Coronavirus leads to wave of new boat sales in Southwest Florida
Fort Myers News-Press
Despite much of the economy still suffering, boat dealers are riding the coronavirus wave and yielding high sales this summer.
After initially dipping at the onset of the pandemic, nationwide new boat sales spiked in May, with a 59% increase from April and 9% increase from pre-pandemic levels, according to data from the National Marine Manufacturers Association representing wholesale shipment numbers.
The increase in May resulted in the highest total sales of any May in a decade, according to the data.
June data indicates this momentum will continue with outboard engine sales up an average 28% from pre-pandemic levels. This suggests that manufacturing has picked up with dealers placing more orders, according to a statement from the association regarding the data.
John-Michael Donahue, the communications director with the association, attributed the high sales numbers to customers urgently looking for forms of recreation.
After many other options were eliminated amid the pandemic, he said that people are clamoring for outdoor time with loved ones that is safe, exciting and allows them to follow social distancing guidelines.
“Traditional vacations are cancelled,” he said. “There are no sports leagues or kids’ summer camps. People are turning to boating because it is something you can do safely and responsibly while conforming with all social distancing requirements … We see more people gravitating toward it because it’s going to keep their family safe and healthy.
“We expect to see these sales continue and more and more people flocking to outdoor recreational activities like boating because of the new world we’re living in,” he added.
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Southwest Florida boat dealers have ‘busy summer’ amid pandemic
Family-owned boat dealer Naples Boat Mart has had a “busy summer” due to the pandemic.
While declining to provide exact figures for the upticks, Philip Osborne, the vice president of Naples Boat Mart, said the dealership’s overall activity level has been up over prior years and has seen a “marked increase.”
“I think that being able to spend time with family and loved ones on the water is definitely the key motivating factor for that increase,” he said. “I think the opportunity to be on the water represents freedom that people can’t find many other places.”
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He also mentioned that boating has been a great way for individuals to get away from all of the chaos, confusion and uncertainty caused by the pandemic.
“There’s points where it’s just you and nature and that’s a great opportunity to unplug from the overwhelming amount of stimulus, media and connectivity that all of us are faced with on a daily basis,” he said.
And it’s not just boating enthusiasts who are buying. Osborne said part of the sales increase has been driven by people who are either boating for the first time or the first time in several years.
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“When you look at the options for recreation right now, they probably were not going to take that big family trip that they had planned for the summer … and some folks who were traditionally going on cruises probably bagged that idea,” he said. “And so, they’re looking for other ways to recreate and do it in a way that supports CDC guidelines and allows them to feel safe.”
Tom Hansen, president of marine industry dealership The Boat House, saw much of the same activity as Osborne, with sales initially slowing significantly and then spiking from mid-April through current days.
“We’ve been super busy,” he said. “We’ve definitely had a significant uptick in our business over what would normally be this time of year.”
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He said that typically in May and June, boat sales in the seasonal Southwest Florida region slow down, but that didn’t occur this year.
He said that sales numbers for The Boat House, which has locations in Naples, Cape Coral and Port Charlotte, are somewhere north of 20% above that of the same period last year.
An avid boater, Hansen also noted that the waterways have been extremely busy with many people attempting boating for the first time amid the pandemic.
In April and May, “when everything was closed down,” Hansen said the waterways were as busy as they normally would be on a holiday.
Inventory dips amid high demand from boaters
As a result of all the new buyers, Hansen said his inventory levels are “probably the lowest they’ve ever been.”
Inventory could become an issue as dealerships like the The Boat House are selling products fast.
He said his inventory is around 20 to 30% less than it was last year.
“We’re struggling to get boats,” he said. “To keep it going, we have to have boats to sell. What I’m seeing in talking with other dealers in this area, we are all struggling to get boats.”
He stated that many manufacturers were shut down for weeks near the beginning of the pandemic, putting them in the difficult circumstance of being bombarded with new orders right after losing significant production time.
“I think the interest will continue, but it will be hard to do it when there’s nothing to deliver to customers,” he said.
Reach Andrew Wigdor at [email protected] and on Twitter @andrew_wigdor
This content was originally published here.