Lack of manufacturer incentives was biggest headwind at boat shows

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Dealers said manufacturer incentives were not enough to get buyers off the fence to make purchases at boat shows — 32 percent responding to a survey said it was the biggest challenge to closing deals.

Another 28 percent said the high price of new boats was the biggest hurdle to boat show sales; 16 percent blamed stock-market volatility, 7 percent blamed government inaction and 5 percent pointed to the outboard engine shortage, according to the Pulse Report, a survey administered by Baird in conjunction with the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas.

“Manufacturer inaction with promotions since the factory is ‘SOLD OUT,’” wrote one dealer.

“Manufacturer programs, in most cases, don't put any urgency for customers to buy NOW,” wrote another. “Sterndrive sales were the worst we've ever had at a show.”

The remaining 12 percent of dealers said they had no problem closing deals.

“Great crowds at the shows, but getting deals written was tough,” said one retailer. “This seems to be the story every year but this year it stood out. Everything was right but couldn't get them off the fence.”

The sense of urgency might have been the biggest deterrent to boat show sales had it been an option.

“Consumer sentiment just is not there, boat show sales were at best half as successful as last year,” wrote one dealer. “There is just not that sense of urgency to make the purchase.”

Dealer sentiment on current conditions dropped from 55 in December to 53 in January. For context, 50 is considered a neutral rating.

Sentiment on the three- to five-year outlook improved slightly from December, from 42 to 44, but remained in negative territory for the second consecutive month as dealers anticipate the next downturn.

“Government shutdown was a major negative,” wrote one dealer in the comments section asking what is not working.

“Weather, government shutdown, manufacturer incentives,” wrote another.

But some were optimistic about market conditions.

“Industry as a whole is looking towards positive growth aside from the market,” wrote one respondent. “Loans tend to be strong. Product innovation is assisting in enticing new buyers.”