"Our industry isn’t going away, we’re going to make it stronger,” Dusty McCoy told more than 150 dealers, marina operators and others in Cleveland last week. The chairman and CEO of Brunswick was addressing the annual meeting of the Lake Erie Marine Trades Association during the Cleveland Boat Show. Moreover, he called for quick follow up to the successful “Recreational Boating Stakeholders Growth Summit” held in Chicago in December.
McCoy’s conviction that the industry will move forward was clearly the uplifting message the audience wanted to hear. But, he also didn’t hold anything back when he predicted it will take an unprecedented effort to get us there. That’s because the depth of the industry’s decline is also unprecedented. New boat sales, for example, are now at historic lows.
It’s generally assumed the decline began about five or six years ago and the Great Recession kicked it into high gear. The latter is true, but the downward spiral actually can be traced back to 1988, the last time our retail sales topped 500,000 new boats annually. From that year on, with several exceptions, new boat sales suffered a long gradual decline to a paltry 139,000 (estimated) last year.
Moreover, after 15 consecutive years in which the number of boats in-use rose to a record 17.75 million in 2005, boats in-use has since dropped by more than 1 million to about 16.6 million. Just five years ago, new boat sales accounted for 29 percent of all boats sold. In 2010, new boats accounted for only 17 percent, used boats climbed to 83 percent. “Boat builders kept adding features, thinking we could keep passing the costs on to the consumer,” McCoy said, “but that’s not working anymore.”
All is not gloom, however. The opportunities to turn things around are there, McCoy told the audience. For example, research indicates that of the 310 million people in the U.S., 150 million are adults who don’t currently boat. “That’s a great target,” he noted. “If we could get just 1 percent of them to get into boating we’d double our industry. We clearly need more definitive studies on the most meaningful ways to reach them, but I’m convinced we can capture that 1 percent and more."
McCoy applauded the first-ever “Growth Summit” that took place in December. “I think it could have accomplished even more,” he commented, “but it brought together virtually every segment of boating in an unparalleled and productive way. That’s very positive.
“But the momentum generated by the summit must not be allowed to fade away," he added. "I’ve suggested a panel of, say, 15 or so participants, drawn from a cross section of those boating interests, be assembled within the next month. I’m talking about people who are on fire for boating with a demonstrated passion for the sport and the industry – people who are decisive, highly regarded and, therefore, able to influence others. They will guide the next steps in research, communication and direction. We all have opinions in this industry, but few facts. One thing’s for sure - what used to be ain’t now."