NEW ENGLAND BOAT SHOW: Parker Boats founder sees pent-up demand

Posted on Written by Michael LaBella

BOSTON – The marine industry is seeing such gradual growth that people are not likely to notice it happening.

“I think three and a half years down the road, things will be so good people will look back and say, ‘When did this happen?’ ” Linwood Parker, founder of North Carolina-based Parker Boats, told Soundings Trade Only at the Progressive Insurance New England Boat Show. “Then they’ll look back and see it happened very gradually.”

Parker said results from the New England show were tracking on par with the Progressive Insurance International Miami Boat Show.

“It’s nice to see this show has grown again, and it’s nice to see all the new, innovative product,” Parker said. “Attendance was good everywhere in the country. We do about 17 shows, and the reports we’ve been getting is that traffic is not back, but it’s coming back. Sales are improving gradually. If we could just get a break from Washington, D.C., my sense is that things would really take off.”

Last year’s show sales were good, but things began to wane, Parker said.

“People wanted to wait for the election, and then the election came and went, but then we had the fiscal cliff and we just saw things lock up,” Parker said. “It began to loosen up a little bit, but now we’ve got sequestration on the horizon.”

Sequestration doesn’t affect the whole country equally, Parker said, but at both the Richmond and the Virginia Beach shows it played a big role in people’s decision to buy a boat.

“People from Richmond up to Baltimore rely so heavily on government, so those areas are really affected. Things are extremely tight there,” Parker said.

At the same time, some are becoming fatigued with the bad news and are deciding to buy a boat, anyway.

“I do think there’s some pent-up demand,” Parker said. “We’re positive and optimistic, we’re just guardedly optimistic. Things are better. Personal savings is higher than it has ever been. We just need Washington to give us a break.”

The so-called “value brands” have seen the biggest increase, but Parker, who has been building the brand for 33 years, said his boats have been selling at every venue the brand has attended.

“The person that buys a Parker has owned about four and a quarter boats before, and they know what they want,” Parker said. “We’ve got the hardcore fisherman, but also cabin boats and cruising, as well. Our boats allow customers to enjoy a longer season, which is important in areas like this one.”

The 18-foot center console starts at just under $30,000, and the 34-foot Parker goes for about $350,000.

— Reagan Haynes

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