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Boat sales show steady gains in January

Posted on February 20th, 2015
Written by Jack Atzinger

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Fishermen, pontoon-boat buyers and people who are attracted to small to midsize outboard boats have been leading the recreational boating industry’s rebound from the Great Recession. They may be getting some company.

Figures for January don’t contradict what has been a two-year trend, but they suggest that some of the bigger-boat categories may be poised to play a larger role in the moderate but steady sales gains the industry has been posting. January is a slow month — typically the third-slowest of the year, after December and November — so the numbers are small, but sales of cruisers and larger yachts all showed improvement as Statistical Surveys reported results today from 30 early-reporting states.

Sales in January rose 9.9 percent, to 3,532 boats, in the main powerboat segments, compared with the same month last year, and they rose 9.2 percent industrywide, to 4,876, in states that represent about 65 percent of the national market.

“The momentum of sales from last year has definitely carried over and consumer confidence continues to grow,” said Ryan Kloppe, national marine sales manager at Statistical Surveys.

Sales for the month were highest in the 11- to 40-foot outboard fiberglass category, where the gain was 11.4 percent, to 1,549 boats. Pontoon sales climbed 21 percent, to 531 boats, and sales of aluminum fishing boats rose 6.2 percent, to 972.

“Customers continue to set the purchasing trends, telling the industry that pontoons and fiberglass outboards will remain popular segments this year,” Kloppe said. “I was in Miami [for the boat shows] and there was positive buzz around the show regarding new-boat models, new engines and a lot of people buying boats.”

In the bigger-boat categories, the numbers were small but the gains were across the board. Sales of 31- to 40-foot cruisers rose by 23 boats, to 84, sales of 41- to 62-foot yachts climbed by 22, to 73, and sales of 63- to 99-foot custom and semicustom yachts increased by five, to 18.

The only category in the main segments that showed a decline was 14- to 30-foot inboards and sterndrives, where sales fell 19.5 percent, to 173. The segment has been steadily losing ground.

A majority of the top 10 states for sales in January were Southern, as is often the case during the heart of the winter in much of the nation. Florida was the leader among the early-reporting states with 1,784 sales, followed by Texas (718), North Carolina (273), California (246) and South Carolina (216).

Rounding out the top 10 were Arkansas (202), Tennessee (181), Michigan (157), Washington (113) and Minnesota (103).

Ski-boat sales showed a modest gain of three, to 132; jetboat sales fell by eight, to 53.

Sales of personal watercraft rose by 73, or 13.8 percent, to 603.

Sailboat sales rose by nine, to 106.

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Boating: Industry rides changes in sales, service

Millway Marina general manager Dana Bassett is trekking to Boston as a vendor in this week’s New England Boat Show, but he’s worried that the string of recent snowstorms will put attendance on ice.

“Not a lot of people buy at the shows anymore; they come to the shows to do their research, then they’ll go home and do more research (before buying),” he said.

The marina has historically sold and maintained Evinrude products, but has diversified in the last decade, responding to changes in buying habits since the downturn of 2008. The company has added Yamaha and Suzuki outboard motors, as well as boats from Sportsman, Roth Bilt and May-Craft.

The business model drastically changed for Millway during this time. “We focused more attention on service and keeping our customers up and running,” Bassett said.

Prior to 2008, about 40 percent of its business came from repairs and maintenance; since then it makes up almost 75 percent. It expanded its service department because of the increased demand for maintaining boats and motors.

Another change for the marina was a shift in customers buying used boats as opposed to new ones. Before 2008, new boat sales made up 25 percent of total sales, but at the worst of the recession, new boat sales dipped to 10 percent.

“We saw a lot of people getting out of large boats and downsizing, and we’re still seeing that trend,” Bassett said. “Our main focus is on that center console 18- to 30-foot range.”

But there’s been an upturn in the economy, and once again it’s having an effect on Millway’s business. “We’re starting to see some recovery from the downfall,” Bassett said.

“I think a big part of it is people looking for late model used boats with four-stroke motors, and they can’t find them,” he said. This is likely because manufacturers slowed production when the economic downturn hit, and the boats simply aren’t out there.

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Miami boat shows report increases in attendance, sales

Attendance was up slightly at Miami’s two Presidents’ Day weekend boat shows, where many exhibitors reported a bump in sales.

The 74th annual Progressive Insurance Miami International Boat Show Strictly Sail Miami, which ran Feb. 12-16 at the Miami Beach Convention Center, the Sea Isle Marina and Miamarina at Bayside, reported attendance of 96,000 visitors from around the globe. That figure represented a 1 percent increase over 2014.

Visitors to the Miami Beach Convention Center found a total of about 700 craft on display — significantly more than the 550 shown in 2014. Another 700 boats were on display at the other locations. Fishing and boating products and gadgets are a popular feature of the show.

“Early reports from exhibitors in every market segment indicate the show generated strong sales — in many cases, record sales — helping to kick-start momentum for the recreational boating industry in 2015,” said show manager Cathy Rick-Joule in a news release.

Some exhibitors said the 2015 show was their best ever. “This year exceeded our expectations,” said Lana Lohe of CNB Lagoon, according to a release. “We sold 16 boats and have two more under contract.”

Sean Halley of Boston Whaler also reported strong sales to boat show officials. “We eclipsed our targeted sales number, and those are signed deals!” he said via a release. “We still have many more to work — the show has been fantastic.”

Next year, the show will move to the Miami Marine Stadium Park and Basin on Virginia Key in anticipation of the Miami Beach Convention Center’s renovation.

“The City of Miami is investing $16 million to rejuvenate the Park and prepare it for the 2016 boat show,” Rick-Joule said in a news release. “Additionally, [the show manager] will build customized docks and erect state-of-the-art structures to accommodate land exhibitors.” The Strictly Sail Miami segment will remain at Miamarina at Bayside.

At the 27th annual Yacht and Brokerage Show near the Fontainebleau on Miami Beach’s Collins Avenue, management also reported an increase in 2015 attendance and displays.

The show, which ran from Feb. 12-16, brought out several hundred exhibitors. During the five-day event, boats stretched 1.2 million square feet over a mile-long strip of Indian Creek Waterway from 41st to 51st streets.

Many exhibitors also reported “significant sales,” that have continued through this week, said CEO of Show Management Efrem Zimbalist III.

The number of show attendees and the total number of boats on display went up by 2 percent, Zimbalist said. The number of yachts on display in the 105-foot to 150-foot segment increased by 20 percent.

“As an industry, we believe that we will continue to see a rise in attendance and new exhibitor displays as the economy continues to improve and luxury condominium projects with marinas are currently in development and pre-sold in South Florida,” Zimbalist said in the statement.

Bob Denison, president of Denison Yacht Sales, said his company sold 12 boats this year, up from nine last year.

“Miami Boat Show is awesome because it’s truly an international boat show,” he said. “The entire weekend, we were having conversations with people that were from not only different parts of the U.S., but people from Central and South America, definitely Europeans coming into the show. It’s very much a global city, which makes an event like this more like an international one.”

Denison said the company sells boats at more than 20 shows a year, but the Miami Beach boat show is unique.

“The weather was absolutely amazing every single day,” he said. “There was a very positive mood on the docks.”

Justin Joyner, sales manager at Beneteau Powerboats, said his company also saw more sales this year.

“Our brand is starting to be very well recognized here,” he said.

Beneteau Powerboats exhibits at more than 70 boat shows throughout the year and has been showing at the Miami Beach event for about 5 years, Joyner said.

“It’s our Super Bowl,” he said. “It was the best show we’ve ever had.”

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