The boat show highlights the high tide of demand, the low tide of stocks


The Wilmington Boat Show drew about 65 exhibitors, numerous boat dealers and about 6,000 attendees to the Wilmington Convention Center and the nearby Cape Fear Community College parking lot this weekend, according to event organizers.


Until the watercraft arrived on site, Jacqui McGuinness, owner of JBM & Associates, which produces the event, was unsure how many display models the show would feature. Strong consumer demand and limited inventory led to nearly empty showrooms and long waiting lists. Boat dealers, like car dealers, pre-sell many models weeks or months before they are built.


“Four or five months ago, people were getting nervous about having to wait for a boat, but [supply-chain delays] have been going on for so long now that people expect it,” said Dwayne DeHart, owner of Bellhart Marine in Wilmington. “I have a boat in stock and 95% of my incoming stock is on pre-order. In winter, demand will be slow, so spring might see some benefits. »


The advantage for customers who order a boat months before it’s ready is that they can get exactly the features they want, DeHart added.


Nearby, in the exhibition hall of the convention center, was the Atlantic Marine exhibit, with two whiteboard recording orders. Only a handful of boats were in stock. As orders piled up, staff members updated the charts, changing a boat’s status from ‘available’ to ‘sold’.


“It’s a good visual for people to see where we are,” said Atlantic Marine chief commercial officer Jordan Davis.


What features were favored by potential boat buyers?


“Twenty-one at 28 feet is our sweet spot,” he said. “The dual-console product is very popular. It’s a family boat that still has all the features, like the cover for cooler weather. It used to be that a boat was something for dad, but now it’s for the family.


The dual console design allows boaters to use their craft for a wider range of activities and often creates a more social setup.


And it’s a big trend in boating, according to David Ittner, fleet logistics manager for Yamaha’s Marine Group, the presenting sponsor of the Wilmington Boat Show.


“People are realizing that life is short and they should enjoy it today,” he said, reflecting on the shift in consumer priorities caused by the pandemic. “Boating creates an instant family, and many families have come together again through boating.”


Ittner said on Saturday that he and his colleagues at the Yamaha Marine exhibit were “astounded” by the number of people who came to view their exhibit. Although boat show attendance levels appear to be back to normal levels, he predicted it will be at least another year before Yamaha has pre-COVID outboard motor levels and is able to meet the request.


“My orders were filled, and we were peaceful, giving out a few engines to every dealership just to keep them alive,” he said. “All of our engines are made in Japan. These manufacturing plants closed for about 45 days at the start of COVID.


“Now the production is operational, but the supply chain is not,” he continued. “We have 10,000 [engines] sitting in containers on ships outside ports all along the west coast. There is a shortage of dockworkers to unload ships. Where ports have hired inexperienced people to unload ships, the amount of damage has increased dramatically. And now we don’t have the trucks and the drivers to transport the engines from the ports. It’s a domino effect. »


Like DeHart, Ittner is optimistic that potential customers have learned patience and perspective due to COVID-related inventory issues.


Perhaps planning next summer’s boating adventures, show-goers crowd around vendor booths, getting information on everything from boating education to insurance and financing.


The show’s founder, McGuinness, agreed that the pandemic has created pent-up demand for activities that can be done safely and close to home. Boating is a sustainable way of life, she said.

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