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Going, Going, Gone

Reflecting on the year that was for marine and RV, and how to repeat.

There’s a stillness to winter during those first two months of the new year that a great expanse of our country experiences. The cold and snow make themselves at home, and we settle into a collective torpor as we prepare for life after the thaw.

As I write this, it’s a few hours after that time of day when I needed to make hay — the sun was shining, but its rays seemed to be just providing illumination, as my weather app read 22 degrees, with the wind chill knocking it down to 14. Too cold for cycling, and besides, the roads are narrowed by mountains of snow. I bundle up, slip a wool sweater on the dog, and head out.

I have to work to keep my thoughts away from sun-drenched South Florida. Like many of you, I should be in Miami, hopscotching between downtown and Virginia Key for the concurrently running Miami boat shows. Among the largest of the pandemic-related canceled events, Miami serves as a canary in a coal mine of sorts on how well the industry is faring.

This year’s event would’ve been a real humdinger. The boating industry is coming off a year with numbers we haven’t seen since before the Great Recession: 310,000 boats sold and counting. Also in 2020, outboard sales hit the highest annual volume in two decades, with 330,000 units sold, up nearly 20 percent from 2019 and the ninth consecutive year of growth.

Tweedledee and Tweedledum

The RV industry was twinning with the boating business last year, with Americans embracing the great outdoors after emerging from strict lockdowns, eager for safe ways to recreate. Like boating, RVing proved an ideal way for families to take in the outdoor lifestyle. A panacea to escape pandemic-related stress, canceled vacations and team sports.

This consumer demand is directly reflected in the RV industry’s phenomenal sales figures: Shipments wrapped in 2020 up 6 percent, with 430,412 units sold, the third-best total on record, according to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association.

And RVIA sees no signs of business slowing, predicting that 2021 could very likely surpass 2020, with the industry on track to break 500,000 RV shipments for only the second time in its history.

These types of numbers, for RVs and boats alike, are a direct result of the true grit, pedal-to-the-metal manufacturing blitz that both industries went on after manufacturing facilities closed and supply chains ground to a halt.

And there’s no rest for the weary. During what are typically the slowest months of the year for boat sales, eight out of 10 retailers who responded to our monthly poll reported retail growth in January. On the RV side, an RVIA manufacturers’ survey yielded similar results. RV shipments finished December with an increase of 46.8 percent of shipped units, the best December on record.

Positive Growth, Possible Challenges

While both industries are poised for an even better 2021 than 2020, challenges remain. In a guest column, RVIA president Craig Kirby celebrates the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act as “the most significant piece of outdoor recreation legislation in six decades.” This law should lead to increased outdoor access for RVers and boaters. While Kirby cites this access as critical to the RV industry’s long-term growth, he also mentions the importance of keeping new customers in the fold. The RVIA’s consumer advertising arm, Go RVing, rolled out a first-timers tool kit with videos, articles and more, welcoming newcomers into the fold. The goal is to break down barriers and make them RVers for life.

Also in this issue, Marine Retailers Association of the Americas president Matt Gruhn praises the hurdles both industries overcame for an incredible 2020, but warns that both need to do more to follow-up with new customers. He has the stats to back up his claim, too. With CSI scores continuing to drop in the fourth quarter, the numbers that stood out the most were the lack of follow-up from a salesperson: 79.32 percent in marine and 72.21 percent in RV. As most dealers know, a score below 90 is simply unacceptable.

Less than four weeks after you read this, spring will usher in a contingent of new buyers eager to experience what we all love about RVing and boating. Let’s not forget about last year’s newbies before they’re going, going, gone out of the lifestyle because we were simply too busy to follow-up with them. 

This article was originally published in the March 2021 issue.


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