Tomorrow's potential boaters won't look like the customers you see today. What is your business doing about it?

"There is a seismic shift going on in this country that everyone's talking about...[and] that presents an opportunity to our industry," said Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), in his presentation, "Proven Strategies for Engaging New Markets", at the Marine Marketers of America luncheon during the recent Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show.

That 'seismic shift' is the rapid growth - and relative youth - of minorities within the overall U.S. population. Dammrich is part of the Recreational Boating Leadership Council (RBLC) Task Force that has launched a "New Markets Initiative" this year to help train marine industry professionals in how to market effectively to an increasingly diverse customer base.

Dammrich shared some eye-opening statistics in his presentation. "Hispanics are the largest minority...55 million strong; 17 percent of the total U.S. population...and will grow to 20 percent by 2020," he said.

African-Americans comprise about 14 percent of the U.S. population and are projected to reach 18 percent by 2020, he reported. Asian-Americans are a smaller group, only around 4.2 percent of the total U.S. population; however, they have the highest household income of any racial group.

Asian-Americans, African-Americans and Hispanics also have younger median ages than the majority of the U.S. population, according to recent market research. For example, Dammrich said, "The median age of Hispanics in this country is 29 versus 43 non-Hispanic," concluding, "A younger market is a more diverse market by default."

These statistics inspired the RBLC to produce an educational video with case studies of five marine businesses that are marketing to minorities. Dammrich screened the video, which included a number of tips that might benefit IYBA members.

Increase the comfort level "Our job is to be inclusive...to reflect the communities that we serve," said West Marine CEO & President Matt Hyde in an interview onscreen. West Marine has produced marketing materials that portray more diverse groups enjoying boating than the all-white

models we've seen in ads and magazine spreads in the past. These new materials help to create a feeling of welcome and increase the comfort level for minority group members who might never have considered getting into boating before.

Freedom Boat Club also has expanded its portfolio of marketing materials to include those translated into other languages besides English. "Don't use the 'one size fits all' approach," advised Freedom Boat Club President & CEO John Giglio, who also cautioned against patronizing people for whom English is a second language. "Talk to them in English until they ask if you have someone who speaks their language - Then provide that person," he said.

Bob Pappajohn and the rest of the sales team at M & P Yacht Centre in Vancouver, B.C., Canada, realized that they were ignoring the growing Asian community in their area. So, they increased their own company's diversity by hiring Asian employees. They also began hosting events designed to make Asian clients more comfortable, including serving foods they love and co-branding with products they are passionate about.

Ian Pedersen, marketing manager for The Moorings North America, advised not only reaching out to more diverse cultural and regional groups but also exposing potential new customers to boating at a young age. "Provide low-barrier opportunities to try it out," he said. When marketing to younger prospects, he added, "Cultivate first, don't push the product."

For more information about the Recreational Boating Leadership Council, please visit www.rblc.org.

Article Author: Michele DeSantis