Analyst sees innovation driving new-boat demand

Chilly weather might have inhibited late winter and early spring boat sales, but innovative product seems to be boosting boat show sales and leads across all price points, potentially enough to offset any early losses.

“I’m really encouraged by how innovation seems to be driving strong demand across the price spectrum, not just at the entry level and not just at the high end, where there have been really compelling innovations,” B. Riley analyst Jimmy Baker told Trade Only Today.

That extends to markets including tournament towboat builders such as Malibu, which is among the highest price-per-foot in the dayboat category, cruisers and the sterndrive boat category, Baker said.

“Finally we’re seeing some compelling innovation off the mat that the industry didn’t have in ’11 and ’12 because relatively few companies were investing in R&D and product design through the recession,” Baker said. “I think some of the innovation we’re seeing, particularly in the 40-foot and above market, is new for this year.”

That has the potential to accelerate the annual new-boat sales recovery, weather permitting.

“We will have a much better sense once we get further into the spring selling season, but at this juncture we remain comfortable with our 8 to 9 percent industrywide growth assumption, versus 6 percent [growth] in 2013,” stated the report from B. Riley that the company releases for a fee.

That number is more “bullish” than the consensus, but essentially is consistent with GE Capital’s expectation that the industry will grow 8 percent in 2014.

Despite the innovations spanning price point, the recovery will remain uneven by segment, the report said.

“Purveyors of fiberglass sterndrive [boats] were quick to remind us of this uneven recovery,” the report said. “We also note that several OEMs are emphasizing or introducing new product in faster-growing categories, which may serve to exacerbate the unevenness of this recovery.”

The report emphasized the increasing demand for both more affordable, quality boats, as well as increased high-end offerings across segments.

“We’ve heard several management teams and other industry contacts emphasize the need to lower the cost of boating. We agree this will be key to attracting younger new-boat buyers and the overall long-term health of the industry,” the report said. “That said, there is clearly a wealthier, often repeat new-boat buyer that is willing to pay a considerable premium for innovative features and styling.”

As mirrored in other segments, the success of premium product sales is contingent on product design and innovation, the report said.

“In several categories, ranging from pontoons to tournament towboats to fiberglass sterndrive [and] inboards, we are seeing manufacturers introduce products that push their retail price points higher than that respective brand has ever gone before — and they seem to be having at least moderate success in this endeavor, so long as the product is sufficiently well outfitted and differentiated,” the report said.

In terms of how weather affects sales overall, 2013 is a good blueprint, Baker said.

“There is a component of pent-up demand that can be recaptured throughout the balance of the year, and then there is a component of spontaneous sales that tends to be lost,” Baker said. “I would agree that January and February are borderline insignificant months in terms of registrations and sales.”

“What’s more compelling to me is … it sounds like dealers attending shows where weather wasn’t severely impacting [attendance] saw orders and leads up significantly, and they are converting leads into sales,” Baker said. “So there seems to be a pretty good backlog into late spring and developing into summer months. That gives me some consolation that although early sales were depressed by weather, those buyers who are serious or compelled by new products are going to shows, placing new orders and we see that getting into the selling season.”


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