My four-year-old son broke his arm playing in the yard last week. While he was incredibly brave in the hours and days that followed, it has changed him. As the pain has receded, he's begun thinking out loud about how he'll avoid breaking something else, as have his father and I. We want him to go back to having fun like he used to, but none of us wants to go back to the hospital anytime soon. The boating industry is in a similar situation. While I'm not sure the pain is receding yet, we know it will, at least to some degree. And we've all been thinking, whether to ourselves or out loud, about how we and our businesses will change as the industry rebounds.
If we've laid people off, how many and which ones will we rehire? If we've cut budgets, how will our spending change in the future? The criteria we use to make many decisions have changed over the past few years. To what extent are those or should those changes be permanent? What lessons have we learned?
In addition, we must consider to what degree the external changes that have taken place in our market will "rebound." Will consumers' behavior go back to "normal"? Will our core market change?
In a blog written in late March, Chris-Craft addressed how it may adapt to industry changes going forward.
"Several large finance companies have left the marine industry for good, making it impossible for dealers to stock inventory at past levels," the company wrote. "After the current dealer inventory is gone, buyers may find Chris-Crafts only at a few boat shows, private invitation-only events or at the local dealership. Factory tours will be available and buyers may need to travel to see different models. Our dealers and factory representatives always work together to match the right boat in inventory with the customer's wish list. In the future, though, most customers will need to order their boat and it will be built especially for them."
Certainly, the inventory challenges the boating industry is facing, especially in light of the tightening of marine wholesale financing, give us all pause. And it will bring about change. The change I'm anticipating is better inventory management by both dealers and boat builders, which will require closer relationships than ever before. Over time, I expect demand for financing will attract more wholesale lenders to the marine industry, albeit with strict criteria that may drive some dealers elsewhere (to local banks, for instance) or out of the industry altogether.
This will probably mean dealers will carry less inventory on average, but we can't afford for that to occur at the expense of the consumer's experience. Most consumers want to touch, feel and test drive a boat before they buy it without traveling across the state or the country. And they don't want to wait weeks and even months for a boat builder to make and send the boat they ordered. When we make the boat buying process less convenient and less pleasurable for our customers, we turn our backs on our goal to grow the industry.
As for my son, we may not be going on any more wheelbarrow rides for a while. And my husband and I certainly won't be encouraging any other behavior likely to result in broken bones. But before we lock him in the house, sell his bike and take down his swing set, we'll think about the big picture. What changes make the most sense given the long-term goals we have for him and he has for himself?
We'd like to hear from you. What changes do you expect to make in your business as the industry rebounds? What changes have you already made in the past few years that you expect will be permanent?