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“Discover Boating” was our industry’s first-ever national campaign to promote the boating lifestyle and increase participation. On Oct. 1, 2008, as we sank into this deep recession, DB’s annual budget was reduced by about 85 percent to $1 million as boat builders wanted to redirect the funds to help dealers move inventories in the field.

Yesterday, the Marine Retailers Association of America issued a call to end the continued redirection of these funds and begin rebuilding the DB program. But is this the right time to do it? I offer the following considerations:

The funding structure remains a viable system. The largest share comes from a horsepower fee on engines, albeit accessory makers, MTAs and many others are also funding contributors. It works this way: The engine companies report their distribution to NMMA which, in turn, invoices the boat builders for their horsepower fees. Each builder then decides how to handle their assessment. Some pass it through on dealer invoices, many others do not. Regardless, since October, 2008, NMMA has only collected 15 percent of the original assessment.

Notably, while the powerful national TV and magazine campaign has not been possible since ‘08, the 15 percent collected has been used to keep alive the Internet component of the DB program. Credit Carl Blackwell, NMMA’s vice president of marketing, and his staff, for a remarkable job with just 15 percent. But, the simple truth is they’ve been working in a funding straight jacket and it’s now time to turn them loose again. Here’s why:

- More than 196,000 “Get Started in Boating” DVDs have been distributed
- A total of 19,267 boats have been purchased by consumers that ordered the DVD before buying. (47 percent purchased in the first year, 38 percent in the second year, 15 percent in the third year.)
- More than 500,000 direct referrals from to boat manufacturer websites
- More than 50,000 consumers asked to be contacted by a Manufacturer or Dealer
- More than 7 million people have visited
- Until year 2009, boating participation had increased every year since DB was started

Very impressive, isn’t it? But be mindful of this -- most of these results came from DB being fully funded and doing exactly what it was designed to do. Not so today. Moreover, there’s a lot more positive information I could cite, ranging from a consumer mailing list that now exceeds 300,000 to award-winning TV commercials that now sit on the shelf helping no one. The fact is we have already invested heavily in the DB program components. We don’t need to repeat those expenditures, meaning more of every DB dollar can now go to promoting and expanding the market once again.

Things are far different today than they were when the DB funds were first redirected almost two years ago. A lot of old inventory is gone. Many boat builders are calling back employees. Dealer orders are increasing. Consumer confidence is rising. Most important, the original justification for redirecting the funds was that manufacturers could better use the DB assessments to help move old inventory. Well, been there, accomplished that!

In effect, the redirected DB funds have been used as a short term sales promotion, i.e. to move inventory. But, the real intent of DB is still to make a long-term investment in our future growth. MRAA is exactly right -- we need to immediately direct funds back to DB and begin building back up the “pot” to the level needed to again hit the nation with our important message. Most will agree we started the DB program as much as 10 years late (after the RV industry kicked our butts with GO RVing!)

It’s time for our industry to rally behind DB and not make this same mistake again!



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