Millennials and Assumptions in the Boating Industry


millennials economicsAre economic drivers like housing the right indicators when courting younger boaters… or does the boat buying and selling process need to change for a new generation?

Quite often our industry compares boats and their ownership to other big ticket items like automobiles and houses and makes assumptions accordingly. If we hold those assumptions as correct when thinking about Millennials we might need to change our minds if a recent article in The Atlantic is anywhere near the mark.

Entitled “The Cheapest Generation” the thrust of the article is that “it’s highly possible that a perfect storm of economic and demographic factors—from high gas prices, to re–urbanization, to stagnating wages, to new technologies enabling a different kind of consumption—has fundamentally changed the game for Millennials.”



The Sharing Economy for Boating

The article goes onto to talk about “The emergence of the “sharing economy”—services that use the web to let companies and families share otherwise idle goods—is headlined by Zipcar, but it also involves companies such as Airbnb, a shared market¬place for bedrooms and other accommodations for travelers; and thredUP, a site where parents can buy and sell kids’ used clothing.”

In his recent TradeOnlyToday.com A View from Here posting “Pricier than a nice house” Bill Sisson puts it this way: “You can parse it any way you like, right down to monthly boat payments, but when you can buy a nice house in a nice part of the country for less than an open dayboat, it might be a sign that there’s a little too much froth on top of the latte…”

Bill also shares the thought that the “sharing economy” is a possibility when he states his solutions to the problem as “more affordable entry-level boats, fractional ownership, peer-to-peer rentals? In the meantime, used boats remain the primary pathway to boat ownership”.

We clearly need to get away from the auto and housing comparison. For a start they can both be considered as essentials for living/working… and boats, for most of us, are clearly not.

High prices are something we can deal with but only at a cost. Think about how many different mouths feed off of the purchase price of a new boat – builders, dealers, equipment and accessory manufacturers, boat shows, advertising forums and trade organizations. Who should be left out? Everyone will claim that they are an essential part of the sales process.

Look at it this way – the basic sales and distribution process of our industry has been in place over 60 years – how many business startups today pick a 60 year old way to market as their preferred approach? Finding out how to get Millennials into the boating habit without making assumptions should be our highest priority.




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James Nolan is President of James Nolan Associates Inc., specialists in recreational marine marketing, press and pr. He is a member of Boating Writers International, writes a monthly column for Boating Business in the UK as well as the occasional blog post for boats.com. He has over 25 year’s extensive management experience with full P&L responsibility in the U.S., Europe and Australia. Outstanding record of turnarounds plus leading, growing and developing businesses. Highly effective at building relationships.

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