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Valuable insight into the PWC consumer

By Jeff Hemmel
Contributing writer
When it comes to business, it never hurts to have strong insight into who’s buying your product. For the PWC dealer, some of the best tidbits concern the customer. Just who are they, what influences them, how do they typically use their craft, and what, truly, is the competition. For this year’s Focus section, Powersports Business looked at consumer survey data from Yamaha Motor Corp. The information is sometimes surprising, occasionally obvious and always informative. Think you know your customer? Read on.

The Customer
According to the data, the PWC customer is decidedly male (83 percent) and has an average age of just more than 46. The average household income is $139,000 annually. Most (73 percent) are married, and just less than half (43 percent) have children. Of that latter set, the average number of kids living at home is 1.9. The majority are college graduates. An additional 28 percent have at least 2-3 years of college under their belt. Just more than one-fifth also have some degree of graduate or post-graduate studies.

When Did They Start Riding?
More than half of the study’s respondents have been riding more than six years. Twenty-one percent have 6-10 years of experience, while 32 percent started riding more than 10 years ago. Encouraging to dealers is that more than a quarter, a solid 28 percent, are new riders, taking up the sport during the past year.

First Purchase
More than half of the respondents said their current PWC is their first personal watercraft purchased. Of the 47 percent who indicated they had previously purchased a PWC, the vast majority bought new (73 percent) from a dealer (76 percent). Used sales amounted to 27 percent, with 24 percent doing business with a private party. More than three-quarters of these repeat buyers did not have a trade-in when they purchased their latest craft. Forty percent indicated they retained their previous PWC; roughly one-third indicate they sold their older PWC prior to the latest purchase.

Outside Influences
Existing customers, as well as rental outlets, remain a strong influence on the prospective PWC buyer. More than half (56 percent) of the respondents indicate they had previously borrowed a friend’s PWC before making their first purchase. Just more than 40 percent indicate they rented before electing to buy.
Again, when they do buy, new models rule, as 74 percent of owners indicate they did not even consider buying a used model. The lesson seems clear: New model machines continue to dominate.

What Is The Real Competitor?
Competition naturally exists between brands, even between models. The real competition a dealership faces, however, is more apt to come from the boat dealer down the road. Traditional boats are the biggest alternative your customer is looking at, with 67 percent of customers seriously considering the PWC’s closest relative on the water. Beyond that, land-based alternatives rule. ATVs ranked second (21 percent), with motorcycles at 16 percent. Nine percent of respondents report considering something different altogether.

Usage Patterns
As to how those customers use their craft, owners estimate they are out on the water aboard their PWC an average of 45 days a year. Southern climates enjoy the most usage; northern climates are limited by the shortness of the season. While on the water, those same owners estimate their engine is running about 3.4 hours in a given day.
You might be surprised to learn that almost half (46 percent) make room in the home garage for their PWC, at least during the boating season. Others rely on their trailer outdoors (19 percent) or a boat lift (16 percent). Dry storage facilities account for 8 percent, while a floating dock (7 percent) or in-water anchorage (3 percent) is less common.
Most owners (66 percent) ride with family; others (26 percent) ride with friends. Only 8 percent admit to riding primarily alone.
As to what those owners do with their time on the water, the vast majority prefer to explore (83 percent), sightsee (82 percent) or tour or cruise longer than 30 minutes (77 percent). Most also admit to enjoying the speed on tap. Seventy-five percent report they ride most often with the throttle wide open. Nearly half of respondents use their craft to pull inflatable products. Between a quarter and a third enjoy wakeboarding and waterskiing behind their craft.Though excellent opportunities exist, only 6 percent express an interest in organized, group touring events.
Another key statistic gleaned from the report is just who, or what, most influences the buyer’s decision. The dealer and/or salesperson still reign supreme (46 percent), followed strongly by word-of-mouth from friends (39 percent). Other influencing factors include extended warranty offers (influencing 18 percent), company Web sites (17 percent), brochures (16 percent) and magazine articles or ads (12 percent).

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