From the road: Atlanta boat dealers ‘cautiously optimistic’

Jay Sweet, Editor-in-ChiefJust got back from a trip to Atlanta to visit dealers, manufacturers and suppliers and thought I'd pass on some of the info I picked up from meetings. Generally, people seem to be cautiously optimistic: 2012 has started out well, but they are concerned about how the year will finish out.

I agreed to keep people's thoughts anonymous, but here are some highlights:

  • The most common comment I heard is that retail financing is still a big challenge. With the banks keeping things tight, cash purchases are more important than ever. To that end, the boats at the high-end and low-end of the market seem to be selling best there, with the middle buyer getting squeezed.
  • Pontoon boats are hot in Atlanta, just like they are in other markets. Buyers like having that "living room on water" and recent innovations in engines make them powerful enough for many owners.
  • Service is becoming a big focus to drive that repeat and referral business. At the same time, some say it is difficult to make money on warranty work these days.
  • The average client is getting older. Before the recession, there were a lot of buyers in their 20s. Now, it's those in their 30s and 40s. The housing crash (which has hit Atlanta especially hard) is also hurting sales to those in the construction industry.
  • People are worried about coming government regulations both on the national and state level. A wave of recent accidents on Lake Lanier (near Atlanta) has prompted calls for licensing of boaters in Georgia.

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