Marine dealers reported growth in new boat sales in August, with 55 percent of those responding to a survey saying sales grew, versus the 20 percent that said sales declined.
Short-term dealer sentiment ticked up from 77 in July to 78 in August, but long-term sentiment dropped from 73 to 65, possibly reflecting a variety of concerns they expressed about tariffs, the rising price of boats, a deepening workforce shortage and recent marine acquisitions.
"Trade war is hurting business,” wrote one dealer responding to a survey by Robert W. Baird in conjunction with the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas and Soundings Trade Only.
The tariff situation seems to be exacerbating dealers’ fears that rising prices are edging out the middle class of buyers.
"New boat prices are continuing to climb,” said one dealer. “With interest rates climbing I believe we are starting to price people out of the market."
New boat inventory comfort appears balanced but weakened sequentially, with 41 percent of dealers saying inventory was too high, versus just 24 percent who thought it was too low; 35 percent of dealers thought their inventory levels were just right.
“Smart dealers will avoid the temptation to buy too much this fall. The industry has been on a nice run and it's easy to lax inventory management,” commented one dealer. “Through our 20 groups, we are seeing inventories starting to creep up. When the slowdown comes, it will leave high inventory dealers in an expensive spot.”
Sales across segments and geographies seemed spotty; dealer cited pontoons, tow boats, and fiberglass as being both strong and weak.
Nearly all said long lead times were an issue for boats, parts, as well as engines.
"Cannot get the new models that were introduced at the winter shows,” remarked one dealer.
Used boat inventory continues to be scarce, and one dealer said that "used boats of any kind will sell." Only 17 percent said used inventory was too high, while 61 percent of dealers reported used inventory as being too low.
Only 5 percent of dealers said wait times on orders was under 30 days; 69 percent said they were waiting more than two months for their orders to be filled.
“A lack of product has hindered us,” said one dealer, while another said that “demand outpaces supply significantly.”
“Not feeling like a customer of the manufacturer and more of an employee being told what to buy,” said one respondent to the survey.
There were growing concerns about other issues as well, such as politics and the upcoming election, and the red tide in Florida.
“Water quality in Florida is a serious issue and does affect potential buyers’ willingness to become boaters,” said one.
Read more about the survey results in the October issue of Soundings Trade Only.