Marine dealers say that joystick systems and multifunction displays have been the most important technological developments in the industry. Both are helping to take the fear factor out of boating.
Forty-eight percent of dealers responding to a new survey say joysticks have had the largest impact, while 40 percent think multi-function displays changed boating for the better, according to a survey conducted by Baird Research in conjunction with the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas and Soundings Trade Only.
“Technology platforms,” responds one dealer on what is working. “One of our brands has Nautic-On as standard and we have used it to close several deals since the start of the year.”
Another dealer says SeaKeeper gyroscopic stabilizers are helping drive sales.
But the technology has come at a cost. “Technology, such as the joystick, is too expensive when added to the price of a boat under 30 feet,” says one dealer.
Another complains that “technology is ahead of the manufacturer’s ability to provide support for tech problems.”
The rapidly rising price of boats also continues to concern dealers.
“Boating has now priced out the middle-class buyer,” says one retailer. “Only the near rich [and] very rich can boat.”
“Pontoon sales are beginning to soften because of their massive price increases over the past five years,” writes another.
New boat sales picked up in March for half of dealer respondents, while another 28 percent say they’ve softened.
One dealer says that boat shows are helping to drive sales, but those sales are delayed 30 to 90 days after the show — which could mean positive late March and April sales if that trend continues.
Hosting events also has also driven traffic.
“Spring fishing seminars bring over 100 people weekly to the store for six weeks,” writes one retailer.
Workforce pressures are still creating headwinds for dealers.
“We are making good progress building our workforce, but it is still a struggle to find talented people,” says one.
There appear to be regional differences affecting demand as well.
“Adding brands, gaining market share and thriving in a hot, regional economy,” says one, while another says the dealership is having a difficult time getting people to close.
“It certainly is a culture and process thing, but I have talked to many other dealers and they are having the same problems this spring,” writes one dealer. “Weather has been a factor, but it also feels like the consumer is much more cautious than they were last year.”
Dealers are growing more cautious about a potential slowdown, prompting dealer sentiment about current conditions to tick down from 67 to 66, and the 3- to 5-year outlook dropped to 53 from 56 in February.
Those readings are still above the 53 evaluation on current conditions in January and the long-term outlook rating of 42 in December — each of those marked the most pessimistic outlooks in the more than five-year history of the survey. (In early 2014, the dealer sentiment rating was 54.) For context, 50 is considered a neutral rating.
This article originally appeared in the May 2019 issue.