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Retailers Are in a Vise

Inventory and parts elude dealers, while labor and input costs rise
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Marine retailers are increasingly caught in a squeeze, unable to procure enough boats to fulfill potential sales and unable to find enough qualified staff to serve customers.

“The lack of new inventory has definitely slowed business, on top of the boat dealers sending us what they have rather than what we want,” said one of the 60 respondents to this month’s Pulse Report survey.

“With satisfactory levels, we could have sold at least 30 extra boats this year,” another said about inventory.

The Pulse Report, a monthly survey conducted by Baird Research in conjunction with the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas and Soundings Trade Only, highlighted worsening dealer sentiment in March. Still, more dealers reported that they were able to eke out retail growth in the month. Inventories are expected to remain below optimal levels into 2023 or longer.

The inventory challenges are not limited to finished boats. According to one respondent, “Shortages for key parts are still a problem — controls, harnesses, etc. — holding up deliveries on some inventory.”

Potential customers seem wary because of record-high gasoline prices, and rising inflation and interest rates. Even with a boat in stock, the increasing retail price is becoming a barrier for some buyers.

“If it’s available, consumers are already refusing to pay new, inflated pricing on discretionary goods and services,” one respondent said. Another stated: “There are no promotions, just an incredible increase in price of all essential goods. Boat prices are going up way too fast and will not come back down.”

Some dealers are finding creative solutions to keep customers interested. “We rolled out a gas card promotion for entry-level pontoons that has been gaining a lot of traction,” one seller said. Another added: “Our word of mouth and sponsoring local fishing tournaments is our best marketing tool.”

Still other retailers said the inventory shortages can have had a positive impact on other departments, as consumers need alternatives if they can’t upgrade to a new boat.

“If they are not able to buy a new boat, they may be able to repower their current boat,” one respondent stated. Another said, “Since we can’t get boats, we have to rely more on service and rentals.”

Hiring qualified staff has become an intensifying frustration. Retailers report spending more than ever on recruitment, only to find a lack of applicants for skilled and less-skilled positions alike. “We are currently in the hunt for two service people,” one respondent said. “We have had a difficult time finding people and then finding people that want to stay. We’ve hired a few that only lasted a week to a couple of months. Very frustrating.”

One electronics dealer is leaving revenue on the table because of the staffing challenges. “We only have one installer/tech at this time due to hiring difficulties and high employee costs [such as] workers’ comp. Business would double if we had two installer/techs.”

Another respondent is seeking one technician and one apprentice, and is seeing those openings affect the existing team. “The employees we do have are slacking because they know there are no replacements out there to fill their place.” 

This article was originally published in the May 2022 issue.

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