It was evening, and the marine service facility where I had left my vehicle earlier in the day was buttoned up for the night. I slipped past the locked swing gate with the hope of finding the yard manager, whose pickup I spied on the premises prior to my trespassing transgression.
I let myself into one of the sheds and walked past gleaming new boats with engines and hulls cloaked in shrink-wrap. Others looked ready to go, but bare transoms meant they’d be on the hard for a bit longer. A few more were in various states of commissioning. I decided right then that it wouldn’t be fair at this hour to don my reporter hat and ask the yard manager about product delays unless he brought them up first.
He saw me and gave me the “gotta get your car out, eh?” nod. We walked into the cool night, hearing only the pea gravel underneath our feet. As he unlocked the gate, I made a passing comment about an older Pursuit that looked super clean, minus its ancient twin outboards. “That’d be a fun repower,” I quipped.
He kind of laughed as he looked back at the center console on his way to free my car. “As long as you’re patient,” he said, and then launched into a cogent summation of the state of his sales and service business. He didn’t pin the blame for the status quo solely on boatbuilders, engine manufacturers or parts suppliers, but said that collectively, all are failing to do enough to inform dealers of product shortages. Estimated ship and completion dates, he said, have become laughable.
The last thing he said before I drove off was: “It’s very frustrating. We’re caught in the middle, and I don’t know how much longer some customers can wait.”
Demand is outstripping supply in nearly all business segments, with everything from lumber to marine toilets proving to be commodities that many people are willing to pay a bit more to get. The lack of incentives combined with higher prices hasn’t seemed to scare boat buyers to the sidelines: Through April, industry registrations were up 55 percent year over year with 80,305 boats sold for all of 2021.
Economists will point out that widespread shutdowns dampened numbers from a year ago; the “base effect” makes this year’s figures look large by comparison. Even so, builders and dealers are banking on a banner year, expanding model lines and production facilities to meet demand.
Still, inventory remains incredibly lean, with 100 percent of the dealers who responded to our monthly Pulse Report (“Inventory Adjustments,” page 55) stating that new boat inventory was too low. They’re running out of product right in the middle of the high season.
The truth is that some customers simply can’t wait for myriad reasons. Lost sales are simply unavoidable.
But there are ways for creative dealers to take action, according to our marketing columnist Wanda Kenton Smith. In her column (“7 Tips for Selling the Invisible,” page 50), Smith highlights the opportunities dealers have now to keep customers engaged even when they are on the sidelines.
She makes a plethora of good points about refreshing websites and showrooms, and other ways to keep up with leads while facing delayed product. She says — and I agree — that with little or no inventory, buyers should be incentivized to wait and order custom.
“Cultivate language to remind customers that this is ‘their’ boat, built and designed to their exacting specifications, featuring their color choice, their equipment package and their power options, even if the wait for the boat will be longer,” Smith writes.
Discover Boating is doing its part to keep future customers engaged, as well.
The campaign — which now pools the collective efforts of the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas, the National Marine Manufacturers Association and the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation, reported seeing a younger and more inclusive demographic at discoverboating.com.
Ellen Bradley, NMMA chief brand officer and senior vice president of marketing and communications, tells Soundings Trade Only that 25 to 34 years old is the largest segment on its site, with 90 percent year-over-year growth in traffic among 18- to 24-year-olds, and a 41 percent increase in women visitors.
With dealers getting creative, manufacturers working around the clock and the Discover Boating campaign creating tomorrow’s boating and fishing enthusiasts, I’ll bet on 2021 eclipsing 2020 in units sold.
This article was originally published in the July 2021 issue.