Government relief came in time to help many marine dealers, but retailers say they want more support from manufacturers during the covid-19 crisis. The monthly Pulse Report survey measuring dealer sentiment in April — a critical month during the pandemic — showed mixed feedback on many fronts, but almost universal response that government financial assistance had helped.
“Round 2 of the PPP [Paycheck Protection Program] was a blessing,” wrote one dealer who responded to the survey, which is conducted by Baird Research in conjunction with the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas and Soundings Trade Only. “A break from curtailments from our banks already is greatly appreciated. Looking forward to OEM rebate programs to come.”
Ninety percent of the 68 dealers surveyed said they received PPP loans, but 85 percent reported utilizing the CARES Act, “likely a reflection of some confusion about the different support and legislation passed,” according to Baird.
The PPP is a part of the CARES Act, but many businesses qualify for additional relief. “This is greatly helping with payroll and keeping employees on the job,” wrote one respondent.
Dealers were asked to rate how boatbuilders, banks and the government were helping them weather the crisis, and manufacturers fared the worst. More than 15 percent of respondents say their boat OEMs were not supportive; the rating for government was less than 5 percent, and banks less than 2 percent. Banks were viewed as the most supportive — perhaps because Wells Fargo Commercial Distribution Finance deferred curtailments for marine dealers for two months — with more than 20 percent deeming them “very helpful.”
Dealer feedback reflected a larger trend of spotty business conditions, with some posting double-digit growth and others reporting declines of more than 60 percent. Less than 10 percent of respondents’ businesses were closed, so many remained operational in some capacity. Still, one dealer reported that lower-dollar units were selling best, reducing margins across the board.
“Covid has hurt sales but far less than I feared,” wrote another dealer. “Don’t get me wrong — this has been negative, but what I expected in mid-March has not happened. Interest in boating remains high, and sales are still decent. To my surprise, our dealership remained profitable in both March and April. We will see what May brings.”
The closures of other area dealerships, as well as two Bass Pro Shops, was a help for one dealer. Some were having a tougher time during lockdowns. “We have lost a handful of leads that were right on the edge of making a purchase,” wrote one dealer. “The sentiment has been that it is irresponsible to spend this much money at a time like this. We are doing our best to keep in contact and make sure we are their first call when they are comfortable; however, that does not help move distressed inventory.”
“April was a very challenging month,” wrote another retailer. “Positive news is sales activity has picked up a lot, as more clients are seeing boating as a safe family escape.” n