Dealers report higher sales in April, but concerns remain

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More U.S. boat dealers reported higher sales in April than declines, according to the monthly Pulse Report, a survey produced by Baird in partnership with the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas and Soundings Trade Only.

The report found that 38 percent of participating dealers reported growth last month, while 30 percent reported declines. “Overall, sales are just okay, especially for this time of year,” said one dealer respondent.

In the used-boat market, 44 percent of the dealers reported growth, while 27 percent reported lower sales. One dealer noted: “Concerned about a softening. Listening to multiple earnings reports in the marine sector, almost across the board business in Q1 was softer than expected and bad weather used as the excuse. Yes, weather wasn’t ideal in the Midwest, but this may be a sign as to what’s to come.”

New-boat inventory was “roughly consistent sequentially” with March’s numbers, said the report, with 46 percent of dealers reporting it as too high and 14 percent as too low.

The sentiment on current conditions declined to 58 from 66 in March, but remains in positive territory. Sentiment on the three- to five-year outlook fell from March’s 53 to 45 in April. “Boat buyers seem to be getting sluggish and slow to decide,” said one dealer.

When asked about what has impacted their businesses most over the past decade, dealers cited changing customer habits, the rising price of boats and costs of running their businesses as the biggest changes. One dealer mentioned that consumers are “infinitely more intelligent” with online access to national boat pricing.

Others said new dealers have become competitors. "As business improved after the recession, many new dealers have popped up,” said one. “Most with low overhead, no real investment and no long-term plan, just to buy and sell quickly.”

The Pulse Report authors said they see “moderate growth” in the months ahead. “But not the mini-surge we would have expected if weather were the only factor holding consumers back,” they wrote. “There is plenty of season left, but our checks seem to confirm Brunswick’s decision to shave marine guidance recently.”

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