Boating growth requires multi-generational effort

Published on April 29th, 2013

Once a brand name to which many aspired, the bloated Cadillacs rolling off Detroit’s assembly line in 1995 were being bought in ever-declining numbers by consumers with an average age of 63.

Today, after nearly two decades of new products and hundreds of millions spent on advertising, the average age of a Cadillac owner has dropped to 58. Changing perceptions don’t come easy or cheap.

In a bid to appeal to a younger demographic, TV ads for Cadillac’s new $55,000 ATS features the car being driven in exotic and challenging road settings such as Morocco’s Atlas Mountains, Monaco, Patagonia, Chile, and through the hand-carved Guoliang Tunnel in China. Each spot demonstrates the car’s agility, driving performance and efficient design.

Efforts to grow recreational boating by appealing to a younger and more diverse demographic through marketing alone faces an even more daunting dilemma. Not only has the overall market gotten much smaller – we are selling about one-quarter of the number of new boats that were sold in the peak late 1980s – but between 1998 and 2011 the average age of all new-boat buyers also actually increased by 6 years, to about 50, according to Info-Link.

The average age of a new sailboat buyer tops the list at 56.1, outboard buyers are 53, inboard and sterndrive buyers are 50.1 and PWC and jet-drive buyers are the “youngest” at 47 and 45.9, respectively.

There’s no doubt about it. The average new-boat buyer is a 50-year-old soon-to-be graying baby boomer born about 1963. It’s important to note, however, that this once vast sea of potential boat buyers is diminishing because the last members of this humongous 80 million-member generation were born in 1964. They have been followed by Generation X, which came to life in 1965. The bad news is that there are only 45 million Gen Xers – a significantly smaller pool of potential customers to draw from.

Is it any wonder that the average new-boat buyer is so much older today?

Although it could be argued that fifty-something baby boomers are just now reaching their peak earning years, the dot-com bust, the anemic stock market of the first decade of the 21st century, the collapse of the housing market, the Great Recession and near-zero interest rates on savings these past few years have probably exhausted this generation’s ability to plunk down a large chunk of change on any large discretionary purchases, especially those that are used only on certain weekends during part of the year.

If the baby boomers are toast, what are our prospects for convincing Gen Xers and Millennials to buy a new recreational boat and all that comes with it? – Soundings, read on

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