More Inventory Woes

A continued dearth of available boats is far and away the leading dealer concern for the foreseeable future
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This month’s Pulse Report survey had responses from 51 marine dealers, who again reported strong retail growth and record low inventory. For the second consecutive month, every one of the dealers reported that new-boat inventory was “too low” coming into the peak retail months.

One dealer remarked, “Boats. That is what’s working. Everything that is available is selling purely because it’s available. Customer referrals and word of mouth are stronger than ever before.” Another added, “Any brand of boat, new or used, doesn’t stay for sale very long. Service is crazy busy.”

Used inventory also remains lean, with 96 percent of dealers reporting that it’s “too low.” One dealer exclaimed simply: “We need boat inventory!”

The monthly survey is conducted by Baird Research in conjunction with the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas and Soundings Trade Only.

Marine dealers did not assess news from Capitol Hill or topics discussed at April’s American Boating Congress, such as federal infrastructure improvements and climate concerns, as highly meaningful. Some 55 percent reported that these issues were “not important” or only “slightly important” to the marine market.

One dealer commented, “Investment in the country’s infrastructure does not have a downside. Better roads, airports, planes, broadband, etc., increases the possibilities that can be delivered from such an investment.” Another said, “If the money was actually spent on infrastructure, it would have a positive impact.” And a third commented: “Infrastructure investments such as boat ramps, parking, dredging, bridge clearance that improve access to our waterways are a benefit. Federal investment to combat climate change is folly.”

Another dealer said about climate issues and future business: “Technology will have to improve rapidly for marine engines to convert to electric. Batteries and/or solar panels will have to become a lot more efficient. Will there be a big gap of time between availability of new technology and the last produced gas engine? Will government try to mandate changes and kill gas engines at some point, leaving boat dealers holding unsellable product before new tech product is readily available? Are profitable dealers going to be targeted to foot the new taxes needed to pay for the government spending?”

Sentiment about current conditions remained strong, though tempered slightly from last month (68 percent versus 77 percent) as supply-chain issues continued to frustrate dealers. One dealer commented, “Seems like anything will sell at this point, and we are in a frenzy. The only slowdown … is due to a lack of new and used inventory.”

Another added, “Manufacturers are still behind and unable to deliver on promised dates. Amazing that customers are willing to wait, though some just drop out since all dealers are so short of inventory.” And other commented: “Last 10 days of April, we began to feel the impact of the inventory shortage. Going to be interesting second quarter for boat sales.”

Industry reports indicate a likelihood of continued product crunches. Brunswick CEO Dave Foulkes recently said, “It remains very unlikely that pipelines will be significantly rebuilt until 2023 at the earliest.”

One dealer commented that, in hindsight, no one saw the lack of inventory as a looming problem. “Considering all of our viewpoints exactly a year ago today, we’re in a crazy market that seems to have a very long life ahead of it. Buckle up.” 

This article was originally published in the June 2021 issue.

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