For a second straight year, the Roanoke Valley Boat Show will not be coming to the Berglund Center later this month.
This year, the reasons have less to do with COVID-19 and are more due to the continued shortage of new boats and watercraft available.
“Nobody has enough inventory to put on a show,” said Virgil Naff, owner of Virgil Naff Powersports in Lynchburg and president of the Southwest Virginia Boat Dealers’ Association, which hosts the boat show each year.
Each of the new boats and personal watercraft featured each year at the boat show is available for purchase. Naff said there was not enough merchandise available for any of the association’s boat dealers to display at a show.
“I don’t have a single new machine that I can put in a show,” Naff said. His company sells personal watercraft as well as motorcycles and ATVs.
The high demand for boats and watercraft emerged soon after the pandemic began in 2020. Families viewed boating as a safe and socially distanced activity.
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An influx of new homeowners also began to arrive in Smith Mountain Lake, as working from home became the norm. In 2020, a 20-year high of 804 lakefront homes were sold.
Naff said his showroom is currently empty of all watercraft and new stock is getting harder and harder to find. People who come to buy a new watercraft in the showrooms are becoming increasingly rare.
“We’re lucky to have one for sale,” Naff said.
Since 2020, Naff said many of its sales have come from people placing orders for a watercraft and waiting months for it to arrive. If an order was placed this week, he said it would probably be June or July before a personal watercraft arrived.
Mark Mills, president of the Webster Marine Center at Moneta, said the low supply and high demand for boats over the past two years has created a shift in the way boats are sold. The majority of its sales are now made by people coming into the company or going to their website and choosing a boat and the features they would like to include.
“It’s much more of a first-order business now,” Mills said.
In the past, Mills has said he will have up to 50 boats on display as early as May for potential buyers to choose from. Special ordered boats only accounted for about 20% of their boat sales. Today, it accounts for around 80% of sales, he said.
Anyone ordering boats can expect a bit of a wait, according to Mills. He said it could take between 5 months and up to a year for the boats to arrive.
The cost has increased on some boats over the past two years. Mills said the increases were less about strong demand and more about supplying suppliers with the items needed to build boats. When the price of fiberglass or other engine parts goes up, the overall cost of the boat goes up, he said.
Naff said the cost of some watercraft has increased by 10% or more since 2020. Shipping costs for watercraft or parts have also increased significantly. Shipped items are facing significant delays, he said. Some parts take months to arrive, which slows down the work of its after-sales service.
Both Naff and Mills said they would like the Southwest Virginia Boat Dealers’ Association to host the Roanoke Valley Boat Show again in the future, but neither was sure when that might happen. This strong demand is expected to continue for another year, which could make a 2023 show less likely.
“I don’t think it’s going to end anytime soon,” Naff said.