What’s holding our buyers back?

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As already reported, the Miami International Boat Show & Strictly Sail was another success and the Detroit Boat Show that runs until this Sunday racked up a very big first weekend.

Moreover, reports now coming in of more show visitors indicating they want to buy, along with reportedly better sales than a year ago, are all welcomed news. Pushing back, however, is a genuine sense that prospective boaters are still reluctant to move. What’s holding them back? In a word: uncertainty.

Thanks to NMMA vice president Cathy Rick-Joule, I was able to spend five days in the Discover Boating affordability display at the Miami show. I talked with hundreds of potential first-time boat buyers about how affordable and easy it is to buy a boat, even showing them a variety of boats priced under $250/month, less than an average car payment, I would tell them. And while many seemed clearly impressed by the information, they were equally as strong in suggesting they likely wouldn’t move forward now.

When I pressed them to share why they wouldn’t buy a boat they wanted now, there was one answer that repeatedly came up — uncertainty.

“I don’t think we know how much we’re going to have left with what’s happening in Washington,” they’d say.

Sequestration. The fiscal cliff. Deficit spending. The national debt. It’s all scaring the hell out of us. We’ve known about it since the summer of 2011. It was supposed to be settled last December, but the Obama Administration and Congress just punted any cuts to March 1. Meanwhile, the federal deficit is so big we have trouble comprehending it. We’re just thankful someone will finance it. And the prospect that we’ll have to cough up some unknown additional taxes to reduce it is leaving people . . . well, uncertain.

But what might be most distressing in all this is the apparent lack of genuine concern being demonstrated by the White House and Congress. And I found the bottom line for lots of those people who visited the Discover Boating exhibit was simply this: When people feel uncertain about the future, they just hold off purchases of durable hard goods. People don’t buy boats when they’re not confident.

I’m convinced the unprecedented political rhetoric flying through the air these days must be the single largest contributor to global warming — after all, it’s a product of hot air, isn’t it? So it’s not surprising, then, that against all this background, many people would say they don't feel they can move forward with a boat purchase right now, even if they’d really like to.

So what do we do? Short of the impractical idea of getting a new President and Congress, let’s just keep doing what we’ve been doing to keep moving forward as our industry’s improving sales indicate. And we should also recognize that when uncertainty is seriously diminished, there is every indication that a lot of finally confident new people could be visiting our showrooms.

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