The growth in the class in the UK has been impressive in its first year and there are, no doubt, a number of contributing factors, not least of which is that the boat is a well designed fun boat to sail at an attractive price. However it has been the process by which RS Sailing has supported and promoted the introduction of the boat into the UK sailing scene which has particularly impressed me.
Watching the process from afar it seems there have been five keys to success…
1. Demos, demos and more demos. I am probably not hearing about all the demonstrations of the Aero that have been held but it is clear that opportunities have been provided for hundreds of people to have trial sails in the boat at dozens of locations. Some folk may buy a boat like an Aero after seeing it at a boat show or reading about it in a magazine. But most of us want to kick the tires metaphorically speaking, experience it for ourselves, try it out on all points of sail - ideally in different wind strengths - perhaps sail it on our home waters, have an opportunity to ask an expert about technique and rigging and sail controls, check out how easy capsize recoveries are etc. etc. etc.
RS Sailing seem to have been traveling all over England with demo boats, running demo days at a variety of sailing clubs. I am reading between the lines here a bit, but I am guessing that at a typical club a small number of sailors become interested in the Aero, maybe see it at a boat show, perhaps a couple of them place provisional orders, and RS Sailing arrange to come up to the club to do some demos. Again I am guessing, but I suspect these initial Aero enthusiasts talk to all their friends in the club and that a lot of other sailors show up to check out this new little boat on the demo day. It would not be surprising if a few more sailors place orders after trying the boat. So now we half a dozen sailors, maybe, at the club with boats on order, eagerly awaiting delivery.
2. Deliver the boats. There's not much point in drumming up all this interest in the boat if you can't deliver. From what I have been reading, there has been a backlog of RS Aeros orders of several months but RS Sailing have been ramping up production and been steadily delivering RS Aeros to lucky owners all over the UK (and a lot of other parts of the world.) I don't think RS Sailing have published any official sales and production numbers but reliable sources report (meaning I read it somewhere on the Internet) that RS Sailing have taken orders for about 700 Aeros so far, have delivered over 300, and are now manufacturing 15-20 a week, i.e. 750-1000 a year.
Very impressive numbers for a new dinghy these days. Although, to put it in perspective, there have been over 200,000 Laser sold in just over 40 years. So, if RS Sailing think this boat might be as popular as the Laser (and why not?) then I hope they have some idea of how they will increase production to 5,000 a year at some point.
3. Lift-off Days. This has been the part of the process that has impressed me the most.
How did we get here? A small number of sailors at a sailing club put down deposits on a new boat. RS Sailing came out to the club to do some demos and a few more sailors ordered some boats. Over the next few months, half a dozen boats were delivered to sailors at the club. A fleet!
So then RS Sailing come along and organize an RS Aero Lift Off Weekend to launch the new fleet. All the Aero owners at the club participate and maybe one or two sailors from other local clubs who have Aeros show up. RS Sailing bring along a few demo boats. A dozen other sailors from the home club and local clubs hear about the event and show up too. So now you have approaching twenty sailors and eight boats, say, taking part in the Lift Off.
Here, for example, is an account of RS Aero Lift Off Weekend at Chew Valley SC in January. Yes January.
Kicking off with an informative briefing, we ran through the boat; rigging, launching, boat care and design. Whilst the ethos of the Aero is simplicity it remains packed full of small design features that are all there for good reason!
On to the briefing the sailing side of things; sail controls, technique, boat handling and recovery - describing many Aero specifics where the lightweight 30kg hull and responsive carbon rig may vary from previous classes sailed and an adjustment in techniques may be required, as they would when you change between any two boats.
We then took to the water and with a simple windward leeward course practiced our modes of sail and boat handling to the whistle! A short break for lunch to de-brief and re-brief, experience Chew’s fantastic hot catering, and we were ready to go again
I bet RS Sailing took a few more orders for RS Aeros after a weekend like this. So the club will now have a fleet of ten to twelve boats in the near future.
4. Regattas, Regattas, Regattas. It always helps a new dinghy to take off if the new owners have regattas where they can go and race against sailors from other clubs, and in the process learn from each other and make new friends.
An RS Aero Winter Series was organized - piggy-backing on the existing GJW Direct SailJuice Winter Series for other dinghy classes. One of the events in the series was designated as the RS Aero Winter Championship and 25 Aeros showed up at Oxford SC for that event. In all 40 Aero sailors competed in at least one event in the winter series. It sounds like there was a whole range of wind strengths during the series from nuking to drifting, enabling the UK RS Aero sailors to work out which of the three rigs suited them best in different conditions.
Some days were light...
Some days were windy...
But it all looked like a hell of a lot fun.
I see that other regatta are being planned throughout the year, including a UK National Championship and International Open in Weymouth (home of the sailing in the 2012 Olympics) and another international event in Barcelona, the RS AeroCup:Barcelona Edition.
5. Use of the Interwebs and social media. There is an RS Aero Class Association website which includes, as well as the information you would normally expect, a global map of RS Aero activity and a user forum. And there is an RS Aero Facebook group which has been frequently updated with photos and reports of demos and lift-off days and regattas etc. etc. etc. Both the class website and the Facebook group have helped to get the word out about all the RS Aero activity and to build confidence that the class is growing. I, for one, am much more likely to buy a boat if I am hearing that lots of other sailors are buying that boat and someone is organizing all sorts of events and activities for owners of the boat.
So congratulations to Peter Barton, the RS Aero Class Manager, and to the staff at RS Sailing for making all of the above happen. As a result the RS Aero had a very successful first year in the UK, and I can only assume the second year will be even better. Brilliant!
So, the questions in my mind now are…
Can RS Sailing repeat this success with the RS Aero in North America in 2015?
Do they even want to?
Is the North American market important to RS Sailing?
Does RS Sailing have the production capacity to see the UK success repeated on the same scale in other markets?
Would the same process that was so successful in launching the RS Aero in the UK work in North America?
Or would RS Sailing need to adopt a different approach?
If so, what would it be?