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“Bad news is good news, and good news is bad news.”

That may be the mantra news people wrap themselves in these days as they repeatedly dramatize the same negative stories that, if consumed daily, are certain to demoralize any boat dealership’s sales team.

It makes little difference where we turn for our news these days. It’s certain to sensationalize the latest unemployment statistics with dramatic references to the Great Depression.

Enough already! Journalists that write that stuff need to study some economic history. Yet for many, such an unsupportable comparison simply overlooks too much.

Many leading experts and economists point out there are major difference between today’s downturn — the worst since the Great Depression — and the circumstances that made up that period of time.

Accordingly, these experts find it hard to agree with those who conclude the current situation will last as long. This downturn may ultimately prove to be comparable in measure and length to the recession in 1980 (brought on by the long forgotten Arab oil embargo) and the most recent financial collapse — the Great Recession — we lived through in the late aughts.

The truth: it’s all mostly speculation. One could hypothesize and see stark differences between downturns in the past and this one.

Referring to job numbers, Beth Akers at the Manhattan Institute points out: "These job losses are driven entirely by the shutdown of the economy, not market fundamentals. This offers some hope that a labor market recovery could be swift if economic activity can resume in the near term."

Further, looking at facts, we also must recognize that before the pandemic took hold there was over 157 million people employed in the U.S., an all-time record, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

And while the unemployment numbers have been dreadful — with over 26.5 million people not working — something positive can be said about the 130-plus million who are still employed.

It’s a no brainer to believe there’s boat buyers in that huge number!

Cornell University economist Erica Groshen writes that if those workers on the sidelines can be brought back at a speedier rate, it will help the economy recover faster.

"The more that employers use furloughs rather than pink slips, the more likely we are to have a speedier, more productive, and less stressful recovery,” says Groshen.

Groshen continues: “In the past, most workers on temporary layoff have been recalled to their former jobs. When they are, they can show up for work and be immediately productive because there’s no need for job search, recruitment, background checks, onboarding, training, getting to know teammates, etc. No firm-specific knowledge is lost.”

Unfortunately, for our boating industry it won’t be as easy as flipping on a switch. While we were sailing along with more than eight years of steady growth heading into the pandemic — and thankfully, many dealers are still seeing retail sales from prospects deep in the sales funnel from the winter boat show — it has changed literally overnight and dealers will have to be responsive.

As optimistic as we choose to be, history also teaches us our industry may not experience quick recovery coming out of this recession. I lived through four major recessions during my 34-year marine trade association career. Each one triggered some change in the industry and this one will, too. Previously, some manufacturers failed, bailed or disappeared entirely. Other model lines were acquired in whole or in part.

Many dealers struggled, too. Some didn’t make it. But just as important, many still prospered for a wealth of reasons.

Some stubbornly controlled their inventory and debt. Others steadfastly promoted to their existing customer base and at the same time, never stopped exploring for new prospects, utilizing social media and other online sources. A handful continued to run traditional media ads that featured customer incentives like prizes or enticing sales promotions. And a number received strong financial and promotional support from their engine and boat builders.

So, the bottom line is really this: Every team member in each dealership has control over whether he or she sees the glass half full or half empty. To spend time today listening to those who apparently relish reporting bad news can only lead one to make the wrong choice. 

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