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Speak of the Future


More innovation. More growth. More mergers and acquisitions. Conditions look favorable for the marine business to keep the steady pace with this trifecta as its modus operandi.

The new year is an ideal time to look forward. Despite the continued doggedness of Covid-19 and the worldwide supply-chain snafu that’s been keeping boatbuilders and dealers in a perpetual state of hurry up and wait, we continue to make headway. For our annual forecast feature, which begins on Page 14, we asked nearly three dozen industry leaders not only to look forward into 2022, but also to look back on what was a challenging and rewarding year.

A vast majority said that 2021 exceeded expectations. While some cited long-term planning and vertical integration as ways that to stay nimble, nearly all said that putting an emphasis on staff health and well-being was the linchpin of their organization’s success, even as headwinds threatened all year to blow them off course.

A great number of those we spoke to are bullish on 2022. I agree with them, as there are a multitude of reasons to be sanguine. As builders and dealers have pointed out, consumer demand remains strong. Take last fall’s Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show: Boston Whaler, Sea Ray, Scout Boats, Tiara Yachts, Valhalla Boatworks and Viking Yachts, to name a few, reported record sales. In addition, several indicators point to an acceleration in the U.S. economy. The most notable indicator is the Leading Economic Index, which signals that growth will continue in the last quarter of this year and into 2022.

But as I write these words, the omicron variant of the coronavirus appeared stateside — no surprise there — causing the Dow to nosedive and leading to more uncertainty about our daily lives. Time will tell how this latest variant will affect international travel and the delicate ballet that is the flow of commerce to our nation’s ports. What is certain is that Covid-19 will continue to challenge the world in ways that seem to mutate as much as the virus itself.

Realistically, no one can accurately forecast when the supply chain will return to prepandemic normality. The outlook is also uncertain about when production capacity will recover, with a host of major builders sold out through 2022 and looking to add manufacturing capacity as quickly and efficiently as possible.

One topic that seems to have been talked about less this past year or so has been our industry’s perpetual lack of qualified labor. Several of those we spoke with are looking to build back talent pools in manufacturing and field-based technical positions — the white vans you see at every marina — to keep vessels in tip-top shape with the latest electronics and more.

Looking back, we have a lot to celebrate. In the past few years, we have seen a wellspring of new boaters and many returning to the fold. Boating and fishing have clearly been the beneficiaries of a push to recreate in the outdoors. And boatbuilders have delivered a record number of new products under adverse conditions.

The challenge going forward, as it has been in past years, is keeping those new boaters engaged. We are fortunate for the campaign from the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation and the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas called “Get on Board,” which has yielded more than 2 billion impressions. At the same time, the Discover Boating initiative from the National Marine Manufacturers Association and MRAA has rebranded, with a new campaign to come in the spring. It also looks to be an integral part of the consumer boat show experience, set to premiere at February’s all-new Miami International Boat Show.

The players are in place. The public is ready to recreate. Let’s keep pressing on. 

This article was originally published in the January 2022 issue.


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