Looking Ahead

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The blur of time between Thanksgiving, the December religious celebrations and the New Year is much different this year, as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to limit travel. Although the calendar has turned the page, the nation continues to deal with the significant repercussions of a virus that refuses to go away. While the boating industry had a banner 2020, lingering issues remain. Soundings Trade Only reached out to industry leaders as they refocus on the next 12 months. We want to know: 1) What are you most hopeful about as we head into 2021; 2) What are you most passionate about as we head into 2021; and 3) What are the opportunities, challenges and solutions you see ahead?

Eric Fetchko 

President, Dometic Marine

1. The emergence of staycation, nature and time with family will be the thread that holds society together.

2. Continuing the fight against the adversities that have plagued not only our industry, but society in general.

3. To develop more efficient methods of manufacturing and marketing to the marine industry in this forever-changed world. Developing innovative products for ease of use, marine industry education and a recovering economy, to keep the growing numbers of boating enthusiasts happy and safe.

Dave Wallace 

Senior Vice President and COO, Scout Boats

1. I look forward to the opportunities to continue to grow our business in 2021. Like most, our challenges will be available manpower and a solid supply chain to get us the parts we need to build our boats. The work that has been done over the last 10 years with our Grow Boating campaigns, and the marketing that all of class A dealers and we have done, has paid off. Thirty percent of the new boats sold this year were first-time boat buyers. We have to ensure that these new boat owners have a good experience in order to keep them in boating for a lifetime.

David Dunn

Director of Marine Sales and Marketing, Garmin

1. We hope this will inspire a new generation of boaters and anglers who will energize the industry and even lead to future marine professionals. The joy of buying your first boat or catching your first fish is unparalleled, and we have more opportunities for those experiences than we have had in a long time.

3. Supply chain is the biggest challenge at this point. Garmin is more nimble than most, and we are still having our challenges. From components to freight, it has been an ongoing struggle that I think will continue through 2021. Also, workforce: This has been a challenge prior to 2020, since it seems there are less new and younger people getting into the industry. Finding the right talent is getting more and more competitive, and with so many new positions open right now, it will be tough to fill the demand. We are hoping the surge in new boaters will inspire new talent to the industry. Speaking of the new boaters, it is imperative that we retain as many as possible. This wave, while it is advantageous right now, could easily be detrimental in a few years if we are not able to keep people engaged. Training and information will be critical to these new customers, and engaging them in a way that speaks to them.

Jay Patton 

President, American Boatbuilders Association

1. We are so blessed that our industry is doing well.

3. We need to continue to attract new boat buyers to the lifestyle. Hiring and retaining employees will be challenging. The supply chain will be challenging. We must be creative to meet these challenges.

Brett McGill 

President and CEO, MarineMax

1. As in 2020, I believe growth of new boaters in 2021 will continue. All of us in the industry understand our customers’ passion for boating, and this will continue to drive sales and service. Technology, innovation, business processes and deep manufacturing/dealer relationships will be the formula for success.

Ben Speciale 

President, Yamaha Marine

1. I am hopeful for the continued resilience of the nation and the world. We have adjusted and will continue to adjust to difficult situations. I am most passionate about the advocacy efforts underway by Yamaha and industry leaders like the National Marine Manufacturers Association, American Sportfishing Association and Center for Sportfishing Policy. By working together, we have increased our voice and influence. As an industry, we are leading the way for clean water and boaters’ rights.

2. The number of new boaters is amazing and a wonderful sign for our industry. We must support and educate them so that boating remains their go-to activity with friends and family. However, their engagement is directly tied to access. Without access to waterways and fisheries, there’s little to keep new boaters excited. Proper infrastructure must be in place and in good repair to launch and store boats. Our No. 1 priority in 2021 is helping to gain the access needed for boaters. We plan to do this through our own government relations activities, as well as by working with other industry groups.

3. We need to retain these new boaters. It starts with servicing these new customers properly. Yamaha has many programs and initiatives to recruit, reinforce and retain marine technicians. For example, Yamaha has a robust Technical School Partnership Program with more than 100 schools. Having new technicians in dealerships is vital to the ongoing success of the industry, especially as the number of new boaters continues to rise.

Chuck Rowe 

President, Indmar Marine Engines

1. Innovation and out-of-the-box thinking will drive our industry. We must continue to work on quality and improving our customers’ experience on all fronts.
3. Historically, the primary threat for new boaters has been attrition. We must make an effort as an industry to improve the attrition rate of first-time boat buyers through not only quality and innovation, but also with constantly improving customer ownership experiences through the local dealer. We need an industry mindset shift: Retention, not just acquisition, is the key to grow boating. Access will be the biggest headwind for the next few years. For decades, we have been challenged on the environmental impact boating has, from exhaust emissions to bank and shoreline erosion. This challenge needs to be met with good science, and with boat owners’ education about being a good neighbor.

Matt Peat

Executive Vice President, Transhield

1. We can start to get back out and visit customers, as well as have NMMA and other events. The supply chain disruptions subside, and boat availability and inventory meet the market demand.

2. Being part of the growth of the boating industry. It is a great time for family and friends to forget the noise of life and enjoy the outdoors. Right-sizing our supply capabilities for the needs of all our customers. Building on our recent  communication with our customers and keeping a tight relationship.

3. One great opportunity is that the new generation of boat buyers, not limited to an age segment, gives our industry a broader market for many years and future generations of families. The challenge will be keeping them from being short-term opportunities lost to either a bad experience or the resurgence of other distractions, such as weekend sports for their children or other ways to spend that discretionary dollar.

Bill Yeargin 

CEO, Correct Craft

3. Our biggest opportunity as an industry is to ensure that all the new families who became boaters in 2020 love the experience. If those new families have good experiences boating, it will create a rising tide for our industry that will last for a very long time.

Nancy Cueroni

Executive Director, National Marine Distributors Association

3. Disruption in the supply chain is going to continue to be a major issue for wholesaler distributors and, consequently, others downstream. With the surge in boat sales, factory shutdowns early in the pandemic and ongoing transportation issues, this disruption is affecting all segments of our industry.

Finding people to fill open jobs remains a major challenge for our members. Even when unemployment was at its highest in years, there were still many jobs available in the recreational boating industry. In order to get the job done, everyone pitched in, no matter what their job description was, pulling products, packing boxes and inputting orders.

Changes in Washington, D.C., are most certainly going to cause concern among business owners. Regardless of the makeup of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, there are going to be changes, and all of us will have to work to educate our elected officials to the realities of our industry. The potential loss of many of our boating industry friends in Washington is a reality and one that means we are simply going to all have to work harder when it comes to letting the newly elected officials know just how special the recreational boating industry is.

Bill Stewart

Owner, W.E. Stewart Sales

1. To have the pandemic under control and get the economy stabilized.

2. To keep people interested in boating and add new fans to the wonders of boating.

3. With current interest in boating, we must keep the supply chain running.  The pandemic must be under control. We are seeing new and younger people getting into boating; we must keep their interest ongoing, make the supply of products  available for demand, and add new supply lines for upside demand. Keep investing back into boating, and show the fun and pleasure of being a boat owner.

Brett Dibkey 

President, Advanced Systems Group, Brunswick Corp.

2. I’m passionate about the continued — and accelerating — transformation of our industry in 2021. As we experience a generational spike in the number of new boaters, the industry has an opportunity to build lifelong loyalty by removing friction at every step of the boater journey. New and emerging technologies will lead the way in removing this friction, and I’m excited about the role that Brunswick Advanced Systems Group will play.

Sara Anghel 

President, NMMA Canada and ICOMIA

1. Being able to safely meet again in the second half of 2021.

2. When global conditions allow, I look forward to bringing new export opportunities to our NMMA members. In addition, diving even deeper into supporting our industry as ICOMIA president, and looking at sustainability solutions.

Tony Barber 

CEO, SmartPlug Systems

1. I’m most hopeful that, at some time, we can get back to something closer to normal. We came through 2020 in step with our planned array of new products, and for 2021 we remain passionate about our mission: to change industry standards for recreational and commercial power-delivery connectors. As boating participation soars, we can make a big difference in the experience these boaters have by providing a safer and easier-to-use power system.

3. We have many opportunities for continued strong business growth. The pandemic remains a prevalent challenge in how businesses operate and how we live our lives. As an industry, we need to solve supply chain bottlenecks to keep product flowing. And we need to solve the problem of the ability to open up the country to keep the economic momentum going. We need to keep boaters engaged by providing the highest level of after-sale service and support possible. We can focus on helping educate boat owners on ways to manage the cost of maintaining and operating their boats.

Thom Dammrich

Past President, National Marine Manufacturers Association

1. A vaccine and therapeutics are on the way and will be widely available by midyear, allowing a full reopening of the economy and a return to large gatherings.

2. Helping others be successful and achieve their dreams. And, purchasing a new boat.

3. We need to recognize that the path to purchase is no longer a funnel. It is a continuous journey that starts over again at purchase — a figure-eight racetrack. Each business and each salesperson, every employee needs to adopt the mindset of creating lifelong customers. Creating a great experience from beginning to end is key to growing participation and industry success. Today’s sale is important, but if we view that as the end of our job, we are doomed to repeat the failures of the past.

Bruce Van Wagoner 

Marine Group President, Wells Fargo

1. Replenishing the pipeline … which may take up to two years.

2. Taking care of those new customers. They will have high expectations.

3. Building more access to the water. More boats will require more facilities.

And continue to learn how to live in a pandemic, and apply lessons learned. We have found that you learn more and grow more as a person and a company when facing challenges versus riding a good market. For example, we learned more in the 2008-10 market than we had learned the previous 20 years. When customers and employees are faced with uncertainty, they look for the steady hand of seasoned leadership to build their confidence and hope for the future. Our industry relationships have grown immensely through these shared experiences.

Wanda Kenton Smith

Kenton Smith Marketing

3. The boating industry, especially the retail sector, needs to firmly embrace and commit to boater education and safety so all those new boaters we’ve welcomed into our ranks are well-prepared and confident at the helm. Statewide accident reports, insight from state boating law administrators, published Coast Guard projected increases in fatalities and documented decreases in boater education classes validate that many new boaters took to the waterways in 2020 without sufficient education and training. We must address this concern immediately, reach out to these new boaters, and find ways to offer and facilitate educational and training opportunities before the spring season commences. Without this critical education and training, we stand a good chance of losing these boaters because their experiences will be subpar. plus, we will likely see an increase in accidents and fatalities on our nation’s waterways.

Chris Drees

President, Mercury Marine

1. We can capitalize on the growing demand within the marine industry while finding new ways to support Mercury business partners. There are still challenges in front of us. Yet, based on the strength that continued into the fourth quarter of 2020, I believe 2021 is shaping up to be another successful year.

2. The opportunity to continue to bring innovation to the  segment. I’m also passionate about keeping new boaters in the marketplace. We can do that by introducing new products and services that make boating easier and more enjoyable.

3. When we talk about opportunities and challenges, we recognize the importance of reliability and performance of products, first and foremost. There’s also great upside to integrating the systems on the boat, because what we’re really talking about is delivering a better consumer experience. We need everything to work together intuitively. That is one way we’ll keep new consumers in boating and continue to grow the market.

Broc Tarwacki

Territory Sales Representative, SGL Sales and Marketing

1. I am hopeful that orders continue to stay strong and that we can slowly get back to crowds and shows, shaking hands and giving hugs. You never realize how much you enjoy things until they are taken away. I hope we can get back to the way it was in years past because I am looking forward to seeing friends in the industry at shows again. 

This article was originally published in the January 2021 issue.

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