room for innovation everywhere.

Our recent launches include power‐assist steering that allows any sailboat in any conditions to feel like a well‐balanced daysailer in 10 knots of breeze. Other companies also are pushing the limits of technology, such as Siren Marine with its connected boat system. Mantus Marine has redefined the anchor.

Remaining relevant in our industry will always be about sharing our passion and building relationships. Being in business more than 160 years offers a wealth of wisdom, but solely relying on that for success would be a mistake.

- Adam Cove, CEO, Edson Marine

Workforce development trends dominate the marine industry

Pamela Lendzion

Pamela Lendzion

Like all other business trends, workforce development continues to change. Most businesses today, both large and small, have had to find ways to deal with the shortage of skilled labor, the lack of entry-level talent, an aging workforce, knowledge transfer and motivating a multigenerational workforce.

Organizations are beginning to recognize that targeted in-house grassroots training programs built on sound business processes and procedures, along with a well-thought-out strategic plan, will create a productive culture that attracts the talent needed to sustain business growth and profitability. This view of workforce development will continue to develop in 2020 and beyond.

One company that has proven that it’s possible to grow your own productive workforce and create a learning culture is Gold Coast Yachts. Several years ago, Rich Difede developed and implemented an extensive workforce training program to support the growth of his business. Another company that is currently developing a robust program is Merrill Stevens. Front Streep Shipyard has also developed a learning culture that has helped it attract talent.

More companies will recognize “culture” as the foundation of success. Savvy leaders will keep culture firmly in the asset column and start setting culture-driven goals. Organizations will realize that they must offer more if they are going to attract and keep top talent. The “more” will be the value the company places on its employees, viewing every worker as a stakeholder and providing the tools needed to succeed. This model will be considered by large manufacturers and small companies, and will be uniquely expressed by each. “All in” culture and “lifelong learning” are terms that will more regularly enter many workforce development conversations.

Workforce training will continue to include canned short courses, as well as building cooperative relationships with schools catering to the industry, such as The Landing School, New England Institute of Technology, IYRS School of Technolgy, Skaggit Valley School of Marine Excellence and others. OEM training will remain widely used to give workers the tools they need to keep up with new technology. However, how well technology works as a teaching tool is yet to be determined by an industry that depends on hands-on skills.

Soft skills or social skills will become more important at all levels, from job readiness skills for entry-level workers to communication and project management for middle managers to “emotional intelligence” skills for leaders.

Workforce development plans will place more value on knowledge transfer and succession planning as the most knowledgeable employees in a company transition out of the workforce. Train-the-trainer programs will become popular and, like many offerings, will take time to sort the effective from the non-effective programs. n

- Pamela Lendzion, President, Marine Industry Training and Education Council, Executive Director, ABBRA

This article originally appeared in the January 2020 issue.

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