FROM THE HELM:
The Future of Sailing
By Sally Helme
President, Sail America
EDITOR’S NOTE: Sail America News warmly welcomes Sally Helme, publisher of Cruising World and Sailing World magazines, to her new role as president of Sail America. Over the coming months, we look forward to hearing from Sally on a regular basis as she shares her views and commentary with Sail America members. This is her first official article as president.
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2009 was an incredibly tough year for the sailing industry. We knew it would be rough, but we had no idea how bad it would be. We went into the year saying that “flat was the new up” and ended the year by saying that “down less than 30% was the new up.” Murray Davis, the founder of Cruising World, once wrote that every great sea story features a storm. We lived through that storm in 2009 and I think we’re all ready to enjoy some calmer waters. And the good news is that the outlook for 2010 is encouraging.
There are several reasons to feel encouraged about the year ahead:
- We’ve taken the difficult steps necessary to reinvent our businesses so they can survive and hopefully thrive at the new norms our industry is experiencing.
- A number of sectors in the sailing market have held steady and some sailing companies even increased their business during 2009. The aftermarket, charter and brokerage sectors have all held up comparatively well. Boat owners are investing in upgrading their boats since they are holding onto them longer, passionate sailors are still taking sailing vacations, and the brokerage market is active.
- Attendance at the fall shows was strong, most notably at the US Sailboat Show in Annapolis. Even where attendance was light, show attendees were well-qualified and not just keel-kickers.
- Consumers are stepping up to buy new models, proving again that “new” sells even in market downturns. A number of the sailboat builders that introduced new models last fall are reporting that they are sold out through April and May of 2010. We’ve seen good sales activity at both the small and large ends of the market size-wise, particularly among buyers who don’t generally rely on financing.
- Sailors are as passionate as ever about the lifestyle and sport of sailing. Whether their dream is to buy a new boat to cruise the Caribbean or to win the Chicago-Mac, they still have a powerful commitment to their sailing dream – and they will invest money in new boats and new equipment to achieve their goals. Their dreams may be postponed, but they will not be denied.
2010 will be another challenging year, that’s for certain. But there is every reason to be encouraged as we look forward. We have managed to change our business models and are operating with fewer resources and lower costs than we ever thought possible. Companies that invest in new models and new technologies are realizing sales and market share increases even in a contracted marketplace. Several market segments have demonstrated strength and staying power even in one of the worst business years we’ve ever seen. And most importantly, sailing remains a priority for our core customers. They are spending money still: on using their boats, on charters, on used boats, and on upgrades for their current boats. They are hungry to learn about new boats and new technologies. They are spending time with their favorite magazines and online. They are attending boat shows and talking to dealers. The customers we need are out there, and with even a modest increase in available credit and a bump in consumer confidence, they will take out their checkbooks and buy.
If 2009 was a year for defense, 2010 is the year for offense. We need to keep moving forward, keep working on new ideas and new products, and keep investing in marketing to stay visible to consumers. Through Sail America we must work together to make sure that we promote sailing through our boat shows, online at DiscoverSailing.com, and on the water with free test sails at Discover Sailing events.
Sail America has exciting plans in place for Strictly Sail Chicago, Miami and Pacific. Be sure to watch upcoming editions of Sail America News for the specifics. We are also planning an industry conference for June, and we’re still working on the launch of our consumer membership initiative. Look for more details in upcoming editions of this e-newsletter, or better yet, ask a Sail America board member or volunteer how you can get involved.
The outlook for 2010 is encouraging, but it will take all of us working together to ensure that the sailing industry benefits from the market upturn ahead.