Local boat sales rebounding after slow spring

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File photo / Recreational boating in the Ocean City bay. File photo / Recreational boating in the Ocean City bay.

SOMERS POINT – A rainy June, the wettest in recorded history, put a big damper on a lot of local merchants, including the boating business. However, a busy July has made up for some of that loss, as boaters look for fun, economical vessels, according to Sean Reilly, a boat salesman for Waterfront Marine in Somers Point.

“June was bad, but July was great. July was the best month we’ve had for a long, long time,” Reilly said. “If the trend continues, we’re looking to have a pretty good summer.”

Reilly said people are shopping for pleasure and entertainment; they want to have a good time with friends and family on the water and they don’t want a boat that would require a lot of maintenance.

“They’re buying open bow boats,” he said. “They’re not buying cabin boats. They want a boat that you can put a whole lot of people on board and go for a ride, go water skiing, go to a restaurant or pull up on the beach.”

The cruising and sport fishing markets are down, he said.

While Reilly said he feels “positive” about the market, he said the Mid-Atlantic region is “softer” than it has been.

“Traditionally it’s a very lucrative area, but it’s not right now,” he said.

It’s more than just selling boats for local marinas, it’s about longevity.

“If you have a good marina and a good product, you can hold on, but if you don’t, you can’t. People are looking for quality and service. They want to know you’ll be there to service their boat,” he said.

Reilly said that Hurricane Sandy did nothing to encourage anyone to go out and buy a new boat. According to the Boat Owners Association of the United States, Sandy destroyed or damaged more than 65,000 recreational boats, a loss of more than $650 million – the worst loss since 1966, when the organization started keeping track of losses.

“We were down a little bit in general, part of that was Sandy, but it was also because of the spring weather,” he said. “The weather was terrible.”

Reilly said some boat owners have yet to replace their lost boats.

“We geared up for a big rush at the boat shows this year, but it never happened,” he said. “We have had some people from North Jersey, but a lot of the boat owners who lost their boats still have no place to keep them, so they’re waiting.”

If a boat owner hadn’t removed their boat from the water before Sandy hit in late October, they scrambled.

“It was crazy,” he said. “We took 300 boats out of the water in a day and-a-half. Most people had enough notice and they got their boats out, and the storm wasn’t as bad down here as it was in northern and Central Jersey. We were very lucky.

“Overall, I don’t think we lost all that many boats in our area. We had no losses at Waterfront Marine. We lost some of our docks and we had a problem with too much sand being washed in where we need to put the boats in.”

Waterfront Marine invested heavily in their building over the past year, but the renovations were not Sandy-related, Reilly said.

“Everything is new, from the air conditioning and the heating, to the carpet and docks,” he said. “We have a new roof, new façade, new doors.”

The United States boating industry, he said, had started to see sales growth last year after a slump. According to the National Marine Manufacturers Association, power boat sales rose 10 percent in 2012 over 2011. Total new boat sales increased 4 percent and total pre-owned sales increased 6.5 percent in 2012, according to the NMMA.

Reilly attributed a stronger 2012 to improving consumer confidence, but said that boaters were still somewhat frugal.

“We’re directly affected by the real estate market, and when the market takes a dip it directly affects us,” he said. “Sales and rentals are down, and a lot of our customers are Realtors. So they’re being more careful, they’re holding on to what they have.”

Beyond the local Realtors, Reilly said investors are more likely to splurge on a boat when they’re making money on their properties.

“It hurts us all the way around when the real estate market is sluggish,” he said.

When the recession hit the boating industry, about five or six years ago, people began downsizing and the downsizing continues as people trade their boats in, Reilly said.

“They’re not buying the bigger boats,” he said. “The mid-range boats are selling well, 22 feet, 24 feet and 26 feet. People want an easy-to-take-care-of boat, not a lot of maintenance.”

Reilly said the key in not-so-good times is to take care of the customer and hope for the best.

“We’re halfway through the summer, and if we can keep the momentum we’ll do OK,” Reilly said. “We’re hoping that people will realize that the best time of the year to be on the water is September and October. We always encourage people to come down in the fall and take advantage of the nicest time of the year.” 


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