Archive for » September 19th, 2017«

Century Boats adds Racetrack Marine to dealer network

Century Boats announced that it signed a new dealer agreement with Racetrack Marine of Berlin, Md. Racetrack is owned and operated by brothers George and Scott Smith.

“Century Boats is excited to welcome George and Scott and their entire team at Racetrack Marine as our newest dealer,” said Bryan Lucius, president of Century Boats. “Based in Berlin, Md., Racetrack Marine is ideally poised to provide new boat sales and service to boating enthusiasts throughout the entire Isle of Wight Bay area – including Ocean City.”

As an authorized dealer of Century Boats, Racetrack Marine now offers the entire lineup of Century models including center consoles, walkarounds, expresses and the dual console, 24 Resorter. In addition to new boat sales, Racetrack Marine employs a staff of boat technicians and provides onsite storage, boat trailer service, diagnostic services and more.

“Our goal is to serve as the one local shop that meets all of the sales and service needs for our customers,” said George Smith, president of Racetrack Marine. “Our customers here in Berlin and throughout Ocean City have strong passion for their vessels, and it’s our goal to keep them happy and out on the water as much as possible. Adding Century Boats to our sales offerings was an important decision for our dealership – and we know that our customers will appreciate the quality, performance and legacy that Century delivers.”



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The tow boat category continues to post year-over-year sales growth

“Same old, same old” can be a fine state of affairs, especially if you sell tow boats. For the past six years the tow boat category has been a consistent winner in an industry that is, in many ways, still finding its stride in this era of economic recovery. 

According to new data from the National Marine Manufacturers Association, the tow boat category continues to demonstrate steady, consistent year-over-year growth. From a base of 4,850 boats reported sold in calendar year /2011, the segment has marked consistent increases in unit sales every year since, with 5,500 boats sold in 2012, 6,100 boats sold in 2013, 7,100 units sold in 2014, 7,800 units in 2015 and 8,700 boats sold last year. 

“Sales of tow boats have been a growth leader during the recovery,” said NMMA’s Director of Industry Statistics and Research Vicky Yu. “The category has marked double-digit growth in unit sales over the past five years.”  

Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Statistical Surveys Inc. pegs unit sales for the ski/wake category as growing by 12.06 percent in 2016. This represents a pleasing increase over the 10.16 percent year-over-year growth for the category shown in 2015, but still lags behind the 15.96 percent bump seen the year before. At least some of that fluctuation can be explained by low water levels throughout the Southwest, a key market for tow boats. Some of the strongest sales gains reported by SSI in 2016 were achieved in areas that were seriously impacted by prolonged droughts that dropped water levels on local lakes below accessible levels. Basic Trading Area markets measured by SSI in Texas, Arizona, California and Utah, for example, posted year-over-year unit sales gains as high as 33.33 percent once the water came back.

Correct Craft President and CEO Bill Yeargin expects dollar growth to stabilize in the tow boat segment.

All the toys

Although unit sales of tow boats continue to grow steadily, the cash value of these boats has also risen each year. NMMA pegs the collective retail value of all tow boats sold in 2016 at a whopping $818.3 million – an average of roughly $94,000 per boat. 

“The market is less than 70 percent of pre-downturn units, but the average sale price per boat has gone up a fair bit, which probably brings the segment to near or above pre-downturn dollars,” said Correct Craft CEO Bill Yeargin. “The average price increase is a result of new technology – particularly related to wakesurfing – and a move to larger size tow boats.”

While Yeargin said he expects to see continued growth in the segment, unit growth could slow in the year ahead as more boat manufacturers try to tap into the surfing phenomenon. 

“I would also expect the dollar growth to stabilize, now that most of the boats are already sold with surf technology,” he said. “The one wildcard is whether customers keep demanding larger boats; if that happens, the dollar sales will continue to grow at a faster pace than units.”

While larger boats obviously drive prices up, it is the steady up-featuring of all tow boats that has allowed manufacturers and dealers to grow profit margins most significantly in the face of lower volumes. Just as no one buys a car these days without air conditioning and power windows, there is little consumer interest in boats that don’t offer even a basic level of luxury features. 

“Consumers want all the toys, like integrated Bluetooth connectivity, wave-shaping devices, integrated GoPro cameras, upgraded finishes, convenient board storage and incredible audio quality,” said Mastercraft Boats President and CEO Terry McNew. “So even though we’re still below the high water mark in terms of units, we’re much more profitable now. The average unit price has grown by about 50 percent since 2006, and that’s largely due to the technology we’re now including in the boats. As with automobiles, the technology increases the retail price but consumers demand it regardless.”

The upward migration in tow boat size and features has fuelled an equally lucrative uptick in the used tow boat market. NMMA pegs the number of pre-owned ski and wake boats sold in 2016 as growing by 6.8 percent over 2015, with used tow boats now representing 2.1 percent of all used boat sales. Used tow boat unit sales have increased every single season for the past five years.

The lower selling price of used tow boats makes them attractive to first-time buyers and customers with more limited financial means. But pre-owned boats may lack the more modern features that these buyers still want. 

The MasterCraft NXT line is targeted specifically at younger professionals and younger families.

Some manufacturers have begun to address this price-feature gap with lines of less expensive tow boats that provide a limited selection of the most popular features. 

“Our NXT product is targeted specifically at younger professionals and younger families,” said McNew. “The NXT has the same materials, engines, fiberglass and warranty as our other boats, it’s just thoughtfully contented so the consumer gets what they need without stretching the budget. Our research has shown that about 40 percent of NXT buyers are new to boating. These people might have bought a used boat as their first boat in the past, but because the price of used boats is almost as high as an entry-level NXT, they choose the new NXT with its full warranty and its higher resale value.”

Maryville, Tennessee-based Skier’s Choice, manufacturer of the Supra and Moomba tow boat brands, has also targeted more price-sensitive buyers with some of its models. 

“Some of the boats in our segment now sell for more than $150,000. So the questions is, how high can prices go before consumers cry Uncle?” said Skier’s Choice National Sales Manager Chris Crysdale. “As the boats get more and more expensive, there’s a risk of creating the impression that these boats simply aren’t affordable. High prices also have the effect of slowing the product life cycle as people become less likely to trade in their old boat for a newer one.”

Surfing still drives the market

While it may have its roots firmly in water skiing and wakeboarding, today’s tow boat market is riding a wave of popularity based in the wakesurfing phenomenon. It’s one activity, said Crysdale, that appeals to boaters of all ages. 

“We hear from a lot of aging Boomers who used to water ski, I mean 65, 70 year-old guys, but they haven’t been behind a boat in 25 years,” he said. “The whole surfing thing intrigues them because there’s a bigger surface area, you’re going 10 miles an hour so it doesn’t hurt when you fall, you’re not going to be all stiff and sore the next day, and they don’t have to hold onto the rope the whole time. It’s something the entire family can do, since the interest in wakesurfing goes right across generations. … Surfing is something that appeals to people of all ages, so it represents a major family activity.”

The near-universal appeal of wakesurfing – backed by a surging economy – has the potential to lift tow boat sales volumes beyond pre-downturn levels, said Malibu CEO Jack Springer. 

“The tow boat industry sold about 13,400 units in 2007, and it’s selling about 8,700 units per year today. But the positive economic factors we’re seeing are strong, and they could push us back to the kind of numbers we saw before the downturn,” he said. “What will drive it there is the whole surfing phenomenon, which is still early in its life. There are so many people who still don’t know what surfing is, and I’ll tell you, it’s a rare day when someone doesn’t stop us on the water and ask what we’re doing behind the boat. There’s an immense market there, and we’re only scratching the surface.”

Source: Info-Link Technologies

The flourishing interest in wakesurfing coincides well with the rise of the Millennials as a buying force in the market. Young families are attracted to the fact surfing has multi-generational appeal, making it a rare activity that brings parents, grandparents and kids together unlike any other.

Competing for the attention of these young buyers is a growing fleet of sterndrive-powered surf boats based on Volvo Penta’s Forward Drive system. For now at least, the upstarts have probably helped the tow boat market rather than cannibalized it, simply by attracting more attention to wakesurfing as an enjoyable family activity.

 “We have not heard of an impact from our tow boat dealers related to the Volvo Forward Drive,” said Yeargin. “We do know that the Volvo Forward Drive is helping those in the sterndrive market, and we have had dealers approach our Bryant brand specifically because we can offer it.”

If any tow boat manufacturer has an interest in the sterndrive market, it’s Malibu, with its acquisition of Cobalt earlier this year. The company believed sterndrive-powered surf boats would become a feeder system to tow boats and Springer said that seems to be the way it’s working out.

“I give full credit to the manufacturers building these products, because they’re getting a lot of people interested in surfing and raising the profile of this activity. But the experience is still quite different than what you have in a tow boat,” said Springer. “To my view, no kid ever grows up aspiring to play minor league baseball. They grow up dreaming about playing in the majors. Tow boat wakesurfing, because of what the boat can do, is major league. As the kids are introduced to surfing, they want the best possible experience.” 

With Malibu’s acquisition of Cobalt, Springer said the company has an opportunity for further expansion in that market and have something to offer in both market segments. 

“If you think about what we can do now with a Cobalt boat, we can tailor the running surfaces, tailor the swim platforms, potentially add some ballast, and also put Surf Gate on those boats, that’s going to be a very compelling dynamic,” he said. “Of course we have an excellent existing relationship with Chaparral, and I don’t expect that to change. But because we own Cobalt, we have an opportunity with that product.”

A rosy outlook

On the whole, the future for the tow boat category looks very bright indeed. By every indication, the steady, sustainable growth that has categorized the tow boat segment should sustain over the next few years at least. A stable economy, growing consumer confidence, improved access to water, low fuel prices, favorable dealer inventories and growing interest in water sports overall point to sustained year-over-year growth in the high single digit to low double-digit range, as the tow boat segment continues riding the wave.  

Malibu CEO Jack Springer said wakesurfing will push the tow boat segment back to pre-recession unit numbers.

Category SWOT analysis

To truly understand the tow boat category today, we asked boat manufacturers to analyze it with a SWOT, considering the category’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. 

If there’s one strength that seems universal, it’s the growing popularity of wakesurfing – “amazing family fun” as Yeargin puts it. “Surfing is huge, and we’re just seeing the beginning of it,” adds Crysdale. “Most of the boats we sell are to families, and that’s a growing demographic.”

Price perception – the suggestion that tow boats are too expensive for most families to afford – was identified as the category’s single greatest weakness, although lower-priced entries are beginning to address that concern. Further droughts and water level fluctuations, however, remain another area of concern. 

“Our country is so large there’s often a drought somewhere,” said McNew. “Access to water is always a concern.”

Opportunities to grow the tow boat category are many and diverse. Simple demographics provide an obvious opportunity for growth, as millions of Boomers begin winding down careers just as millions more Millennials begin to enter the boat market. So too is the opportunity to grow wakesurfing beyond its fresh water base and take it into coastal markets. 

Innovation – always a category strength – is widely seen as representing the key to future opportunities. As tow boats grow increasingly complex, making them easier to use becomes more important than ever. Whether it’s automated systems to help operators get just the right wake, or refined control systems that make tow boats easier to drive and dock, innovation will remain a key to earning market share.

Potential threats to the tow boat segment are said to be the same issues that threaten all of boating. An aging customer base and not attracting enough new boaters is a threat, as are regulatory concerns. 

“Bad decisions by people who don’t have a clue about boating are a big threat,” said Springer. “Financing is something we need to watch as well, since if it gets too expensive it will impact everyone.”



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Camden band gifted $17K boat

CAMDEN — The Camden County High School band program is selling raffle tickets for a 23-foot May-Craft powerboat to fund needed uniforms and instruments.

The boat was donated by Ray and Kathy Brandi of Elizabeth City. The band is selling raffle tickets for $100 apiece and is limiting sales to 300 tickets. The boat has been appraised at $17,500.

Chris Whitehurst, who is in his eighth year as director of bands at Camden County High School after 10 years at Perquimans County High School, has seen remarkable growth in the band program in recent years. With that growth has come extensive needs for equipment to keep up with the program’s expansion.

“We have doubled in size in the past eight years,” Whitehurst said, noting there are now 74 students in the marching band and 94 in the school’s overall band program.

The local school district funds the band program to the best of its ability, Whitehurst said, and the band boosters organization does a good job of helping with the costs of traveling to band competitions and sending students to All-State Band tryouts.

But as the Camden Middle School band program continues to grow under the leadership of Rose Lee, the band director at CMS, the high school band is beginning to face a shortage of basic items such as uniforms and instruments.

Ray Brandi found out about the need for uniforms for the high school band from Joe Musico at Weeksville Secure Self Storage. Musico is an active volunteer with the Camden bands and Brandi said it was Musico’s commitment of time to the band program that first caught his attention.

Brandi last year donated a boat to the Wounded Warriors organization and was interested in donating another boat. Musico encouraged him to consider donating the boat to the high school band program and introduced Brandi to Whitehurst.

“I just felt that the kids were in need over there,” Brandi said.

Brandi said he met a lot of really great people with the Camden Band organization and that convinced him even more that he wanted to support the Camden bands.

Whitehurst, a Camden native and 1993 graduate of Camden High, eagerly accepted the position when asked to come home and revitalize the band program at his alma mater.

The revitalization has happened, too, with the band earning Best Band of the Day honors at last year’s Peanut Festival Battle of the Bands in Edenton. The band regularly competes in four other band competitions in eastern North Carolina and marches in the South Mills and Elizabeth City Christmas parades.

Whitehurst said it has been exciting to see the way the community has supported the band program.

He taught percussion classes on the side at Camden High, while pursuing a degree in musical engineering at Elizabeth City State University. Whitehurst enjoyed the classes so much he decided to become a school band director, eventually earning a music education degree at East Carolina University.

“I fell in love with the teaching process,” he said.

Whitehurst said the band has a great opportunity to raise funds for needed equipment and supplies because of the Brandis’ generosity and Musico’s enthusiasm.

“This is huge for us,” Whitehurst said.

More information on the raffle is available at the Camden County Bands Facebook page at facebook.com/camdencountybands/ and at the Camden Bands website, camdenbands.org.


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Dockside boat show returns to Norwalk Thursday – The Hour

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John Celentano opens the unique skylight of the newest Galeon 560 Skydeck luxury yacht at the 2016 installment of the Norwalk Boat Show.

John Celentano opens the unique skylight of the newest Galeon 560 Skydeck luxury yacht at the 2016 installment of the Norwalk Boat Show.


Photo: Alex Von Kleydorff / Hearst Connecticut Media


With Tropical Storm Jose appearing on a heading to stay east of New England, organizers of the Norwalk Boat Show say they expect as many as 15,000 people for this week’s show at Norwalk Cove Marina starting Thursday and running through Sunday, with the show open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

From a focus on boat sales a decade ago, the show has evolved into as much a festival celebrating all things boating, with activities including taking a ride on Norwalk Harbor; how-to workshops for experienced boaters; and a new career fair on Friday from 3 to 6 p.m. sponsored by the Connecticut Marine Trades Association.


Organized by the National Marine Manufacturers Association and sponsored by Progressive, the Norwalk Boat Show represents the last major showcase in the Northeast in 2017, coming on the heels of the Newport International Boat Show that concluded Sunday in Rhode Island. The Norwalk and Newport shows differ from annual boat shows in New York City and Hartford that display vessels on the floors of convention centers.

“I think what’s nice about the show is it gives people a true taste of the boating life,” said Jon Pritko, vice president of Northeast shows for NMMA. “You see boats in their natural environment.”

For kids — those age 12 and under get in free with adults paying the $15 regular admission — this year’s show will include dockside “touch a boat” exhibits and photo opportunities, with options including working boats for law enforcement, firefighting, oystering and marine towing. And plenty of other activities are on deck for youngsters, including paddleboats and toy boat building.

For serious boaters, the show will feature a steady lineup of forums under the “Boat Confident” banner starting daily at 10:30 with one covering “iNavigation” and others docking, anchoring and “Ask a Captain” question-and-answer sessions. And at “Fred’s Shed” the details of boat maintenance are explored throughout the show, including repairs, engine troubleshooting and one-on-one consultations. The complete schedule of activities is online at www.boatshownorwalk.com.

All Seasons Marine Works will have between 25 and 30 boats on display at the show, with the dealer having locations on the Rowayton waterfront in Norwalk and in Westport. Co-owner Nathan Gottlieb said sales are up this year, particularly in the luxury segment but with sales starting to come back for boats priced in the $40,000 to $60,000 range.

“In the past two weeks we sold seven boats, which is pretty good for September,” Gottlieb said. “Boat shows began changing more than 10 years ago, from a place where people would show up and buy a boat to a place where people are looking to have fun. … We definitely sell boats at the boat show, but I can’t say its our primary goal any more — hopefully we just make a good connection so that people keep us in mind if they ever decide to buy one.”

Alex.Soule@scni.com; 203-842-2545; @casoulman


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