Boating industry’s sales motor into calmer waters
Posted: 07/01/2012 at 1:15 am
By: Marilyn Odendahl
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A motor boat pulls a raft on Simonton Lake June 28, 2012. (Truth Photo By J. Tyler Klassen)
A pontoon boat cruises on Simonton Lake on Thursday. Boating insiders report a recovery in the industry.
Truth Photo By J. Tyler Klassen
Tom Stark works on a boat engine at WakeSide Marine on Elkhart’s north side June 28, 2012. Stark is a technician at WakeSide. (Truth Photo By J. Tyler Klassen)
WakeSide Marine technician Tom Stark holds a broken piston (bottom) beside a good piston June 28, 2012. (Truth Photo By J. Tyler Klassen)
The pontoon and sports boat dealership on S.R. 19, near Simonton Lake, has compiled a healthy increase in sales over the past year. Banks are lending to consumers who are comfortable with their finances and have decided they can afford to go boating.
“I’m having a hard time seeing the economy as bad as people say it is,” Haradine said.
WakeSide reflects the upward trends being posted in the boating industry as a whole, including pontoon makers in Elkhart County. Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association, noted 2011 was the first year the industry recorded an increase in sales since 2006. In addition, he expects retail activity to continue to grow in 2012 between 4 percent and 5 percent.
The recently released National Marine Manufacturers Association Annual Statistical Report highlighted other positive trends:
• Recreational boating generated $32.3 billion in sales and services in 2011, a 6 percent increase from 2010.
• A total of 527,000 new boats were sold in 2011, a 2 percent improvement from 2010.
• Total retail value of the new boats was $6.1 billion, a 3.5 percent gain over 2010.
However, the economic recession is still causing choppy waters. Sales of new and pre-owned traditional powerboats dropped 5 percent in 2011 to $13.1 billion. Also, the 30- to 60-foot cruising boats are struggling and Dammrich believes they will continue to do so because of the slow-to-recover housing market. Buyers prior to the downturn drew upon their home equity to purchase these higher-end vessels but now they have little or no equity to use.
Moreover, boating as a recreational activity appeals to a narrow demographic. Participants are likely to be male, younger than 50, and have a household income between $25,000 and $75,000, according to the NMMA statistical report.
“As we look at growing boating sales and participation in the future, we realize we’ve got to do a better job of reaching out,” Dammrich said.
The industry, he continued, will have to expose the activity to Hispanics, Asians and African-Americans who traditionally do not participate in the lifestyle. One way he sees to accomplish this is through hiring more minorities to work in the boat dealerships and manufacturing facilities.
Haradine agreed the industry needs more diversity. Yet while he knows what turns individuals and families into boaters, he is unsure how to introduce them to the activity.
“The hook for most people to get into boating is having the experience themselves,” he said, “but I don’t know that I’ve figured out how to provide that for people.”
Although boat usage slipped 1 percent, or 150,000 vessels, in 2011, Dammrich does not believe this is a troubling indication. Instead it could be a market adjustment that sets up a surge in new marine sales in the next decade.
Boat usage has declined in the past five years because more boats are retiring than new boats being brought into the fleet, he said. The average age of a watercraft has risen, from 16 years old in 1997 to 21 in 2011.
As these older boats roll onto retail lots, they will carry little value in the used market, possibly limiting pre-owned choices and pushing consumers to buy new.
WakeSide Marine is still servicing many boats that were made in the 1980s. To entice customers to purchase new, Haradine emphasizes the affordability of boating. Maintaining the pontoon or sports boats available at his dealership costs between $200 and $300 a year while a loan could be stretched to 20 years, making payments as low as $145 a month.
For boat buyers, the main selling point is whether or not the vessel will meet their needs and enable them to do what they want to do with their families, he said. Currently, the units on the market today are addressing those needs and desires.
“I think the manufacturers are in line with the marketplace but, by all means, keep the innovations coming, keep listening to the voice of the customer,” Haradine said. “It seems to me boats that are strong or getting stronger are really paying attention to the retail market.”
While domestic consumers are taking another look at boats, buyers overseas are bolstering the industry’s exports. In 2011 the number of recreational boats that were sent to foreign countries rose 10 percent to 129,000 units. Conversely, imports hit a record high of 280,000 boats, although 80 percent were rowboats and canoes.
For the pleasures boats made in the U.S., the leading export markets are Canada, western Europe and Latin America.
“It’s a unique American industry,” Dammrich said. “They’re not only manufacturing most of the products here but are also a net exporter.”
Boating by the Numbers in 2011
• $32.3 billion: Amount in sales and services generated by recreational boating.
• 83 million: Number of people who participated in recreational boating.
• 1.12 million: Number of pre-owned and new powerboats and sailboats sold.
• $4.0 billion: After-market accessory sales.
• $3.3 billion: Fuel costs for boat owners.
• $2.6 billion: Repair and service costs.
• $1.9 billion: Marina and storage costs.
• 31: Average number of days boats were in operation.
Source: National Marine Manufacturers Association Annual Statistical Report