Fallout from the pandemic continued to pressure new-boat demand in April, but retail trends and dealer sentiment improved relative to March lows, according to the monthly Pulse Report survey.
Due to forced closures and stay-at-home orders, far more dealers reported declines in new-boat sales (67 percent) than growth (21 percent), according to the Pulse Report. The report is generated through a monthly survey designed to gauge marine industry retail conditions.
More than 90 percent of the 68 dealers that responded to the survey, which is administered by Baird Research in conjunction with the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas and Soundings Trade Only, were open in some capacity, although trends varied substantially among them.
On average, Baird’s research suggests boat sales declined 20 to 30 percent in April.
Of the dealers that were open, 67 percent reported declines in new-boat sales, versus 80 percent in March, according to the results.
“Surprisingly, a few reported double-digit growth in demand for new boats, but even more reported declines of over 80 percent,” the Baird report states. “Our subjective interpretation of results suggests a 25 to 30 percent decline is plausible” for the month of April.
One dealer said his company’s new website debuted the same day everything shut down in his area, adding, “Web leads have been through the roof.”
“We are running at 100 percent,” said another dealer. “Showroom is closed, but boat sales are same as last April. We will be reopening May 11. Limited access.”
Others said virtual sales were challenging. “Everyone does not know how long this crisis will last, so they are holding on boat purchases,” one dealer said. “We found that prospects find sales promotions during a crisis disrespectful, so we do not push them.”
New-boat sales were proving difficult for others. “Service still solid,” said one dealer. “New-boat sales came to a grinding halt after the strongest first 10 weeks of the calendar year on record. Used boat activity is still OK.”
Dealer sentiment improved in April, reaching 19 out of 100 from an all-time low of 4 in March. The three- to five-year outlook also improved, to 60, in April, up from the neutral rating of 50 in March.
Dealer sentiment improved in April.
More than 90 percent of dealers surveyed received payroll protection program loans; however, 85 percent reported utilizing the CARES Act, likely reflecting confusion about the different support and legislation passed.
Several expressed appreciation for the second round funding for the act.
The survey asked dealers to rate actions from the government, banks and manufacturers. Overall, dealers viewed government and bank support as helpful but want more support from OEMs.
“Not too bad of a process to get approved [for funding] and pretty generous overall,” one dealer stated. “Don't know what the process will be when we ask for forgiveness — that might be a different story.”