What month is it?

By Jonathan Sweet

What a difference a month makes.

The last time I wrote a column for the magazine, the topic was the labor shortage. That is hardly at the top of most businesses’ concerns today. (The long-term trend hasn’t changed, of course, so even now we should be thinking about it.)

I have been hearing a surprising number of dealers are off to a strong start to the season despite the challenges of COVID-19. Those that seem to be having the most success are those that are focusing on service and used boats, and finding creative marketing and incentives.

Take, for example, Marine Connection, No. 3 on the 2019 Boating Industry Top 100 list.

The dealer launched a promotion in April offering three years of free service to anyone who purchased a new, in-stock, 2020 model boat. They also were creative in promoting the “Stimulus Package” in their social media and with a video. It struck the right balance of promotional, but also matching the moment.

Other dealers are offering creative solutions to social distancing with virtual sales calls and boat walkthroughs, remote test drives and private appointments. Many dealers are launching successful virtual boat shows. Most importantly, boating can be a great activity to get out of the house and enjoy with your family, a message that strikes home at times like these.

Futrell Marine delivers a positive message on its website: “We want you to know that we will always be here to provide you with the opportunity do that you and your family can enjoy the great outdoors. America’s love of boating has survived wars, recessions, floods and many other natural disasters. We will likewise survive COVID-19, and the Futrell family of customers will endure and in 2020 enjoy another great summer on the water.” At the very least, every dealer needs to be addressing it – there is nothing more jarring than a business that is not acknowledging the current situation.

The boat builders and other manufacturers face different challenges than dealers, what with social distancing requirements and the such. And if I’ve learned anything over the last two months, it’s not to try to guess what’s coming next. Still, there are plenty of resources out there as you try to get through this.

Boating Industry continues to gather information from around the industry and put it out on the website and through the enewsletter. The Marine Retailers Association of the Americas has put together a great collection of resources for dealers at mraa.com/covid-19. The National Marine Manufacturers Association has a wealth of information for manufacturers at nmma.org/coronavirus. Those associations and others in the industry like ABYC, NMEA and NMLA are making many of their member resources available for anyone in the industry.

So how do we adapt to this new normal? We learn from each other, we find positive ways to contribute to our communities and take care of our employees and families. And we remember that there is open water ahead. 

Jonathan Sweet is the director of the Boating Industry Top 100  program and former editor-in-chief of Boating Industry magazine. 

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