Kudos to William Sisson, Editor of Soundings Trade Only for his recent editorials regarding what he calls “simple, sensible boats.” I call them entry-level boats. But whatever you want to call them, we need more affordable boats for first-time buyers.
I have never met William Sisson, but from reading his editorials, there is no doubt in my mind that he knows more about boating and the marine industry than any other trade magazine editor I have known or read in the past several years. And it is encouraging to me that he recognizes and writes about the need for what he refers to as “a new generation of ‘sensible’ boats – simple, seaworthy, efficient and more affordable. Boats with value and utility, boats that will encourage people to get back on the water.” He is spot-on with his thoughts on this.
Over the years, I have written several magazine columns about the need for more entry-level boats. There are some available in the market…but not enough in my opinion. Why is that? Well, many boat builders and dealers say there isn’t enough margin in the less expensive, entry-level rigs. So they focus more on building/selling larger, tricked-out and more expensive rigs that give them opportunities for greater margins. But in so doing, they are closing the door on many first time buyers who simply cannot afford $40,000, $50,000, $60,000 and more for their first family boat.
Bill Ek, an industry veteran with over 50 years as an executive in the boat building arena, has often said, “Builders and dealers are making customers when they offer entry-level rigs. Customers who will very likely buy another boat in the future.” There is no question in Ek’s mind and mine, that offering more lower priced boats can and will bring new people into the sport. And I think we all recognize the need for that, especially after we got hit with the Great Recession of 09 that is still hanging on.
Granted, the margins are lower on less expensive boats. But the margins on aftermarket products that dealers can sell boaters who buy the less expensive boats are excellent. These first-time buyers of more affordable boats are very likely to come back to their dealer for propellers, water skis, life jackets, outboard oil, and a multitude of other accessories. And eventually there will be some service work and, as just mentioned, they will very likely buy another boat in the future; most likely a larger boat with bigger margins.
As John Underwood, former owner of Top 100 Dealer Lockwood Marine, previous Chairman of MRAA and a contributor to this blog, wrote in a column we did together in 2007, “How about an inexpensive, rugged, non-rotting, self-bailing, ‘de-contented’ boat with decent performance on modest horsepower that can easily accept added toys as time goes on. Maybe this can be coupled to a no-frills trailer and a simplified, reliable engine.” That says it all!
Young families today have so many options for spending what recreational or surplus dollars they might have, like renting an RV, buying a camper, getting a 50-inch TV, Disney World vacations, playing golf, biking, doing home improvement projects, and much, much more. So to entice them into considering a boating lifestyle, builders and dealers alike need to consider offering more affordable boats to get new folks into the sport. High end, expensive boats just won’t bring in very many younger, less affluent buyers. But down the road, first-time buyers of less expensive boats are likely prospects in time for bigger, more expensive rigs.
So William Sisson is right on when he calls for “simple, sensible boats” in the industry.