Strategic Partnerships With Trade Associations Position Industries For Growth

President & CEO


The good news for business leaders is that strategic partnerships between industries and their trade associations already exist. They lead and convene industries to deliver unified advocacy strategies and convey business outcome-focused messages to government officials. These relationships translate into vital assets to help industries face challenges and position them for growth. For example, recreational boating built its own strategic partnership through its trade association, NMMA, (National Marine Manufacturers Association) and its been highly successful.

Despite the challenge of a pandemic the industry thrived, largely due to their efforts to build the strategic partnerships and the relationships necessary to make them work. The NMMA leadership team’s extraordinary insight, foresight, and preparation positioned the recreational boating industry for good times and down times.

The onslaught of COVID-19 had the boating industry in some disarray in the spring of 2020. In April of that year, sales had slowed, production slowed, employees were furloughed, and the outlook for that summer worsened. Thanks to the strength of the industry and trade association strategic partnership, the industry’s fortunes would change for the better.

The strategic partnership relationships that had been developed over the years within the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable, and the spirit of cooperation among a network of CEOs across the vast outdoor recreation industry kicked into high gear. Some weeks into the initial turbulence of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States in early 2020, former NMMA president Thom Dammrich, despite his September 2019 retirement from the association, began to do a few of the things that he does best: make connections, bring people together, and rally the troops.

He had received a call from a retired Brunswick Corporation executive (manufacturers of such world-renowned marine brands as Mercury engines, Boston Whaler, SeaRay, Harris, and Bayliner), who had been talking with the chairman of Thor Industries (the world’s largest RV manufacturer). Together they had hatched an idea, in response to the pandemic tumult, that it would be great if the RV industry and the boating industry could put their resources together and do some sort of joint campaign to get our nation out of doors; something along the lines of, “You’ve been cooped up for ten weeks. Now is the time to get out and enjoy some recreation. Go boating, go RVing, take advantage of the great outdoors!”

Dammrich called Frank Peterson, CEO and president at RBFF (famous for the Take Me Fishing consumer outreach campaign) and encouraged him to take a leadership role and work with Discover Boating to build a really strong coalition with everybody coming together to get people outdoors. Frank thought it a great idea and began to contact other industry leaders to widen the spectrum of participation and garner more support.

Dammrich also reached out to the new NMMA president, Frank Hugelmeyer, who had previously directed the GoRVing promotion strategy at the RV Industry Association (RVIA), which was a smashing success and had increased RV sales dramatically in years prior.

The RBFF and NMMA collaborated on a joint Discover Boating/Take Me Fishing effort. They focused the effort on getting people who already own boats out on the water, using their boats (so they’ll be buying more accessories), and on the baby boomers, who are still buying most of the boats. “You’ve got to get to the current audience of people who are buying,” Thom Dammrich remembers counseling them, “not people who are going to buy in two or three years. Two or three years isn’t going help anybody today. And they need help today.”

The combined resources and creativity of that immense and popular and powerful industry coalition turned the COVID-19 pandemic—an incredibly dangerous and destructive force in the economy and in society at large—into a boon for outdoor recreation businesses, while at the same time providing a healthy alternative for people who were desperately struggling to maintain some semblance of normalcy in exceedingly dire and unpredictable times.

NMMA reported in mid-September 2020 that “47 percent of marine manufacturers saw a year-over-year increase in new orders, and 15 percent reported substantial growth in sales.”

Industry analysts in the boating community have commented on a few rather interesting facts about boat buying in the first year of the pandemic:

  • First-time boat buyers entered the market in record numbers.
  • 20 percent more boats were sold in June 2020 than in June 2019.
  • More boat orders for future delivery were placed in 2020 than in 2019.
  • Unit sales in 2020 exceeded 300,000 units, a number reached prior to the global financial crisis in 2007, and a number most in the industry felt would never be reached again.

Strategic partnerships have unlimited opportunities when it comes to positioning industries for growth, developing supply chain solutions, and developing long term energy strategies. Let’s imagine how much more impactful approaches like this would be if they effectively shape the macro environment through strategic partnerships with trade associations.

Book Dan Varroney as a speaker for your meeting, conference or group and learn how to tap into the potential of strategic partnerships with industry associations from the author of the groundbreaking new book, Reimagining Industry Growth.