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Dealer sentiment enters negative territory

Survey shows dealers are concerned about the aging industry and price of boats.

Survey shows dealers are concerned about the aging industry and price of boats.

Short-term dealer sentiment dropped again in December to 55, and the 3- to 5-year outlook entered negative territory at 42.

Those are the lowest readings of dealer sentiment since Baird began conducting its dealer poll in conjunction with the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas in 2013. (Trade Only now partners with both in the survey.)

Marine retailers were less optimistic about current conditions than in November, with the index dropping from 64 to 55 in December. The reading was 76 in December 2018.

The 3- to 5-year outlook plummeted to 42 in December from 57 in November and 74 in December of last year.

Comments from dealers were politically charged, with several blaming the Trump administration for the drop in optimism and others blaming the recently-elected Democratic House.

Many also pointed to how expensive boats have become, with one writing: “Higher interest rates and large price jump in 2019 models are not helping sales.”

“All manufacturers need to begin to have no-frill products that bring entry level boaters back into the fold,” wrote one dealer respondent. “Base products, analog equipment, and mechanical items to reduce cost, yet still enjoy boating. Digital is great, however, we see the average family man getting pushed out of boating. We as a group need to offer an alternative. I don't have all the answers. However, the more sophisticated boats become, the further the middle class is pushed away.”

Another said families are limited by their Homeowners’ Associations, which do not allow boats and trailers to be stored outside, or homes without garages or garages too small to store vessels.

“Marina and boat storage facilities are now expensive and almost double that monthly boat payment,” wrote another dealer. “Add to that the cost of a tow-vehicle and we are pricing ourselves out of business, in my opinion. We sometimes forget how many options people have to recreate in a different manner and we discover only the die-hard boaters keep their dream alive.”

One dealer said that large horsepower outboards were finally starting to price themselves out of what should be a strong repower business, adding: “When the customer does the real math, the numbers aren’t adding up to justify a multi-engine repower.”

“With the exception of a few high-profile large markets, where the buyers are extremely well-funded, the recreational marine market is collapsing outside of PWC, pontoon, and extreme center consoles,” wrote another dealer. “It’s disappointing not to see the recreational boat owner numbers rising back to previous decades, but the discretionary income is the lowest I have ever witnessed.”

Dealers also complained that manufacturers were either offering no promotions or promotions that weren’t big enough to move the needle.

“What I hear: A buyer looking at an $80,000 boat and boat builder offers $2,000 rebate,” wrote a dealer. “Buyers states, ‘If you think that is going to make me buy a boat today at this show you are wrong.’”

“Manufacturers have taken a stance against promotions and leaving that up to the dealer,” wrote one respondent. “I believe in the long haul this will hurt those companies who are not promoting the products.”

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