Industry leaders give us their forecasts for the new year and most expect it will be much like 2015 — they say that type of slow, steady growth is positive, given the hit boating took in the recession.
President, American Boat & Yacht Council
Over the years I have had the privilege to be asked my predictions on the upcoming year and what I expect to observe in our industry.
This year I decided to do something a bit different; my 2016 forecast is by committee. We at ABYC are fortunate enough to have a talented staff, so I asked them: What are you seeing out there? The answers were fast and furious and definitely worth sharing.
Kevin Scullen, ABYC membership director, is most intrigued with the rise of peer-to-peer rentals and boat clubs. The popularity of this type of boating experience cannot be denied. Boating without the cost and time of real ownership is an appealing proposition, and a number of our members are getting involved from both a franchise and manufacturer standpoint.
In terms of regulations, liability and insurance, many of us are interested to watch how the growth of the rental/club market will unfold. How will this play out in 2016? Boat-sharing services may open up the world of recreational boating to many who before did not consider it.
Ed Sherman, ABYC vice president and education director, is encouraged by manufacturers embracing the entry-level product — a “no-frills,” quality product to get folks on the water for an affordable price. Taking a look at some of these boats at a local dealer, they are not necessarily stripped-down models, with everything as an optional upgrade. Solid attention to the ABYC safety standards, use of affordable refinements and several color choices make these boats one the consumer will want, not just one they have to settle for.
My forecast for 2016? With expanding options for safe, easy and affordable boating, I see more entry-level boaters on the water than ever before, and that’s a good thing.
Senior vice president, marketing and communications, National Marine Manufacturers Association; president, Grow Boating
In my roles at the National Marine Manufacturers Association and with Discover Boating, our industry efforts help attract people to the boating lifestyle and keep them in boating by improving their boating experience. In 2015 Discover Boating exceeded benchmarks by sending more than 2.9 million visits to participating boat manufacturer websites, an increase of 66 percent over 2014.
We’re sending people to manufacturer websites to continue exploring boat ownership and learn more about brands and models. That focus remains the same for 2016, and it’s a reminder for boat manufacturers to make sure their websites are in the best shape possible for accepting these visitors.
Looking ahead, it’s important for our industry to be focused on inviting a younger, more diverse audience to get on the water and experience boating — ensuring we are inviting future boat owners. Discover Boating is doing this through our collaboration with country music star (and boater) Jake Owen, as well as our targeted digital advertising, social media and public relations efforts.
What other marketing opportunities are on the horizon to grow interest in boating in 2016?
Video is a highly impactful tool that can bring boating to life. While video is obviously not new, the opportunity to pay to enhance distribution of that video across social media channels is something that’s growing exceedingly effective. This is especially the case on mobile devices. One out of every five minutes on the Internet while on a smartphone is spent on Facebook and Instagram. Video on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram is now commonplace and Google will be on board in 2016. Expect a significant increase in Discover Boating’s online video advertising in the year ahead.
Given the high use of mobile, a mobile-friendly website is critical. On Discover Boating websites, 37 percent of traffic comes from a mobile device — up a whopping 265 percent in 2015 — with tablets accounting for an additional 17 percent of traffic. Mobile searches have surpassed desktop searches, and mobile-friendly websites get a boost from Google’s ranking algorithm. How mobile-friendly is your site?
Then there’s retargeting, or targeted online advertising based on a person’s previous Internet actions (where their actions did not result in a sale or conversion). If you’re not familiar, visit an online retailer — let’s say Amazon.com — and search for any product. Don’t be surprised if you then see that very product the next time you visit your Facebook page or check the weather. This form of advertising is twice as effective as non-targeted ad campaigns (according to Brandanew.co).
With so much exciting marketing potential on the horizon, Discover Boating will continue to stay ahead of these changes and trends and share what we learn so that as an industry we are doing everything we can to invite more people to become boat owners.
President, Boston Whaler
In 2015 the market played out mostly as we anticipated, with the U.S. as the primary global growth driver while international sales largely struggled in the face of a strong U.S. dollar and recovering local economies.
Outboard-powered center console boats led the growth, with the larger-boat segment growing faster than smaller boats. As we look forward into 2016, we anticipate that many of these trends will endure.
Emerging trends include the re-entry of more lapsed boaters to the market (those who once owned but currently do not own a boat), an apparent increase in the popularity of boat clubs and the constant challenge to meet tech-savvy customer demands across a broad spectrum of mobile devices.
To be successful against this backdrop, boat manufacturers and dealers will have to continue to refine how they add value to customers and position themselves as reputable, long-lasting and forward-thinking brands.
At Boston Whaler we’re proud of the many awards and accolades we’ve received in recent years for innovation, customer satisfaction, job creation and manufacturing, as they reflect our commitment to and deep understanding of the consumer and the changing market dynamic.
But we need to increase this focus on and investment in our VOC processes by pursuing creative engagement strategies across multiple touchpoints. Digital platforms, customer events and other forms of engagement serve as two-way conversations that are a valuable source of insight.
We’ve seen, for example, that while the majority of boaters buy on price, a significant number of discerning buyers are willing to pay for a higher level of functional luxury and purposeful innovation. This trend continues to shape our focus as we build off the popularity of our 320 Vantage and 420 Outrage with several new models.
Finally, I believe we should all seek to increase our efforts to conserve the environments in which we boat, whether it’s a commitment in time, money or resources. I’d encourage everyone to reach out and support groups like the Center for Coastal Conservation, a coalition of leading fishing and boating advocates who are dedicated to promoting the conservation and use of ocean resources. That’s a long-term goal upon which we should all agree.
Managing partner, Coburn & Associates; director and past president, National Marine Lenders Association; chairman, Michigan Boating Industries Association
The retail side of the recreational boating industry improved again this year, and we expect more of the same in 2016.
Overall economic news remains primarily positive. Employment continues to improve, based on current U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures. Unemployment rates are forecast to reach 4.5 percent in 2016. Consumer confidence has been at or near the 100 mark for most of 2015 and is expected remain in the same range throughout 2016.
Consumer fuel prices are very favorable, with per-barrel crude values forecast to remain low through 2016. Inventory levels continue to be healthy and well managed since the end of the Great Recession.
A downside factor to watch is interest rates. Most national economists expect interest rates to increase 0.75 to 1 percent by year-end 2016. That will surely increase the manufacturing and retail cost of a boat and could have an effect on boating affordability.
Industry trends will continue to bode well for businesses and consumers. Boating participation remains strong for the fifth straight year. While new-unit sales are not exceeding pre-2007 performance, they are slowly rising into positive territory.
Last year we expected annual recreational boating expenditures to eclipse $37 billion, but they fell short by $1.6 billion. We now forecast 2015 expenditures to surpass $36 billion this year and achieve $37 billion by the end of 2016. That would equal the all-time high of $37.6 billion attained in 2006.
Boat loan capacity will remain positive in 2016 as more lenders, both wholesale and retail, serve the needs of this important business space. The latest survey of key marine lenders reveals that boat loan underwriting guidelines are steady and boat loan bookings continue to increase.
Marine lenders indicated they remain optimistic for new-loan volume in 2016. Consumer boat loan delinquency rates also remain low, as lenders project delinquency will remain stable in 2016.
President, National Marine Manufacturers Association
These are interesting times! As I reflect on 2015 and look to 2016, it occurs to me that every year is interesting. This was another good year for recreational boating, with new powerboat unit sales expected to see up to 8 percent growth.
Pontoon boats and other aluminum boats were among the first to recover from the recession five years ago, and they continue to see gains. NMMA expects the aluminum segment to increase 6 percent in 2015, making the category likely to surpass 2008 figures.
Saltwater fishing boats will see their third consecutive year of double-digit growth, expected to be up 10 percent in 2015. And boats over 40 feet are regaining their footing with gains of as much as 9 percent in 2015.
Based on partial-year results, most boat categories will experience growth in 2015, including jetboats, up 18 percent; wake boats, up 12 percent; deck boats, up 11 percent; personal watercraft, up 8 percent; bass boats, up 5 percent; and other fiberglass outboard boats, up 11 percent.
If new powerboat sales (including personal watercraft) grow 6 percent in 2016, total unit sales could get very close to eclipsing 250,000 units. Five years ago, that was a number most people in our industry were unsure we would ever see again.
What is so interesting about all of these gains? This past year marked the fifth year of industry growth. Historically, up cycles in recreational boating don’t last more than five years. Does that mean this up cycle is over and it is time to hunker down? I don’t think so.
The global financial crisis wasn’t a normal downturn, as we all well know. Due to its severity, the recovery in our industry and the U.S. economy has been slow and measured. There remain many segments of our industry that have not returned to prerecession highs, providing room to grow.
By the time you read this, I suspect the Federal Reserve will have increased interest rates, signaling their view that the economy continues to strengthen. Unemployment is at 5 percent, which the Fed considers full employment. Early signs of upward pressure on wages are beginning to appear.
Driven by consumer spending, which has increased nearly every month for the past three years, consumer confidence continues to ebb and flow but is higher today than it was, on average, in 2014. Gasoline prices remain low, and there aren’t predictions for oil prices outside of $40 to $60 a barrel for a number of years. All of these economic conditions are good for recreational boating and new-boat sales.
We continue to see a shortage of preowned boats, and, combined with an explosion of new-product innovations, demand for new boats should continue. What’s more, new-boat inventories are near record lows. In some ways that is extremely healthy. In other ways it raises concerns about sales lost due to unavailability or long delivery times. Maybe dealers and manufacturers are working together more effectively than ever to maximize industry turns and profits.
As a result, it’s no surprise 2016 is already shaping up to be another interesting year!
Executive director, Marine Trades Association of New Jersey and 2015 MRAA Darlene Briggs Woman of the Year
For the first time in many years I am very excited about the year ahead and the growth that I believe the New Jersey boating industry is going to experience in 2016. There is clearly growth in the marine industry as a whole, and even more importantly on a local level.
Three years have now passed since Hurricane Sandy devastated our great state and destroyed so many of our businesses and homes. While the effects of the damage are still around us and lingering costs continue for those most impacted, it no longer consumes our days and nights, and we can think about a life without Sandy.
Mother Nature provided us with absolutely beautiful weather for our boating weekends this past summer, and we saw more boaters on the water than we have in years. Many of the waterfront homeowners who lost their homes in the storm were finally settled and back on their boats. As a result, boat sales, fuel sales, slip rentals, parts and service were all up for many of our members.
In addition to the great boating season we experienced, there is more reason for optimism in the coming year. We have been fortunate to have an administration that supports our industry and boating as a whole. 2015 brought significant regulatory changes that will make it easier for marine businesses to do maintenance work or to enhance and expand their facilities.
The State Channel Dredging Program is making great progress in moving forward and dredging some of the most needed waterways in our state, and we are even seeing a slight increase in boat registrations for the first time in a decade.
Lastly, a sales tax bill, which passed both our Senate and Assembly almost unanimously, is sitting on the governor’s desk for signature as I write this. It is a bill that will stimulate boat sales here in New Jersey by reducing the sales tax by 50 percent for all boat purchases with a cap of $20,000. We are hopeful that this will be the incentive that buyers are looking for to make that new-boat purchase in New Jersey and grow our industry once again.
In speaking with our member businesses all around the state, expectations for the coming year are mostly positive. The fluctuations and challenges of the past few years have caused many to remain cautious, but all signs are pointing to a good year ahead. They have reported that winter storage, slip rental deposits, sales and service are all up.
Our boat shows continue to see a strong demand for exhibit space, which signals not only confidence, but growth in the market and new products available. Couple all of that with stable fuel prices, incentives to buy and good weather, and 2016 may be the year we have all been waiting so patiently to see again.
Brand manager, Wake Tractor
Every generation is different; each has endured diverse challenges, creating swings in what is popular in music, fashion, communication, transportation, etc.
The boat industry is no exception to generational shifts, and neither are we excused from a changing world. Millennials, whom author Jean Twenge calls “Generation Me,” are establishing themselves in the professional world, an already confident and tolerant culture, despite a troubled economy. Not only is this generation becoming a consumer, many find the industry compelling to work in.
These millennials will be innovative leaders very soon. “Interface,” a term you will hear a lot this year, will soon become as important as hull design. This term will bring life to your tablet and computer systems but will be a challenge when it comes to warranty claims, given the marine environment and this new frontier in technology.
A boat is becoming more than just fiberglass/ aluminum, steering wheel and motor. It is becoming a lifestyle, and with that you will see brands that embrace the lifestyle succeed while others that resist it lose market share. I see millennials, interface of technologies and lifestyle branding becoming important in the next year and years to follow.
Show director, IBEX
While standing in the main saloon of a spectacular 85-foot sportfishing yacht on display at the Fort Lauderdale boat show, I overheard a man say to his friend, “The U.S. boatbuilders have really raised the bar.”
This is a compliment to everyone in our industry, and it clearly indicates the boat business is back on track and moving in the right direction. From sleek new hull and deck designs to stunning interior features and fixtures, boats continue to evolve, which is critically important to inspiring potential buyers to invest in a boating lifestyle.
As long as we have boatbuilders who are willing to raise the bar and take advantage of the new innovative products and technologies being offered that contribute to building a better boat or improving the boating experience, our industry will continue to thrive.
The most reliable indicator I have to forecast the coming year is listening to the 550-plus IBEX exhibitors who are the world’s leading marine product manufacturers. Many of our exhibitors report strong sales in 2015, and they expect that trend to continue through 2016. Many claim that investment in innovation continues to drive sales, which is not surprising. Each year at IBEX it is the exhibitors who offer new products who get the most attention.
Looking ahead to IBEX 2016 at the Tampa Convention Center in Tampa, Fla., I can assure you it will be an exciting and dynamic event with expanded docks and an additional first-level exhibit hall, plus many more new features and events to be announced.
We expect both the exhibit halls and the expanded docks to sell out. IBEX is where better boats begin, so mark your calendars for Oct. 4-6 and come see where the marine industry is going in 2016 and beyond. I look forward to welcoming you all back to Tampa.
Managing director, Info-Link Technologies
The boating industry has experienced modest yet steady growth over the past few years, and in many ways 2016 will follow a similar pattern. The economy is relatively healthy, more people are working, home values are rising, fuel prices are low, and new-boat inventories are in check.
These stable market conditions gave us an opportunity to catch our breath, but we believe 2016 will shine a brighter light on the urgency to attract more first-time boaters.
Our industry is both a beneficiary as well as a victim of its own success. Generally speaking, we build boats that can last a lifetime. Almost 90 percent of the 3.5 million new powerboats sold in the U.S. over the past 15 years are still in use today.
This is good news for those who provide boat maintenance, insurance, storage and marine supplies. And with advances in engine technology it makes practical sense to repower these boats, which of course benefits engine manufacturers and distributors.
At the same time, we’ll see some selective softening in new-boat sales because there is sufficient inventory in the existing fleet to meet much of the current demand. There are always people who prefer to buy new, but most of them already own boats that have to be sold. This is where first-time buyers are especially important because they typically enter boating via a preowned purchase.
There is a symbiotic relationship we need to foster in order to maintain this delicate balance and lessen our reliance on current boaters — primarily older, white males. It is therefore crucial that we get more people involved in boating, be it via preowned sales, rental, sharing or other means. The number of first-time boat buyers has been declining for the past several years. Now is the perfect time to invest in our future to reverse this trend and strengthen our industry.
Vice president, Westrec Marinas; president emeritus, Association of Marina Industries
The marina segment of the recreational boating industry has likely been quicker to recover from the recession than other segments, and I expect that recovery to continue in the coming year. Although many marinas saw occupancies drop and rates were essentially frozen, we’ve seen those same slips fill up again, and many marinas are beginning to “inch” the rates back up again.
In most markets we have seen increasing levels of activity, especially in transient boating. Many boaters are back on the move, and it’s likely that lower fuel prices have contributed to this uptick in activity.
There are a number of recent trends in the marina industry that I expect to see continue in the coming year. Many marinas are planning or undergoing substantial upgrades, renovations or renewals. Boaters are demanding more value from their marina experience, and that includes upgraded docks, utilities and especially Wi-Fi.
Another trend continues to move smaller boats out of the water, including boat lifts, both floating and fixed, and large drystack storage developments like the one Westrec is building in North Miami Beach. The 500-plus-boat storage facility will be available in late spring, and the expectations are for strong occupancy at opening.
The biggest trend in the coming year for the marina segment is one toward consolidation. Over 25 years ago Westrec was a pioneer in acquiring and managing a large number of marinas across the country. In recent years others have used the Westrec blueprint to build marina chains.
Most recently, Westrec’s growth has been through third-party management rather than acquisition, but in the coming year we’ll see marina management companies fueled by equity investment partnerships competing to purchase marinas. The high level of liquidity and competition in investment capital markets is making investments in small, unique markets like marinas more attractive than ever before.
Successful operations yielding a return on investment will be the key to perpetuating this formula, and experienced marina operators will be more highly valued, as well. There will be no better time than 2016 for marina operators to pursue their certified marina manager credentials.
Access to new capital should promote an overall upgrade in marina facilities and services. This might translate into an improved boating experience, and the entire recreational marine industry could benefit.
President, Marine Retailers Association of the Americas
This is the hardest article to write each year. We’re asked to look into that proverbial crystal ball and project what things will look like throughout the year ahead when, let’s be honest, there’s no way to know.
We don’t know what ramifications an ever-escalating Middle East conflict will have. We don’t know if oil prices will remain low. We don’t know which comment will put the final nail in The Donald’s campaign coffin. And we have no clue who our new president will be or what impact the election cycle will have on our economy.
But here’s what I do know. Our industry is only about halfway back to its prerecession sales volumes, and despite the lagging growth, we’re already suffering from a severe lack of qualified technicians.
We struggled with this prior to the recession. But we lost 35 percent of our dealership storefronts during the downturn, so you’d think that our workforce challenges would have dissipated. That’s simply not the case.
At November’s Marine Dealer Conference & Expo, we tackled this topic with ideas and solutions on how to confront this problem head-on. It’s not going to be easy. And it’s not going to happen overnight.
We need to come together as an industry and create opportunities for our businesses and our workforce. We need to create attractive careers with a growth path that our technically minded employees can aspire to. The approach to this must be multifaceted, calling on the insights and expertise of engine builders, boat manufacturers and dealership principals. And it must start immediately.
We often look to the RV industry and admire how they’ve returned to growth. But imagine the problems we will have when we return to our prerecession sales numbers if we don’t have the technicians to service the boats we sell.
The time to prepare ourselves is now, and here at the Marine Retailers Association, we’ve made it a priority to address this in the year ahead.
Vice president, industry relations, American Sportfishing Association
The fishing and boating industries have enjoyed modest growth over the past two years. Based on current economic conditions, and barring any unforeseen events that would significantly impact our economy, we should again see modest growth in 2016. But based on increased government regulations and efforts from organizations that seek to limit recreational fishing on public lands, it’s going to take more involvement from the fishing and boating industries to ensure we have continued access to fishing, allowing more boats and equipment to be sold.
Current data show us that the total number of fishing participants includes approximately 29 million fishing license holders and 46 million people over the age of 6 who went fishing at least once last year. We also know that 5.9 million people returned to fishing, of which 2.4 million fished for the first time. However, 5.8 million people who went fishing, for a variety of reasons, chose not to fish again the next year.
So what does that mean for participation in 2016? That’s a good question. The answer may be more about what the government tries to do versus how good the fishing is.
Bass fishing will remain steady as kids get more involved in high school and college-level competition. Saltwater fishing should remain generally strong along the coastal United States, depending on the species and time of year. El Niño has had an incredible impact, creating some of the best fishing off California’s coast the state has ever seen. As long as El Niño is a factor, fishing participation will remain strong and sales even stronger.
However, because of poor data and less-than-robust management at the federal level, the National Marine Fisheries Service limited red snapper fishing in the Gulf of Mexico to only nine days in 2015. There is plenty of information to support that the red snapper fishery is in good shape, and recreational anglers should have the opportunity to fish many more days than are currently allowed.
Conservation efforts by anglers and the need for thoughtful, recreation-minded management by state fishery agencies will help ensure that fishing will continue to be good for anglers across the country. This helps lead to stronger fishing tackle and boat sales.
I’m going to get on my soapbox now. We all need to do our part to become better educated about the issues and engage in the efforts to fight for our sport. To increase participation in fishing and boating, it’s all about R3 — recruitment, retention and reactivation. Please go online to learn more about and support TakeMeFishing.org/VamosAPescar.org and DiscoverBoating.com.
To ensure that boaters and anglers have access to quality fishing, your voice needs to be heard. Go to the American Sportfishing Association’s KeepAmericaFishing.org site and the National Marine Manufacturers Association’s BoatingUnited.org site to get involved. Since Florida is the No. 1 fishing state in the union, ASA has increased its advocacy efforts there under the state-based Keep Florida Fishing initiative. Everyone — from anglers and boaters to the marine and boating industries to retailers — needs be a part of the solution.
Sales director, Statistical Surveys
As 2015 is wrapping up and winter boat show season is fast approaching, we take a look at what 2016 has to offer.
Let’s start by looking back at some trends in 2015. It was another positive year for the boating industry, showing moderate year-over-year growth around 7 to 8 percent. Over the past few years some solid trends have been established, which continued through 2015.
The usual boat types that have been posting growth continued to flourish in 2015. Ski boats, jetboats and PWC are posting double-digit growth for 2015. Pontoons and aluminum fishing boats also showed high single-digit growth from the previous year.
Fiberglass outboard boats continue their success, with both inshore and offshore models posting big gains. Fiberglass sterndrives still remain off the pace from the previous year but have gained momentum in the latter part of the season.
As we glance ahead, I believe that 2016 will be a great year for the boating industry. We should continue to see the same trends outperform previous years and post moderate single-digit growth, ranging between 3 and 6 percent in 2016. This positive outlook takes into account that 2016 is an election year, the impact of rising interest rates and continued weakness in energy production and prices.
Our industry this past year did a great job of introducing new and innovative products that consumers want and asked for. For continued success in 2016, we need to build on that momentum and continue to develop new products and attract new potential buyers from all generations and demographics to the water.
In a world full of computer games and simulation, one thing you can’t simulate is the incredible feeling of boating and being outside on the water.
President, Rec Boat Holdings
Our company has invested consistently in the last six years to support the growth we envisioned for our group of brands. In spite of the fluctuations in demand for our main segment, we have continued to develop new models across all our brands, which have allowed us to maintain volumes.
The launch of our Scarab jet offering could not have come at a better time for us. We have more than replaced the lost volume on the sterndrive side with the Scarab orders. All indicators tell us the jet has become a viable option to the sterndrive buyer. As a result of these efforts we have seen strong support from our dealer networks. By expanding our offerings and leveraging our new ownership, we have achieved better results.
We feel optimistic about the U.S. market. We expect a flat to low single-digit growth in the market, with our new models generating incremental volumes. We will continue to monitor and reduce our field inventory. This creates a win-win situation because we reduce the dealers’ exposure to the fluctuation on the demand side while replacing them on the production floor with bigger units that are seeing more immediate demand.
The Canadian market will likely remain soft. Over the last two years, with the overall decline of the economy and the resulting weakening of the currency, our focus has been to reduce inventories and keep our dealers financially solid. We are confident that we will start seeing some growth, assuming the dollar remains stable around the current levels.
International business has been a bright spot for us. Our association with Groupe Beneteau has allowed us to provide exchange rate support to our dealers in key countries, giving us a distinct advantage. Our dealers have leveraged this well, which has resulted in significant gains in some countries. We expect the international market to grow in the low double-digit range, and our market share to grow within those markets, which should have a compounded positive impact to our business.
Overall we are looking forward to a solid boat show season, which will lead to a strong spring. Our dealers are committed, and we will keep our eye on market fluctuations and adjust appropriately.
President, Regulator Marine; chairwoman, National Marine Manufacturers Association
First let me put on my NMMA hat. As an industry we are involved in the Progressive Miami International Boat Show. Throughout much of 2015 our dedicated NMMA staff — especially Cathy Rick-Joule, show manager — has worked tirelessly to move the boat show from Miami Beach back to the city of Miami.
As this article is being prepared, electrical is going in, and tents are being built at the historic Miami Marine Stadium. I continue to be amazed at all that has been accomplished in slightly more than a year. I find it exciting to think about what the 2016 show experience will be for our exhibitors and customers. The 2016 Miami boat show, in its permanent new home, will be an event unrivaled in its 75-year history.
As an industry we will continue vigilantly fighting for our rights to use public trust resources and to fish in unrestricted waters. No access and no fish eventually means no jobs. Through our advocacy, never before has it been so easy to send a message to Congress. Click a button on Boating United, and an email message goes to our respective federal legislators.
However, there is no substitute for face-to-face visits. Once again in 2016 we will have an opportunity to tell our story — economic impact and jobs — directly to our elected officials at the American Boating Congress (May 9-11). As I look ahead I am hopeful that this year will be the largest ABC to date.
With fuel prices at their lowest levels in recent years and the economy continuing to strengthen, the industry should continue to see growth. “New” will continue to sell, and customers will continue to expect from us in the marine industry what they experience in other areas of their lives — new models, features, technology and ease of operation.
With more new products on the drawing board and a plant expansion, we here at Regulator are very excited about what we believe 2016 will bring.
Dustan E. McCoy
Chairman and chief executive officer, Brunswick Corp.
At Brunswick, our assumption is that little will change in the global economy for the foreseeable future. GDP growth in major markets will remain at or below 3 percent, providing little impetus for growth, while foreign exchange pressures will continue to provide economic headwinds.
And while we in the industry will continue to live in this slow-growth economic environment, we also believe that the global marine market itself — in terms of unit growth — is going to be in the 3 percent to 5 percent range overall, with certain segments growing faster than others.
The U.S. market, the world’s largest, will grow in the mid-single-digit range; however, growth outside the U.S. will be less and mixed, depending upon region.
We at MarineMax are encouraged by our revenue growth exceeding 20 percent for our 2015 fiscal year ending Sept. 30, albeit a year challenged with world economic issues and a slow-recovering middle-class America.
2016 should be another industry recovery year, albeit the world economies, real unemployment and an election year may present obstacles along the way.
We are very pleased with the new, innovative models from our manufacturing partners, as “new” continues to be the driver of sales, giving the consumer a good reason to buy or trade, coupled with consumer confidence at an all-time high since the Great Recession. All in all, we feel good about 2016 and are convinced we will continue to take market share, as our customer-centric strategies of teaching, servicing and showing our customers how to enjoy boating is continuing to be validated by our customers.
When I communicate with our MarineMax team and review our customers’ satisfaction, I am encouraged by the reinforcement of what I have known most of my 42 years in our industry, and that is that boating, if done properly, changes people’s lives by connecting them with their inner emotions, which boating invokes, and also is the best connection vehicle with family and friends.
As I continue to hear families say, “Thank you for a recreation which the whole family can enjoy,” I become even more optimistic about the future. Boating truly does change people’s lives, and I believe it is the very best recreation, which I validate every opportunity I get.
President and CEO, Marquis-Larson Group
2015 started out of the gate relatively strong and positive. Boat show sales were up year over year, show vs. show, we added numerous dealer partners to our growing dealer network in key markets, we launched more than a handful of new models and made numerous changes to our existing products and portfolio, and consumer interest increased in each of our brands, based on lead generation, Web traffic and activity, as well as dealer feedback.
Then it slowed considerably.
The impact of the Canadian recession, global instability, the strength of the U.S. dollar and oil prices, plus China’s recession and the impact they have on the world by devaluing their own currency greatly affected our business and the momentum we had from the start of 2015.
Therefore, as we look ahead at what we think will happen in 2016, we go into the year cautiously optimistic. We are fortunate at the Marquis-Larson Group that we have a group of diverse brands and a product portfolio mix that allows us to ride the highs and lows of market trends or market segments. As a result, we still feel the market growth and demand will be for both fresh- and saltwater fishing, pontoons and large cruisers, 37 feet and up, especially in coupe-style models.
Overall we are pleased with our results and activity, based on the economic factors outside of the United States and our control. As for 2016 and the Marquis-Larson Group, we will continue to take advantage and invest in those market segments that are experiencing growth in the U.S. while keeping a keen eye on the global financial markets and the dollar’s strength as we progress through the year.
President and CEO, Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation
In the coming year consumers will continue to use their mobile phones more and more to access the Internet, and they will flock to online retailers like Amazon that have quick-click purchasing.
Millennials, who have already exceeded the baby-boomer generation in size, will continue to grow, adding younger and more diverse consumers to our population each day. What does this mean for the boating and fishing industries? It means we have a great opportunity to capitalize on these trends. We need to modernize boating and fishing, and we need to make it easy to participate, or people will choose other activities.
In 2014 boating participation fell slightly, to 87.3 million, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association, and fishing participation rose slightly, to 46 million, according to RBFF/Outdoor Foundation research. We gained 5.9 million new and returning participants to fishing. The problem is, we lost 5.8 million.
In addition, we continue to see large numbers of women and youth take up the sport, but they’re lapsing out at very high rates. And this has been going on for quite some time.
To plug this “leaky bucket,” the entire industry needs to focus on the three Rs — recruitment, retention, reactivation. We need to not only recruit more participants through the Discover Boating, Take Me Fishing and Vamos A Pescar campaigns, but also retain existing customers and reactivate lapsed participants via state and industry outreach.
I’ve seen the industry make great strides over the last several years to coordinate efforts. We’re all in this together, and what affects one group affects the whole ecosystem.
Bottom line — if we can continue to collaborate and partner to reimagine boating and fishing and make it attractive to today’s and tomorrow’s customers, we stand a chance at increasing participation.
Larry Russo Sr.
President and CEO, Russo Marine
I am a forward-thinking, optimistic, glass-is-always-half-full kind of guy. Over the years, I seldom showed any real caution when pursuing a goal or business strategy. Growth was always my mission, and it was always followed by hard work and a few sleepless nights.
However, the Great Recession, referring specifically to 2008-2009, was such a difficult time, I cannot seem to shed the memories of the stress and pain it caused in our industry, in our business and with our employees. As a family, we vowed to never be in that position again. After 2009 we began to think about “when” the next economic downturn would hit our business and how prepared would we be.
I have been at the helm of this ship since the early ’70s, and as a child I vividly recall the recession of the early ’60s and how it affected our family at that time. It brought our then 20-year-old business to its knees, and my father thereafter always referred to those years as “The Boat Depression.”
And to make matters even worse, the industry was also struggling with the changeover from wood to fiberglass. The pioneers stubbornly wanted to stay with wood construction, and the upstart innovators wanted to shift to fiberglass, and neither camp was making any real money at the time.
As I look back over my lifetime, our country has suffered a significant recession about every eight to 10 years. Let’s do the math. Aren’t we about to experience another slowdown in our economy within the next one to three years? Are you thinking about this, too? Have you developed a strategy to ensure that you can weather the next downturn? How’s your inventory, your debt load and your cash reserves?
The year 2015 was momentous for Russo Marine — our 75th year in business. It was one year ago this month that we announced we would sell our flagship property and build a new store 22 miles north of Boston. We needed to prepare our business for the inevitable — the next downturn — and this was our strategy: sell our oversized facility and build a right-sized dealership with a lower operating cost structure.
This would align us better with the “new normal” in the marine industry. After we sold our former property, we were then able to retire all our debt (except floorplan), invest in a new dealership and still bank surplus cash. By “right-sizing” our business to the new normal, we projected a reduction in fixed operating overhead of 40 percent, and we are on track to achieve this goal.
So you wonder — what’s the new normal in the marine industry? As I see it, it’s a prolonged continuation of low unit sales, slow revenue growth and, sadly, declining boating participation. Over the past 10 years, Russo Marine has experienced a decline in new and preowned boat unit sales of 47 percent and a decline in boat sales revenue of 24 percent.
Even with this sharp 10-year decline in sales, we still rank No. 1 in share for the brands we represent in our markets. What fuels our business is the ongoing sales of more expensive boats. For example, a 32-foot boat in 2006 sold for $180,000. The very same brand and model sells today for $240,000. We are simply living off the inflation in our products. And lastly, since 2006 the number of registered boats in the United States has decreased from 16 million to less than 12 million — a very troublesome 25 percent decline.
When the next downturn comes, we will enjoy having no mortgage debt, lower overhead expenses and cash reserves to sustain our operations. That’s our outlook for the future. What’s yours?
President, Yamaha Marine Group
2015 was a great year for Yamaha Marine, with stable growth and a host of new-product introductions. What’s in store for 2016? It is shaping up as a promising year for growth for Yamaha Marine, its boatbuilder partners and its dealers.
The fundamental underpinnings of the industry remain strong. Unemployment keeps slowly dropping, the GDP has been slowly rising, and boating participation is stable. What’s more exciting is that 30 percent of current boat owners say they will be in the market for a new boat over the next three years.
There are some important consumer trends. Yamaha Marine consumers continue to buy up in new-product purchases. They want new features and more convenience. These are not first-time buyers; they are veterans who are invested in the boating and fishing lifestyle.
The best example of this trend is greater interest in Helm Master, Yamaha’s fully integrated boat control system. Sales of Helm Master-equipped boats were up 150 percent in 2015 vs. 2014. That’s truly amazing, and it proves my point. Customers want more convenience and serious marine features in their new products.
In addition to the benefits of better systems integration, Yamaha’s target consumer group will want even better reliability, fuel efficiency, more compact, intuitive design and perhaps most important of all, even better customer service. Serious boaters and fishermen take care of their products. Yamaha is committed to meeting their needs. Let me give you an example of some initiatives you will see roll out in 2016.
The service side of our business will see a big boost from a number of new Yamaha programs aimed at improving training for our dealers’ technicians. In addition, we are creating a new service management training program focused on improving dealer service management and profitability.
Finally, we aim to create new technicians with New Service Skills Technician training classes. We want to achieve extremely high levels of customer satisfaction. Doing that means having well-trained technicians and profitable dealers.
Of course, we will continue to roll out our next- generation, high-technology 4-stroke outboards, just as we did in 2015. Each generation of our outboards is designed to be lighter, more efficient and just plain better than the ones they replace. I can’t give you more detail than that at this time.
I look forward to seeing you all in Minneapolis and Miami!
Efrem “Skip” Zimbalist III
Executive chairman, Active Interest Media
There are a lot of crosscurrents that will affect the international marine industry in 2016.
The U.S. economy continues to be relatively strong despite regulatory headwinds. Absent an external shock, domestic sales of new and brokerage boats should continue the pattern of mid-to-high single-digit growth. Concerns about election results and modest interest-rate hikes might temper growth a little, but the order backlog, aging of the fleet and the continuing introduction of innovative new products should provide enough impetus for another good year. As 2015 ends, our experience at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show was encouraging, with buyers opening their wallets more freely than at any time since the recession.
The strong and strengthening dollar makes the U.S. an attractive market for imported new and brokerage yachts, and the caps on sales taxes further encourage this trend. At the same time, it makes foreign sales of U.S. product less attractive.
Potential worries include the impact of very low crude oil and natural gas products on our economy. While most domestic consumers benefit, boat buyers from oil-producing countries have been seriously hurt by the direct and indirect effects of the low prices. This has already been felt in the domestic real estate market, which could have a ripple effect on other adjacent industries. Further, political instability in multiple regions around the globe, combined with terrorist attacks in the West, could put a damper on consumer confidence if they persist and escalate.
So, in summary, 2016 should be a good year, but there are more uncertainties on the horizon than at this time last year. We all have to do our part to make sure these uncertainties are resolved in ways that are good for our country and our economy.
This article originally appeared in the January 2016 issue.