When the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States, the boating industry quickly suffered.
The virus struck in the middle of the spring season, a prime time every year when first-time boaters begin to jump into the boating lifestyle, and a time when boat owners pull the trigger. their next purchase.
In mid-April, sales plummeted and production slowed. Some manufacturers have put employees on leave, or have temporarily closed their doors, to better clarify the upcoming uncertainty for their production lines. Some have also seen workers fall ill.
As companies across all sectors of the economy lagged behind, or were restricted or shut down by anti-virus protocols, the outlook for the summer appeared to be getting worse.
But something happened that few people anticipated. The company has pivoted out.
Supply and demand
On the American coast, this often meant that people were drawn to the water. There, they could socially distance themselves on a boat by enjoying a well-spent day basking in the sun and splashing around their favorite waterway.
Everywhere where it was allowed, the boat launches were crowded. The marinas were bustling and declared essential businesses. The waterways were busier than ever.
On Memorial Day, it was clear. Boat sales have been strong, although the boat show season has been closed. Manufacturers were now able to catch up. Orders arrived faster than the manufacturers could take back.
The unexpected request was well received, but is not without its pitfalls. Six months after the COVID shutdown, sales inventories are low as manufacturers struggle to close the gap between supply and demand.
Boating industry economists, according to reports from Trade Surveys Only Today, a shipping industry publication, noted several national trends showing how boat buying behavior has changed in 2020:
Unexpected demand for boats forced sales forces to change the way they did business, said Tony Rossell, sales manager and licensed broker for SunDance Marine at Jensen Beach.
“It changed the way the industry captures this customer,” Rossell said. “We are doing more with Facebook live and we have more contact with our customers through our website and via email. It was things a lot of us weren’t doing before, but the virus forced it. The companies that were able to take advantage of it were hooked in there. “
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SunDance offers boat brands such as Everglades, Regal, Sea Hunt and Parker, and also sells used boats to its customers. While sales have been strong all summer, Rossell said he had had a few customers who were on the other end of the spectrum.
Some have been forced to put their boats up for sale because of how COVID has negatively affected their businesses and finances.
It was surprising how boat sales went during the pandemic, Rossell said.
“We had just gotten out of the Miami Boat Show, which was a really good show for us, and we were looking forward to the Palm Beach Boat Show in late March when the governor shut it all down,” Rossell said. “We sent everyone home. We only had one salesperson at a time in the store and managed the marina with a small staff.”
Boat shows across the country have been blocked. Some have chosen to organize virtual boat shows while others have canceled altogether, hoping for better conditions next year.
In addition to boat sales and service, SunDance Marine also has a rack storage facility to store boats out of the water. These customers continued to use their boats whenever they could, he said.
“It’s interesting that in April we started getting sales leads from the internet and phone calls started coming in,” Rossell said. “We started bringing in more people and we practiced social distancing. We didn’t let people into the building and opened the marina business. Even when we closed the door to limit the ‘activity only to marina customers, we have had people come and ask to buy a boat. “
Manufacturer’s order book
The demand has been felt by manufacturers across the country, said Bob Chew, sales manager for Stuart boatworks and Islamorada Shipyard, a semi-custom manufacturer of center console, apartment and dockside boats based in Stuart.
Many manufacturers have been affected by the virus, either through disruptions in their supply chains or partial shutdowns because workers on the ground were sick, he said.
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“Interruptions from some of our suppliers have changed our delivery schedule,” said Chew. “Then combine that with the fact that sales inquiries have tripled, increasing dramatically. Sales activity peaked in June, July and August. “
Stuart Boatworks never shut down or slowed down production because Chew said his 14 employees had no virus issues, he said. However, the delivery of the parts they use to assemble the boats they build has slowed down. They have boats that are mostly finished, but are waiting for outboard motors, jack plates to mount motors, trailers, and wire harnesses.
The time of puzzles
“It’s a moving puzzle,” Chew said of the parts supply chain. “One supplier we buy from had a team of 500 people before the virus hit and had to shut down for two weeks because some of their employees contracted the virus. When they reopened they had a team of 300 people and had a backlog of orders to fill. ”
So far, it hasn’t affected customer satisfaction too much, Chew said.
“It’s hard to just sit here and be excited about the sales we’re getting because at some point we start to lose sales because of the delivery times,” he said. “We are lucky because we are a semi-custom niche boat and it takes a special buyer to buy our boats. There is a natural disappointment, but we have been specific in what we say to our customers on their delivery. “
Before the virus, each boat took 2-3 months to build and there was a 6-8 month backlog of orders, Chew said. Before COVID, Stuart Boatworks sent 24 boats a year. This year, the company will have the chance to have an 18-20 delivery, he said.
“We are building 2-3 boats at a time, but now our order book spans over a year and the build time is variable,” he said.
Resumption in progress
“I think we will recover as businesses reopen and the backlog is a direct reflection of the optimistic attitude of a lot of people,” Chew said. “We’re going to be fine.”
Chew has sold two boats this week, despite delivery dates within a year and a half.
Rossell said he felt the same. Inventories may be down, he admits, but manufacturers are adjusting as quickly as they can and have launched the 2021 model lines early.
Builders like Maverick Boat Co. in Fort Pierce have started hiring more workers – 150 to 200 by 2010, the company said in late August – to help meet that demand.
The changes Rossell has already witnessed will allow the industry to remain strong going forward.
“I am optimistic,” he said.
Ed Killer is the outside writer for TCPalm. Become a valued customer by TCPalm subscription. To interact with Ed, link him to Facebook at Ed killer, follow him on Twitter @tcpalmekiller or send him an e-mail at [email protected].