Industry 'giants' address Vegas dealer conference

LAS VEGAS — The current economic news may not be good, but Wednesday’s speakers at the Marine Dealer Conference & Expo continued to offer dealers advice and suggestions on how to weather the storm until the market rebounds.

The sessions ranged from tips on strategic profit planning and successful marketing techniques to panel discussions from some of the industry's top leaders and lenders. The conference concluded Wednesday night with a gala for the top 100 dealers as named by Boating Industry magazine.

A session dubbed “Industry Giants” featured Brunswick's Dusty McCoy, Cobalt's Paxson St. Clair, Yamaha's Phil Dyskow, Genmar's Irwin Jacobs, Volvo Penta's Clint Moore, and MasterCraft's John Dorton. It was one of the most well-attended talks of the conference. The industry leaders discussed such topics as how dealers can best work with manufacturers, the credit crunch and the preowned-boat market.

When asked about expectations for a rebound, answers ranged from sales starting to pick up in the first quarter to the second half of 2009 as best-case scenarios.

“We think this storm is going to get much more severe,” said Moore. “We think ’09 is going to be real tough.”

Jacobs was more optimistic, saying he thinks things will begin to turn around earlier.

“I am convinced that we will see some changes. late in the first quarter even,” he said. “People are not going to give up boating.”

McCoy said he expected 2009 to be tougher than 2008.

“This thing is going to be U-shaped; it’s not going to be V-shaped. And we're not down the left side of the U yet,” he said. “We're going to see a lot of folks go bankrupt.”

McCoy noted that Brunswick's stock price was so low because “the world is betting on the fact that we're not going to make it.” But the largest boatbuilder will come out of this downturn strong and ready for business, he said.

“There’s real opportunity coming out the other side,” said McCoy.

Another panel discussion of particular interest to attendees was made up of lenders, who told the crowd there was money out there for wholesale and retail financing, but the criteria and documentation required to close loans is likely more strict than it has been in recent years.

Bruce Van Wagoner, of GE Capital Solutions, assured dealers GE was not getting out of floorplan lending, despite some talk in the industry of GE getting smaller.

“I fully expect that we will be funding business well into the future,” he said. “GE will remain committed to this business.”

Other lenders said there are still retail loans available for consumers, but dealers should expect more stringent criteria for these loans to be approved. Zero-down loans are likely a thing of the past, noted Scott Anderson of Merrick Bank, but the loans are there for qualified consumers.

“I think it was way too easy for too long,” he said, adding that down payments, proof of a stable income and other items, in addition to a person's credit score, will become more than the norm for evaluating a loan application.

Also Wednesday, the Darlene Briggs Award for Marine Woman of the Year was presented to Ann Baldree, national and international sales manager for Chaparral and Robalo boats.

“I'm very humbled and grateful for this award,” said Baldree, an industry veteran of more than 20 years, at an award luncheon. “Our industry is built on relationships, and, most of all, I value those that I've made along the way.”

The award, named after the late Darlene Briggs, of Wayzata, Minn., for her dedication to the marine industry, is presented annually to an outstanding woman who is actively involved in the industry at any level. It recognizes long and devoted service, commitment and the advancement of women in the marine business.

The award recipient receives a trophy and an honorarium of $1,000 presented by the Darlene Briggs Memorial Fund to be used toward her continuing education.

The January issue of Soundings Trade Only will include more from the Marine Dealer Conference & Expo.

— Beth Rosenberg


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