‘Everything is Selling This Summer’

During the summer of Covid-19, buyers’ biggest criteria for purchase was availability
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Marine dealers say that the single most important factor for buyers of new boats this summer was not length, size, style, color or layout.

In a summer many have called unprecedented in terms of boat demand from new, returning and lapsed boaters, a survey of 86 dealers found that 75 percent said the most important attribute of a boat was whether it was available.

“Inventory sells as soon as we can get it,” writes one dealer responding to the Pulse Report, a survey by Baird Research administered in conjunction with the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas and Soundings Trade Only. “We just can’t get it fast enough.”

“Does not seem to matter what you do or not do,” writes another. “Everything is selling this summer.”

Widespread manufacturing shutdowns and the spike in demand meant many were scrambling for new product — one dealer said he was cleaned out by August, another said his showroom floor was emptied by May.

“August would have been much better if we had more inventory,” says one dealer. “The inventory that we were getting was getting sold before we could even unload it.”

Eighty-two percent reported that new boat inventory was too low in August, and 89 percent said used boat inventory remains extremely lean and near record lows, suggesting that the decline in those reporting retail growth (73 percent in August from more than 80 percent in June and July) was because dealers couldn’t get their hands on new boats.

Resupply of boats, motors and trailers had made summer sales particularly challenging, according to one dealer.

“Our suppliers can’t produce to match demand, and this will carry over into 2021,” writes another. “A year that started with doubt and anxiety ended with a total wipeout of inventory — it was crazy.”

In spite of the boom, many expressed growing concern about the pandemic’s long-term effects, as well as the upcoming election.

Dealer sentiment on current conditions edged down to 87 from its record 91 in July, and the three- to five-year outlook dropped from 65 in July to 59 in August — still above a neutral rating of 50, but a 22-point spread from current sentiment.

Some say they’ll be conservative with next year’s orders because they anticipate some attrition.

“My thoughts are that the next year or two, the market is going to get flooded with boats from those new boaters that did not know what they were getting into or got financed and cannot make the payments,” one dealer writes. “This will, however, create opportunities to buy pre-owned boats at great prices.”

Several worry that new boaters will become quickly frustrated by storage and maintenance costs, especially during winter months when the boat is put away.

“Waiting for the other shoe to drop on the economy and when new buyers realize they have to store and maintain their Covid boat,” says one retailer.

A Florida dealer says he was seeing new buyers struggle with the cost and lack of availability of storage in late August.

“I’m very afraid the industry is going to blow the opportunity with new boat owners from this boat buying frenzy,” another says. “We are in by very poor support from vendors. Dealers are doing the best they can with the cards dealt by vendors.” n

This article was originally published in the October 2020 issue.

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