Weather didn’t cooperate for dealers

Posted on Written by Reagan Haynes

27_spring_02Tornadoes. Epic flooding. Drought. Wildfires. Across the nation, spring brought extreme — in some cases, catastrophic — weather.

A reporter’s Facebook inquiry brought 42 comments from people around the country who were directly affected by extreme weather or natural disasters. From unseasonably cool and overcast conditions across huge swaths of the country to tornadoes and wildfires, conditions in many areas were not conducive to boat sales.

The Army Corps of Engineers closed the Missouri River June 3 to recreational boats from Sioux City, Iowa, to St. Louis because of flooding — about a 730-mile stretch.

A woman answering the phone at Downs Marina Inc. along the Missouri in Pierre, S.D., said the dealership had been evacuated and that the owners were trying to save their docks.

Craig Novak, owner of Pierre Sports Center, was not under an immediate flood threat because his dealership is not on the water. “We are going to be affected,” Novak says. “Not our building — we’re up on high ground. [But] from here on out, it’s going to be slower.”

28_spring_03Residents who might have gone boating or fishing probably will be taking care of their property and belongings, Novak says. “I think everyone in this town has helped someone sandbag their house or helped build a levee around their house,” he says.

Novak, whose business is on a truck bypass, says he counted nine trucks passing every three minutes, loaded with gravel to reinforce the levees.

The Army Corps of Engineers began increasing water flows in the Oahe Dam each day by 10,000 cubic feet a second, Novak says, until the flows hit 150,000 cubic feet a second. “The previous high they’ve ever run through this dam is 75,000, so that gives you some perspective,” Novak says.

Snowy, rainy, cool

The flooding was a result of record-setting snowfalls in Montana and the Dakotas, Novak says. Compounding that was the 6 to 10 inches of rain that Montana got in a week. In addition to the flooding, temperatures have been about 20 degrees lower than normal, Novak says.

Fortunately for Novak, Pierre — a town that relies economically on agriculture and government (it’s the state capital) — has been insulated from the recession. Last year was the strongest in history for Pierre Sports Center, he says.

Pierre is a community with an avid angler population and an early season, Novak says, and he has already sold the bulk of his boats for the season. Still, Novak predicts that his business and others will feel the effects of the flood for years to come. “Most people aren’t thinking about boats,” he says. “If you’re making a mortgage payment on one house you’re not living in and paying rent somewhere else” there probably is little left to spend on a boat, he says.

Lakes unusable

Joey Simmons, general manager at Caruthers Marine in Vicksburg, Miss., faces a similar problem. The Army Corps of Engineers intentionally flooded Eagle Lake, the lake closest to his dealership, in the hope of saving more vulnerable areas, and boating has been prohibited.

Thirty feet of water was added to the lake to ease water levels in the swollen Mississippi River, Simmons says. His customers have been told that it will be next spring or later before the water level in the lake is low enough for recreational boating to resume.

With the local lakes unusable, those who can’t afford to travel 50 miles to a navigable reservoir saw their boating season end in late May, Simmons says. Many had homes on Eagle Lake or Lake Chotar, a river-fed lake that also flooded, and they were busy trying to salvage their properties, Simmons says.

The flooding has been a double-edged sword for Caruthers Marine. Simmons says business was brisk early on as people bought boats or, in some cases, second boats to haul furniture from their homes to safety. Others took the opportunity to service their boats so they would be solid in the floods, Simmons says.

Entergy, which operates a nuclear power plant 30 miles away, bought the two pontoons Simmons had left in stock so workers could get to the plant’s pumps to keep the reactor cool.

“We had a lot of sales and service going on, but now that the flood waters are receding the main lake up here that everyone goes fishing on is extremely affected” because it won’t open until spring 2012, Simmons says. “Plus a lot of homes were damaged, so people don’t have the money or time to think about boating.”

Simmons says he’s very concerned about the lake being unavailable for such a long period of time. “People are going to put off buying a boat and might spend the money they were going to spend on a boat somewhere else,” Simmons says. “They might go buy an RV or a motorcycle, or they may lose all that money putting it back into their property.”

Drought in Texas

While dealerships along the Mississippi battled flooding, parts of Colorado and Texas faced severe drought conditions in June. Two boaters were injured in May when their ski boat ran aground at Medina Lake in Lakehills, Texas, according to local news outlets.

Low lake levels in parts of Texas were having an effect on ski boats and other freshwater vessels, such as pontoons, says salesman Mike Deuel at Master Marine in San Antonio.

Some Colorado lakes were still full because there had been so much snow in the mountains during the winter, says Sue Gouveia, who with her husband owns Canon Marine in Penrose, Colo. The mountains had so much snow that ski resorts reopened in June, she says.

Lakes in the eastern part of the state were stressed because of farming demands, Gouveia says.

“It’s been really cool and incredibly windy, so weather has been more of an issue this year because we’re just not getting the weather people are used to in spring,” Gouveia says.

That wind also brought smoke from wildfires raging in Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. “It’s very smoky,” Gouveia says. “The winds have just been terrible. You go out, and it smells like smoke and it’s definitely hazy everywhere.”

In areas of the country where the weather has not been catastrophic it has been unseasonably cool, and that, too, has deterred sales, dealers say. “I’m going to say the weather’s been the biggest part of [slow spring sales],” says Geoff Smith, a co-owner of Smith Boys Marine, which has locations throughout western New York and the Finger Lakes region. “A little bit is because of gas [prices], but the weather’s just been crappy.

“If you’re lucky enough to get a nice Saturday, it seemed like it rained or snowed on Sunday,” Smith says. “I would say the launch of the boats is  three weeks behind schedule.”

With several tornado threats across central New York and overcast, cool days, people were in no rush to get boats into the water. “What we find is, whatever you lost in April and May, you don’t seem to gain it back,” Smith says. “In June, if it’s nice, you will sell a lot of boats, but June is always a good month. You don’t seem to catch up those 20 or 40 boats you would have sold in April and May.

“You can have all the factory promotions and dealer promotions you want, but if it’s not a 75-degree sunny day it just doesn’t matter,” he adds.

Kansas City blues

The Kansas City area escaped many of the tornadoes, but Jeff Seims at Blue Springs Marine in Missouri says the cool, rainy spring has affected sales. Fortunately for him the spring had been so busy that the dismal weather gave him a few lulls so he could catch up on his service backlog.

In May, Seims says, even as tornado sirens were sounding, a few customers walked through his doors. Still he thinks bad weather is responsible for keeping sales flat, erasing the potential for stronger revenue.

Ed Lofgren, owner of 3A Marine Service in Hingham, Mass., agrees that cool weather had deterred boaters. He recalls what a sales rep told him in the 1960s: “Your sales here in New England are based upon weather; as soon as good weather hits, you’re going to sell some boats.

“That remains true today,” Lofgren says. “Some guy walks through the door and there is six inches of snow, you’ve got a 10 percent chance of selling him a boat. A guy comes in on a beautiful day and we have a 90 percent chance.”

‘Life’s too short’

Diane Bassett Zable, one of the original owners of Bassett Yacht & Boat Sales in Springfield, Mass., says most people in her community were busy with cleanup efforts after a tornado on June 1 devastated the city. But Bassett Zable is confident that people will continue to go boating.

She remembers the Newport Boat Show on Sept. 15, 2001 — just days after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. Bassett had contemplated canceling, but decided to go ahead. “We sold the bigger bridge that year, and I remember the lady saying, ‘This is a life’s-too-short sale,’ ” Bassett Zable says. “Perhaps all the terrible storms are doing just that, reminding us that life’s too short.”

This article originally appeared in the July 2011 issue.

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