Getting Millennials to take the first step

I recently read a research article that described how camping is growing in popularity among Millenials and minorities (see Young campers seek more active time outdoors – about 3/4th down the page). Since reaching these segments has been a major goal and topic of debate within the boating industry, this got me thinking about what does camping have that boating doesn’t?

Both camping and boating are activities for people who are active, social and enjoy the outdoors. However, I believe the key difference is that the “cost of entry” is much lower for camping. For just a few hundred dollars, you can get a decent tent, some sleeping bags and all the accessories you need to get started. Plus, you don’t need to worry about a tow vehicle or a large place to store your equipment.

My suspicion is that young adults who engage in kayaking or paddle-boarding are far more likely to want to eventual own a boat than those who don’t do these activities…it is about identifying people with the “water gene” and then nurturing them to eventually become boat owners.

Jerry Mona

This is not to suggest that boat manufacturers need to create a really inexpensive boat to compete. Instead, think of this from the perspective of RV manufacturers. It would be unrealistic to expect a lot of young adults, who are paying off college debt and struggling to save money to buy a home and raise a family, to plunk down $50K for a new 5th Wheel trailer. But that is similar to what many of us in the boating industry are hoping will happen.

However, if you take a long term perspective, I suspect that a sizeable portion of today’s campers will eventual have interest in “graduating” to a camper or RV someday. In other words, camping is a gateway to RVing.

Is there an analogy to camping on the boating side? I think there is. Kayaking and Stand Up Paddle Boarding (SUP) have been growing activities in recent years. And, these naturally appeal to young adults since they are both active and social ways to enjoy the outdoors.

My suspicion (although this would be a good thing to research) is that young adults who engage in kayaking or paddle-boarding are far more likely to want to eventual own a boat than those who don’t do these activities. As we used to say at Mercury, it is about identifying people with the “water gene” and then nurturing them to eventually become boat owners.

Perhaps as an industry, we should focus on promoting more affordable alternatives for young adults to enjoy the water. Then, if we can get them to take that first step, they might be more likely to eventually move into boat ownership although it will take time. In all likelihood, most kayakers will never purchase a new boat. However, if we plant enough seeds, some will eventually bear fruit.

Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.

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