Supply-chain problems have emerged as the No. 1 concern for many — if not nearly all — global industries as the pandemic continues to imperil segments of the population.
The unprecedented interest in boating and boat buying is still running headlong into lack of inventory. Manufacturers can’t build boats and other products fast enough to meet demand, and the situation is not expected to change anytime soon.
As a recent article in The New York Times stated: “The world is still short of everything. Get used to it.”
For our third installment analyzing the effects of supply-chain slowdowns on retail sales, Soundings Trade Only spoke with dealers in the Southeast about trying to fulfill customer needs. These dealers say that, a year and a half into the Covid-19 pandemic,
patience and products alike are in frustratingly short supply.
In Georgia and South Carolina, WaterSports Central (with dealerships in Buford, Greensboro, Clarkesville and Lakemont, Ga.; and Seneca, S.C.) reports little change in the supply-chain disconnect. Consumer patience is starting to evaporate, with customers no longer willing to accept the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse for product shortages and delays.
“What I do think has changed is people’s patience,” says Paige Mason, executive vice president and controller of WaterSports Central. “We are still working to be transparent, relaying the information as best we have it. But if we can expect to have a boat in the next 30 days and we share that information with the customer, and then the manufacturer runs out of a particular color of gelcoat, that boat can get pushed another 60 days. We’re having to make sure that the customers understand we’re giving them the most up-to-date information, and we’re going to continue to communicate with them.”
She says most manufacturers are being proactive and reaching out when they don’t have a critical item for a new boat, but still, the dealer has to mitigate any delays with the customer.
Customers, she says, no longer want to hear about the pandemic causing delays. Mason says she’s detecting lots of Covid-19 fatigue from customers. “They’re just kind of over Covid. We’ve had customers say, ‘I don’t want to hear Covid as an excuse.’ Believe me, I don’t want to give you that excuse, but I don’t know what else to tell you. We’re doing the best we can to communicate the information that we’re getting. The manufacturers, in their defense, are doing the best they can, also.”
Sonny Remillard, executive vice president of service with WaterSports Central, says the supply-chain domino effect extends to just about all areas of service, too, from electronics to batteries to propulsion. “All of the above,” he says. “It started with batteries when they were going on back order. We were running around the world, doing double time to source out batteries. Then we started seeing more and more things go on back order.”
Mason says stereo equipment “is almost impossible to get right now. It’s everything from stereo head units, thruster controllers, heater cores — I mean, it’s all over the board at this point, and we just don’t know what is going to go on back order next.”
Remillard says a lack of the most basic parts is now causing service delays. “Oil filters went on back order because manufacturers weren’t prepared for the rush,” he says. “One manufacturer got 500 oil filters in for the entire country and tried to figure out how to split them up. We ended up getting, I think, 32 split between five stores. The ultimate goal is keeping people on the water, and now [suppliers] are not able to help boaters stay on the water.”
WaterSports Central uses Lightspeed software for inventory management. It has helped the company distribute limited parts and accessories among its dealer locations. “Lightspeed lets us see what we have in stock,” Mason says. “The parts guy here in Buford can pull up what the parts guy in Seneca has and say, ‘Hey, can you ship me a part XYZ?’ ”
However, Lightspeed is internal and doesn’t extend to ordering parts from suppliers. That ordering process now includes placing orders online, then following up with a phone call to verify that the order will be fulfilled and when it will ship. Without the added phone-call step, Mason says, there’s even less supply-chain clarity.
“Say we need a fuel-sender unit that goes on the engine,” she says. “We look it up in Atlanta. They have over 10 in stock. We ordered it, waited two weeks. I said, ‘Where’s the part?’ Within us placing that order, their inventory changed to zero in national back order within a matter of hours.”
On the Gulf Coast
“I don’t have a single new boat in stock right now. Everything across the board has been behind,” says Jarett Myers, co-owner and sales manager of Paradise Marine Center in Gulf Shores, Ala. He says his dealership, known for its pontoon inventory, has lots of boats on order for next season, but delivery is beyond the control of the manufacturers, since so many pieces in the supply chain — upholstery, electronics, hull-finishing materials — are affected.
The good news, he says, is that the industry may end up with a stronger supply chain in a few years. “I think the best thing that’s going to come out of this is that now a lot of companies have second and third suppliers,” he says. “Not only is that going to help them build boats now, but it’s also going to help them with economies of scale and getting some negotiating back on the manufacturer side. They’re going to be able to have other sources for furniture and foam and windshields and harnesses and all kinds of small parts.”
Myers does not expect levels of in-stock product, including engines, to level out for at least two years. “That’s one of the bigger shortages,” he says. “A lot of dealers have no engines and bare transoms on boats sitting on the lot. I have a warehouse, and I stock a lot of engines. I actually sold probably 15 engines to other dealers to help them out.”
He says he has prioritized maintaining good relationships with manufacturers, if only because so much else seems beyond his control.
“If they’ve got to make tough decisions as far as who gets a quantity of boats, they’ll be in our corner,” he says about being in constant communication with manufacturers. “I control everything I can, and a relationship is one of the things I can control when I can’t get product or parts. That’s about all I can do,” he says. “But probably five months ago, I stopped trying to control things as much and just started going with the flow.”
This article was originally published in the October 2021 issue.