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A key message from Marine13 was the need for the boating industry to embrace change.

When over 450 leaders of business and government policy gathered in Sydney for the Marine13 conference there was a strong sense of unity and optimism for the future of our industry. Representatives from 15 countries and every state of Australia came together to share ideas, network and build the platform for our prosperous future. What became abundantly apparent was that the challenges and opportunities facing the marine industry are universal across state and national boundaries. Commensurately the responses and ideas that have been deployed around the world came under discussion and scrutiny.

The conference was delivered under the banner of “Boating for the Future” and the central theme that became apparent was the need to embrace change and increasing rates of change. Another interesting area was dealing with resistance to change and some consumers desire for traditional or timeless products. Change comes in many forms and some of the themes explored at Marine13 included:

Demographic Change

We are all aware of the aging population and challenges and opportunities that this presents but beyond this the changing behaviours and expectations of children and young adults and their protectionist parents present unique challenges for engagement, remembering that 80% of adult boaters had some boating experience as a child. Western societies are also experiencing a cultural shift where the proportion of non-European cultures are increasing and where some of these don’t have a cultural affinity with water recreation or boating. Strategies being adopted around the world are yielding results in these markets and opening up a new approach and generation of boaters.

Social Change

Women are increasingly becoming the primary boat purchaser and driver of the boat purchase decision while our industry continues to position itself to market to its perceived core market of 35-55 year old males. The insights offered in the session ‘Empowering women in boating’ confirmed the importance of women in 80% of boat purchase decisions made in families but also identified the independent decision of women in driving the boat purchase decision. Women respond to different marketing cues and have different product priorities and businesses that have adopted their communications and products to this market are achieving results but as an industry we have a long way to go.

Changing Expectations

Looking outside the boating industry there is clearly room for improvement in our service and product delivery. The car industry has certainly gone a long way in raising consumer service expectations and as most boat owners own a car they have a direct comparison between how they are treated by their car dealer and their boat dealer. The car industry has addressed the concerns of consumers by providing long warranties, fixed price (generally low cost) servicing, pickup and delivery service, showroom quality service receptions, car wash on return, the list goes on. The priority is about maintaining long term customer relationships and repeat sales and servicing. They employ extensive CRM (customer relationship management) systems and survey their customers, almost to annoyance. Interestingly, performance based remuneration in that industry is also based on customer satisfaction ( CSI : Customer Satisfaction Index).

Changing Technology

The world has changed forever. The consumers approach to purchasing of a wide range of goods and services is completely different today then it was 5 years ago. So what worked in the last ‘boom’ in consumer spending pre-GFC would not work today even if confidence and consumption was a record highs. The influence of access to information, peer reviews, social media and comments/blogs means most opinions are formed well before the consumer makes ( or doesn’t make) contact with the supplier. Suppliers are becoming more virtual and national or international boundaries are no impediment. Every perceived barrier has a work-around and marine businesses that are in the business of supplying products ignore this to their peril. We were very fortunate to hear first hand the extraordinary case study of “Appliances on Line” where 4th generation retailer John Winning transformed a well respected traditional bricks and mortar white goods supplier with the development of a powerhouse on-line offering and is experiencing massive growth in a highly competitive market against larger competitors. This is a perfect analogy to some marine businesses and it will be interesting to see who captures the opportunity.


Change our Language

We all get bombarded with negativity, be it economic, political or social commentary that has made the business community collectively conservative and defensive. We spend considerable effort in protecting ourselves against the “worst case scenario” and not enough time dreaming about, planning and striving for the “best case scenario”. We were asked to consider a scenario whereby if all the information coming at you was positive and upbeat what would you do differently in your business and there is great value in unshackling ourselves from the GFC/post GFC blues and planning for our prosperous future. Consider the subtly of the aging of the fleet and boating currently being cheaper than ever. What motivates someone to buy an older boat and how does this translate into an opportunity? As an industry second hand boats are a cost effective pathway for new boaters to get into boating but it is imperative that their experience of ownership is a good one. Older boats, by definition, need more maintenance so how do we turn this into a positive? Perhaps by changing our language we can change the message. Old Boats aren’t old, they are “Classics”, you don’t really own an old boat you are a ‘custodian’ for future generations. We have an industry full of skilled craftsmen and tradesmen capable of complex and beautiful work. We need to trade on our skills and re-invigorate the passion of owning and enjoying the fruits of yesteryear, which has particular resonance with the growing demographic of older Australians. We then need to retain those that sold their boat and transition them into new boating experiences never forgetting that it costs five times as much to convert a new customer as it does to retain an existing one.

As boaters, what can we do to share our passion? A key message from the conference was to relinquish the helm and encourage our partners, children, friends and family to “Take the Helm” and develop the skills and confidence to enjoy everything boating has to offer.

Lack of confidence was identified as a key impediment to the enjoyment of boating from both the skipper and crew and we need to work hard to raise the nautical literacy and skill base of our customers to overcome this perception.

Change our relationships

One of the most valuable elements of the Marine13 conference was the forging of relationships and networks between industry stakeholders and government. Industry to Industry, Industry and Government and Government to Government connections were forged paving the way for the sharing of ideas, expertise and understanding. This, in my view, will be the lasting legacy of Marine13 and our greatest opportunity. The conference itself was jointly presented by two industry peak bodies the BIAA and the MIA and has forged a strong working relationship. The BIAA , MIA and AIMEX have come together to represent the industry on the international stage through ICOMIA. The BIAA and YA are working together to promote boating activities to primary school children through the discover sailing program and these collaborations can only serve the collective interest of our industry and the boating community. We must continue to strive to achieve the highest level of co-operation and alignment from all key stakeholders.

I am inspired by the commitment and enthusiasm of all those that attended Marine13. I am sure our industry is stronger for it and it sends a clear message to government and the community that we mean business and are serious about a safe and prosperous future for our industry.

About the author

Darren Vaux is Chairman of the Boating Industries Alliance Australia, President of the Boating Industry Association of NSW, Vice President of the Marina Industries Association of Australia, Director of Empire Marina Bobbin Head, Australian Marina of the year two times winner, and Managing Director of Vaux Insight, a boutique business transformation consultancy.

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