The ice is wearing out its welcome on Stockholm’s waterways, but the boating community still managed to get a nautical fix this month at the Allt för sjön boat show in Stockholmsmässan.
We had a great time there, spreading the word about Agapi Club and even welcoming several new people into the Agapi world.
One of the highlights for us was the chance to catch up with Mats Eriksson, CEO of Sweboat (Båtbranschens Riksförbund – The Swedish Marine Industries Federation). Allt för sjön is one the year’s biggest events and, for Mats, it’s a great way to get inspired for the start of a new season.
Mats is a boating visionary and a tireless advocate for our industry, so we were keen to get his view of the current state of boating in Sweden and the trends and challenges we can expect for the coming years. And the most encouraging thing Mats sees is growth.
“There are some tough years behind us,” he says. “Now the immediate future looks strong, and the industry will continue to grow.”
With that growth, the industry is also likely to change shape. Mats expects a degree of consolidation on the horizon, as some players merge and shared production resources bring more efficiency to the sector. Mats points to the way the car industry has evolved to adapt to new conditions and embrace new technologies for innovation and competitiveness.
The competition the industry faces is not just with boat makers elsewhere – it’s a competition between boating and other forms of recreation. Indeed, Mats considers this to be the ”single most important issue we are dealing with”.
He told us that the typical Swedish family today has more than three times the number of hobby activities than they did back in the 1970s. While boat ownership rates in Sweden remain among the highest in the world, the amount of time people have to spend on boating is seriously constrained.
“People here want to be in nature, to share experiences with friends and family,” he says. “And boating also offers a sense of adventure that’s missing from much of modern life. But no matter how much families love boating, they still love other things as well.”
It’s competition not just for money, but also for time.
At Agapi, we believe this is where we fit in. With Agapi Club – our subscription boating model – we not only lower the financial bar to get into boating, but we also slash the non-boating time that families have to dedicate to their pastime. Agapi means more time on the water, less time on the dock. More time cruising, less time cleaning.
“The Agapi concept is brilliant,” says Mats. “It’s ahead of the industry right now, with the sharing model, the Club membership, and the ability to access boats in different places. If you’re a boat owner in Stockholm, for example, it’s only a matter of time before you’ll want to use one in Gothenburg, or Palma. The sharing economy is the future”.
Sweboat are active in their outreach efforts to bring people back to boating, and to welcome those who have never been boaters before. Taking inspiration from the National Marine Manufacturers Association in the USA, Sweboat is tackling the perception that boating is expensive, hard to learn, and a time trap. Using social media and a range of events and activities, Mats and his team work hard to create opportunities to show people just how accessible and affordable boating can be.
Another part of the challenge in winning people over and keeping them involved is trust.
“The boating industry needs to be trustworthy, safe, and comfortable,” says Mats. “We say, for safe boating, go to a Sweboat member and be assured of quality, service, and support.”
The corresponding message for Sweboat members themselves is to always strive to be more customer focused.
“Listen more to prospective customers,” he says. “Deliver better service with less fuss. Whether you’re selling equipment or experience, focus on always improving service levels and the way we treat people.”
“We want to put a bigger smile on the lips of all those working in the industry,” he says.
We couldn’t agree more.
Turning back to Allt för sjön, Mats spoke enthusiastically about the progress and innovation he sees in the local industry.
“It’s not one specific trend that I see, but an overall progress in design, shapes, colours, and hull concepts,” he says. “There were a lot of futuristic boats on display, and a clear focus on lowering fuel consumption with better engines and more use of aluminium hulls and RIB structures”.
Electrification, he told us, is an exciting trend to watch in the medium term. While there’s plenty of work to be done on technology and infrastructure, Mats expects electric engines to be a mainstream option within 5-10 years.
This is certainly an area we are watching closely as well, because as much as we love our powerful modern outboards the environmental benefits of electric engines fit perfectly with our philosophy.
Let’s face it, anyone who loves heading out on the water has, by definition, an interest in preserving the environment that makes our passion so special. So, when the tech is ready, we’ll be keen to embrace the next generation of power plants.
Also on the subject of environmental impact, Mats explained that a challenge for the industry right now is the status of poisonous hull anti-fouling paint. For decades, the Swedish authority (Kemikalieinspektionen) has approved certain anti-fouling for marine use. But many people have confused that approval for an endorsement that the products are harmless. In fact, the paint chips created when hulls are scraped clean can create serious contamination. Boat yards that have not planned properly may find themselves with big problems and major cleanup costs.
Again, this is an area close to our heart. As a standard routine in our Agapi Centers we clean the boats hull regularly which results in no need for anti-fouling paint. A big win for the environment.
It’s an exciting time for our industry, and we are deeply grateful to Mats Eriksson for taking the time to share his thoughts, and Sweboat’s plans, with us.
Now, we just need that ice to melt..