So much more than a boat

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Getting away from it all: Refuge Bay in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park north of Sydney is a popular boating destination in NSW.
Getting away from it all: Refuge Bay in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park north of Sydney is a popular boating destination in NSW.

On the eve of the Sydney International Boat Show, Darren Vaux argues that at a time when many people are considering whether or not to buy a boat, it is important for the industry to remember what is being sold.

Darren Vaux.
Darren Vaux.

With the boat show season in full swing it is a great time to reflect on what we are actually selling and what our customers are actually looking for. The superficial answer is boats or boating-related products but the actual reasons are far more complex. So why does a prospective customer want to buy a boat and what is it about the boating lifestyle that attracts them? Our success lies in our ability to understand the answer to this question and how our products and services deliver and maintain this outcome. Clearly the diversity of boating means that the answers to these questions vary widely but the approach remains the same.

Ultimately, our ability to connect our products with the recreation and lifestyle expectations of our customers and facilitate directly and indirectly this lifestyle into the future is the foundation of our personal, business and industry’s success. So how is this achieved? In my view there are a number of key factors for consideration.

Does the product match the client’s requirements?

It is imperative that we fully understand what our client is trying to achieve and what they can realistically afford. We can only achieve this if we fully understand where the client intends to do their boating and what they intend to do. Counter-intuitively, it is also wise to sell the smallest and least expensive boat that meets the needs of the customer as it will be easier to handle and the customer is more likely to be a repeat customer. The worst case scenario is for a first-time boater to buy a boat that is too big and doesn’t meet their needs as their personal and financial experience of owning a boat will be poor and reflect badly on the retailer and the industry.

What is the after sales service and lifestyle plan?

Great retailers try to create long-term ongoing relationships with their customers for servicing accessories and new sales. How far should we go? A number of manufacturers support owners' clubs, rendezvous and other lifestyle engagements. Boating is, after all, a community and the majority of customers are keen to be engaged in their community whether it is through clubs, marinas or dealer-lead experiences. In this area, we can probably never do enough.

Are there impediments and restrictions to boating?

Boating is generally a safe and healthy lifestyle choice, however one of our greatest challenges remains the balance between regulation and education in relation to safety. Lifejacket wear rates have significantly increased over recent years but the ‘difficult’ demographic remains middle to older aged men in small boats with an overinflated view of their ability to survive in the event of ending up in the water.

The NSW government has invested heavily in the boat ramps and associated facilities around the state of NSW, and Sydney Harbour has seen an increase in casual moorings and access to private marinas through the destinations plan. All of these investments have opened up boating opportunities and enhance the experience of boaters. We need to communicate these outcomes so our customers continue to enjoy their boating.

What can we do to enhance the boating lifestyle?

Good boating becomes great boating when boaters form relationships with family, friends, other boaters and non boaters. Boating should be fun, an adventure and an escape. The key is for boaters to have easy access to the water through good boat ramps with parking, readily accessible dry storage or great marinas. As an industry these are areas in which we can excel.

Once they are out on the water we need to ensure that there are places to go, safe places to grab a mooring, berth or anchor and access to shoreside facilities. This is where we need to continue to focus our attention as businesses and as an industry. Great progress has been made in Sydney Harbour with the boating destinations plan where boaties can now access 19 marinas for temporary berthing and as such get access to cafes, restaurants and other facilities at these sites. There has also been a significant increase in the number of RMS courtesy moorings around Sydney Harbour east of the Harbour bridge providing even more opportunities for time out on the water.

My personal favourite boating destinations are in Broken Bay around Refuge and America Bay where, immersed in the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, you feel a million miles away yet are only 30km from the centre of Australia’s biggest city. A weekend out there is like a week away and the diversity of boating is on display for all to see (providing you have a boat).

This is the best of boating and our challenge is to communicate this lifestyle to prospective boaters and help our customers realise their boating dreams.

The article was first published in the August-September 2016 issue of Marine Business magazine.


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