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The Struggle is Real

Retail trends flatten as dealers feel forced to add incentives for staff recruitment, retention
Screen Shot 2022-02-23 at 9.08.51 AM

Marine retailers are making adjustments in their employee recruitment and retention practices, including increasing wages and salaries, at the same time that retail trends are flattening.

“We’ve always offered training opportunities but have had to adjust wages over the last few months, particularly on the entry-level positions,” according to one of the 60 respondants for this month’s Pulse Report. “Starting pay being pushed on entry-level positions has pushed wages across the board because everyone wants a raise when you adjust the starting scale.”

The Pulse Report, a monthly survey conducted by Baird Research in conjunction with the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas and Soundings Trade Only, also noted dealers adding retirement plans, instituting 100 percent paid health insurance and providing flexible work schedules. “[We] pay for two-year-degree tech school for one tech at a time,” one respondent said. Another noted: “Base-pay increases with added performance-based commission structure has enabled us to retain existing employees and hire additional.”

This month’s survey was conducted during the last week of January and the first week of February, when respondents reported that inventory levels were still extremely low. Nearly half of responding dealers reported flat retail trends, though more reported declines (30 percent) than growth (23 percent) in January. Consumer interest in marine products remains strong, respondents said, but more product is needed to fulfill orders.

The number of dealers reporting too little inventory was about the same as during the same period in 2021, with 91 percent saying more product is needed and 2 percent saying boat inventory is too high. “Getting new boats is worse now than last year,” one dealer wrote. “We will run out of boats a lot sooner this year. Manufacturers are not catching up at all.”

Another said, “In most cases, the boat-buying public is getting accustomed to hearing of delays and shortages, so the most important thing we as dealers can do is keep the level of communication high. The worst thing we can tell a client is, ‘I don’t know,’ but as always, our clients deserve the truth.” Still another dealer said, “Very poor communication from the manufacturers on production problems. We never know what to tell the consumer. Runaway inflation has already taken the low- to midlevel buyer out of the boat industry. Only selling big, super-expensive products.”

Used inventory also remains extremely lean, and 88 percent of dealers said used inventory was “too low.” Overall sentiment about current retail conditions declined in January (to 42 from 59 the previous month). The three- to five-year outlook also decreased to 42 (from 54).

Some dealer comments indicated that steep price increases and unclear timelines from OEMs were creating retail concerns. “Price increases have taken a toll on the consumer,” one dealer said. “Those [OEMs] who can guarantee prices and timelines are winning deals, and those that have lost confidence with dealers due to pricing shenanigans and lack of communication on delays are seeing slowdowns. Manufacturers may not feel it yet, but dealers certainly are, and it will affect manufacturers in due time.” 

This article was originally published in the March 2022 issue.

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