Dealer Week reactions, Grow Boating initiatives and future marketing with Carl Blackwell
Updated: Mar 5
Grow Boating played a large role in a couple different areas of the Inaugural Dealer Week. They made the Customer Pathway possible and gave support to provide each and every attendee with a "Float Plan," Dealer Week's on-site guide. We sat down with Carl Blackwell to ask him about his experience at Dealer Week, the impact of our partnership AND the future of marketing for the marine industry.
What was your reaction when you walked into Dealer Week?
MRAA pulled off a monumental task with the launch of Dealer Week. While I didn’t personally work on the preparation of the event, I got a sense of pride when I walked into the door, a feeling that I bet many in our industry felt.
Grow Boating was responsible for making the Float Plan and the Customer Pathway possible at Dealer Week. Why was this partnership important to you?
A key pillar of the Grow Boating Initiative is education. MRAA does an outstanding job with industry education and we wanted to show our support for their efforts. Grow Boating studies the customer pathway in our role as marketers, and the more we as an industry understand the journey a consumer takes to get into—and stay in— boating and then apply that knowledge, the more effective we’ll be.
In what ways do you see the industry changing over the next couple of years?
Millennials are coming of age with the oldest Millennial nearing 40 years old. They will be a buying force, if they aren’t already. It’s beyond time for our industry to embrace all segments of our population and welcoming everyone into boating. There are many opportunities for us to attract more minorities, women and youth to the boating lifestyle.
People crave experiences today and we just happen to offer some of the best experiences one can have. Just look at your own social media feeds when the weather is nice. I bet it’s full of your friends taking pictures on or near water. We must find ways to make it easier for consumers to get on the water—boat clubs, peer to peer rentals, charters/guides, fractional ownership, and leasing opportunities will dramatically increase as consumers seek out those experiences. The more people are on the water, the more people there will be interested in ownership.
You also support other educational opportunities in partnership with the MRAA throughout the year. What do you feel you have accomplished in that partnership?
Grow Boating worked with MRAA in bringing awareness to the differences in selling to a repeat buyer compared to a first-time buyer. Jim Million did a great job bringing these differences alive in the three-part video series “Selling to First-Time Boat Buyers.” Grow Boating underwrote this so it would be available to any dealer interested in growing their customer base at no cost. You can find it on GrowBoating.org and MRAA.com.
What are some initiatives you have done that you feel have best impacted the industry over the past year?
We’ve attracted millions of consumers to Discover Boating websites over the years and directed many of those millions to boat brand sites with many of those consumers landing on dealer locators on those boat brand sites. So, Discover Boating web visitors end up on dealer sites.
In addition to helping consumers move through their purchase journey, we have also heightened industry awareness of how to help first-time boat buyers through their first purchase process. You don’t become a repeat buyer without buying your first boat. I know that sounds obvious, but our First-Time Boat Buyer research was key in outlining differences and considerations of a first-time buyer from a repeat buyer. Vast differences.
We just wrapped up a research study on the impact of boat clubs and rentals on boat ownership and participation. The main takeaway: these niches do not cannibalize new boat sales in the long run—they introduce boating to more people, keep boaters in boating longer and eventually that will lead to more people buying boats. Consumers want to experience boating through these avenues, and we should help them do that and find ways to capitalize on this trend as great feeder channels to boat ownership. If I were a dealer, I’d be looking into ways to expand my product offerings to rentals, charters or clubs.
Where do you see the marketing world going and how can dealers be prepared?
Offer more video on your website and social channels. You don’t need fancy cameras or software to pull this off.
Master Google locally. That will be your most cost-effective marketing expense.
Pay to advertise on Facebook and eventually other social channels. Today, Facebook allows you to very cost-effectively target your ad dollars.
Offer experiences – training; seminars; teach people to fish, wake surf, sail, etc. Just help them get on the water.
What would you challenge dealers to do in order to grow their businesses and the industry?
Offer training to empower those who are new to boating to overcome their fears of unloading a boat on the ramp or docking a boat. Offer training classes for women, invite local celebrities/influencers to take training classes especially those with larger social media followers. Let’s make it easier to get on the water.
In some preliminary research we’ve conducted, a key fact has started to resonate: The retention rate of first-time boat owners is lagging. Nearly 40% of first-time buyers get out of boating in their first five years of ownership. While I believe many of these buyers likely purchased their boat from a driveway, I think dealers have an opportunity to keep some of these boaters in boating. It only takes a small percentage of those boaters to stay in boating to make a significant impact on the health of the industry and MRAA is well-positioned to lead that change.
For more information on the work Grow Boating is doing, you can do so at GrowBoating.org. The MRAA is a partner in Grow Boating.