Seventy percent of boat dealers who responded to a monthly survey said they had at least “somewhat positive” momentum emerging from winter boat shows, with 38 percent saying momentum was “very strong” or “strong.”
But many respondents were all over the place when it came to their comments. Several who responded to the survey — conducted by Baird Research, the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas, and Soundings Trade Only — said traffic was up and they’d had one of their strongest winter show seasons ever. Others said buyers were more hesitant this winter than in the past.
“One of the best boat shows since the recession,” said one dealer, with another saying: “Wow, this year sucks!”
The mixed reviews could explain a sharp drop in long-term dealer sentiment, which measured 70 points in February, dipping 11 points from January. The short-term index also dropped, albeit slightly, from 82 in January to 79 in February.
The dealer sentiment ratings can range from 0 to 100, with 50 providing a neutral outlook.
Winter boat shows
No dealers reported that business has slowed coming out of winter boat shows, and 30 percent said activity coming out of the shows was “strong.”
“One of the best shows since the recession,” one dealer commented. Another said: “Good push for already robust market.”
Following the Miami boat shows, several dealers told Trade Only variations on this dealer’s comment: “Show was good. Units were down slightly, but average selling price was significantly higher,” said a dealer, echoing what several dealers told Trade Only following the Miami boat shows.
Commentary suggested that some of the fluctuations might have been felt regionally, in part because of bad weather. It also suggested that lack of product on the boat and engine side was slowing post-show momentum.
“Strong demand, unit sales price down year-over-year due to introduction of new pontoon line,” one dealer wrote. “Stock market crash happened the week before boat show, could have had an impact. Momentum good, and solid pipeline.”
Another commented: “Cautiously optimistic. Political instability offsets some of the tax cuts and market movement.”
Even though only 22 percent said they saw minimal momentum emerging from the shows, and just 8 percent said they saw zero momentum, some comments were strongly worded.
“After you spend time and money to sell a boat, people are not happy with the long lead times for an ordered boat currently,” one dealer said. Another wrote that sales were down 50 percent over last year.
“Good attendance; buyers are cautious,” one retailer said.
Retailers indicated that the economy, new products, OEM promotions and better access to credit all positively influenced demand in February, according to a report that Baird issued after the survey.
Several said tax cuts and government actions favoring small businesses helped give them momentum in February.
Dealers also indicated that weather, trade-in activity and government action or inaction — in that order — were negative influences on sales.
Retailers said insufficient manufacturer promotions, product shortages and too few affordable boats to draw new boaters were factoring into their decrease in long-term confidence.
“We need to make boating more [affordable] to young people,” one dealer commented.
“The industry needs a true entry-level boat,” another wrote. “Something that is significantly less than $45,000.”
Another dealer pointed to “weak promotions [and] product shortages for both boats and motors” as hindrances to business.
“Companies are not geared up to build enough boats,” another said.
This article originally appeared in the April 2018 issue.