Boaters Will Keep Boating

Worried that no one will come to boat shows this year? Or stop boating and fishing? I’m not, and here’s why.

During the energy crisis of the early 1970’s, I recall seeing people lined up at gas stations hoping to buy some gas. I was one of them at times. As January and the New York Boat show rolled around, we at Johnson and Evinrude were worried that this big show would be a bust. We feared that people wouldn’t buy or use boats and outboards due to the gas shortage. We were wrong.

The New York boat show wasn’t the best attended that I had seen, but it was sure better than any of us expected. I still remember one man I visited with in our exhibit who, when asked how he felt about the energy crisis, said, “If I have to, I’ll ride my bike to work so I’ll have enough gas to go boating and fishing.” That reminds me of an old saying that goes something like this, “You can take away a man’s tools, but don’t try to take his fishing rod because then you will have a real fight on your hands.”

To some extent, I think boaters will react to the current and painful economic crisis the same way they did during the previous energy crisis that created gas shortages. Avid boaters and fishermen will continue with their favorite sport to the extent that they can. If they own a boat, are still employed, and not fearful of losing their jobs, they will be boating again this year. And that means many of their boats will need service, repairs, accessories, and some boaters will even be considering trading for a new or newer rig.

So as the boat show season is kicking off, followed by spring and warmer weather, lets go into it with a positive attitude. No question that it has been a rough downturn, financing has been tough, topped off by incredibly cold weather, even in Florida where the oranges have been freezing. (What happened to global warming?) And there will be fewer boat shows this year. But I predict that avid boaters and fishermen will turn out for the shows that are held. And the chances for sales should be much better than what the industry experienced in 2009. For those who are considering buying their first boat, make sure you have some entry level rigs to offer, and/or some clean used boats. The used boat market should be good this year.

There was a joke years ago that went, “Cheer up, things could get worse, so I cheered up and sure enough, things got worse.” Well that was usually good for a laugh, but it does not have to be the case. I say, “Cheer up, things will get better!” And I believe that. For those who were buffeted in 2009 by this economic “perfect storm,” but who managed to survive, then, as the old saying goes, “Pick yourself up and dust yourself off, and start all over again” by getting  back to selling with a positive attitude. “Cheer up, things will get better!”

About Ben H. Sherwood

Ben H. Sherwood is a marine industry veteran and a marketing consultant who operates Sherwood Marine Marketing in Pleasant Prairie, Wis. For more info, click About on the main menu.

7 thoughts on “Boaters Will Keep Boating

  1. Ben: Your pronouncement is absolutely true. Despite a decline in sales during this recession, my dealership has record service requests & income and full storage yards. And, in case some folks might think that we are simply performing perpetual hibernation on our storage lots, we can report that four out of 140 boats failed to hit the water last year. Boating is indeed alive and well and is high on the list of recreational choices.
    Like you, we await the anticipated uptick which history proves will inevitably happen.
    Best, Ed

  2. Ben, Amen!

    If your business is serving the existing boater, 2009 wasn’t all that bad. Many even reported increases in sales. It is the new boat market that was hardest hit. But, we still have 17 million boats in use, 70 million Americans boating and the number of Americans boating growing for the past 3-4 years.

    Feedback from early shows (Nashville, Kansas City, Toronto and Houston) have all been upbeat and positive. Dealers are reporting that the negativity is gone and new boats are selling. Early reports are the first time boat buyer is back too!

  3. Ben
    Do you see any shortage of boat slips this year? With the economy I see the marinas holding up on expansions and new construction put on hold.

  4. Kevin: I contacted the Editor of Marina Dock Age magazine and here is what he had to say. “I reviewed your e-mail, and I do not know of any person or organization that keeps track of marina slips throughout the country.

    Because the marina industry is such a site specific industry,i.e., saltwater or freshwater, powerboats or sailboats, leases vs. rentals vs. dockomiums,
    it is difficult to determine whether there will be a shortage. In general, those marinas that had a waiting list beginning in 2009 have used most of it
    up in the current recession. Although some marina projects have stopped, the areas with the biggest shortage, Florida, Michigan, and California, just
    happen to be the areas where the recession has had the greatest impact.
    Thus, the excess demand for slips has dropped significantly, that is by 25-33%.

    To answer Kevin’s concern, I would say generally there will not be a shortage of slips this year. The number of projects put on hold were not that many. The marina industry was not affected as badly as the dealer industry in 2009, but that might change in 2010.Dennis Kissman, one of our columnists, wrote me to say that the recession was starting to have a
    serious economic impact on marinas.

    Sorry I can’t back up my assessment with more statistical information, but
    none is available.”

    Kevin I hope this helps.

    Ben Sherwood

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