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Uncover hidden opportunity

Liz Walz, Contributing Writer
July 1, 2012
Filed under Columns

A few weeks ago, I received a call from an investor trying to determine whether a marina property would provide the returns he was seeking. He was reaching out to Boating Industry in search of data that, unfortunately, I didn’t have, have never seen and probably doesn’t exist in our industry today.

I’ve received many similar inquiries over the years and had to similarly disappoint the callers far too often. Our industry simply hasn’t studied its own performance closely enough, a weakness that is particularly costly during a recession when we need all the information we can get to make the best possible decisions for our businesses.

Frankly, even when the data does exist, we don’t use it often enough or explore it deeply enough to gain the best possible benefit.

In today’s challenging market, we say we’re on the hunt for new revenue opportunities, small and large. We’re looking to uncover that untapped market, to discover that edge over the competition. But are we really maximizing all the resources at our disposal? No, we’re not.

Here’s the good news: Those who regularly seek out data on their marketplace and benchmark their businesses’ performance have a clear competitive advantage and are outperforming their peers. And it’s not as hard as you might think.

Boating Industry is your partner in this endeavor. In our May issue, for instance, we worked with Info-Link to analyze demographic data and socioeconomic characteristics from more than 28,000 consumers who’ve purchased a boat in the last two years. There is a wealth of information on today’s customer in this report that you can use to refine your marketing efforts.

Perhaps the most striking finding is that nearly 40 percent of first-time boat buyers have moved to a new residence during the past two to five years, compared to just 26 percent of repeat buyers.

What does this mean to you? It means that if you sell boats and you don’t have a relationship with real estate brokers in your community, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity to grow your business.

There are several dealers out there that are already leading the way in this area. One holds monthly luncheons for local real estate agents to familiarize them with the dealership. In addition, it offers special incentives for those agents whose referrals chose to do business with the dealer. Another provides boats and captains to real estate agents who take their clients out on the water to view waterfront homes for sale. And several have relationships with waterfront real estate communities as their endorsed marine sales and service provider, which allows them to participate in community events and welcome new home buyers with special offers.

Keep in mind, however, that the data shows that most first-time buyers who move to a new area don’t buy a boat until two to five years after they relocate. This means that you need to stay in touch with those who have moved into your area and nurture those leads for several years.

If you’re a dealer, you need to know more than the data your boat builder provides. To make the best possible decisions, including what brands to carry and what markets to target, you need to understand your entire boating community, not just one brand and its competitors.

One way to do that is to subscribe to quarterly statistics from a company like Info-Link or Statistical Surveys Inc., both of which offer boat registration reports, broken down by region. Additionally, in a few states, registration data is available free from the state government.

You can also get a taste for what’s happening in your market by attending a local Norman-Spencer Marine Retail University. Each of these events is like a mini-Marine Dealer Conference & Expo, customized for local and regional marine trade associations.

If you’re a dealer and you’re not already a member of a 20 Group, that’s another way to get an edge. Not only does membership give you access to financial data against which you can benchmark your performance, you gain insight and best practices from other dealers who face many of the same challenges you do.

Finally, you can read the pages of Boating Industry magazine. In our industry coverage, we’re constantly pursuing intelligence to share with our readers, whether we’re conducting surveys ourselves or digging into data from other sources.

In the end, it’s not about the source. It’s about knowing as much as possible about your customer, your prospect, your market and your business. Ask yourself: Can you afford to let opportunity pass you by?

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