Dealer Outlook: “Next 5-10 years another ‘growth spurt’ “

Boating Industry recently asked dealers to take a few minutes and author a short outlook for 2011 to provide the industry with thoughts and insights from the people who make things happen at the retail level.

We asked what they expect to experience in 2011, how they plan to approach the year, what challenges they think will be the most pressing, and what can be done to address those challenges.

We will be running these responses during the following weeks.

Lake Union Sea Ray

I think the short version is that we likely won’t see much change in overall retail sales of boats for most of 2011. We are forecasting new runabouts to be down slightly from last year; cruisers to remain flat; larger cruisers and yachts to be flat to up nominally; fishing boats to stay flat; and used boats to fall by as much as 25-35%.

However, just because we won’t see the resurgence we’ve been hoping for, it doesn’t mean we will be doing business the same as we have in prior years. There has been a lot of “right sizing” in our retail stores which has caused us to re-look at all of our operating priorities.
Today, customer service should be at the forefront of everything we do; in new and used boat sales, parts, service, and even the way we handle our customers on the phone and through the internet.

Here are some of the areas we will be focusing on in 2011.

INVENTORY CONTROL/TURNS.
It’s no secret that the Boating Industry is a seasonal AND cyclical business. And the single most difficult element is to “guess” what units we’ll need to have in stock 6 to 18 months in the future. Our “best wrong guess” sometimes leaves us with so much excess that we simply cannot dig out fast enough to keep up with interest and curtailment requirements. It depletes cash, erodes margins, and puts us in a retail defensive mode.

FOCUS ON SERVICE, CSI, EFFICIENCIES, AND CUSTOMER CONVENIENCE.
The auto industry has been taking care of our customers with a great sense of service professionalism for decades. It’s time this industry did the same. The way we communicate with customers on the phone, during the service cycle, and our marketing strategies will insure that they continue to stay in boating; and remain dedicated customers.

FINDING/CREATING NEWCOMERS TO THE BOATING LIFESTYLE.
Boat shows are still a primary source for attracting “new boaters”. We must encourage boat show promoters to continually raise the bar every year and provide the public with an exciting opportunity to see and feel the “lifestyle”. Also, our web sites should be inviting and interactive, giving the viewer the chance to be “in our showrooms” while sitting at home.

CUSTOMER INVOLVED EXPERIENCES AND EVENTS.
This could be anything from an invitation to come enjoy coffee at the marina, to a full weekend of boating with other customers of the same brand. It keeps them excited about boating, helps them make new friends, and opens new doors of opportunity to venues they’ve not experienced before.

EDUCATION.
This is a time where our prospects and customers have access to much more information than ever. So our sales and service staff must be more prepared than ever, or risk being embarrassed by an educated buyer. This applies to new and used boat specifications, to the service needs of the new engine and drive technologies.

NEW COMMUNICATION RESOURSES.
The internet has provided us with exciting new ways to get, and stay, in touch with our customer and prospect base. If we don’t embrace all the latest trends in social networking communications, we will never see the faces of the next generation of boaters.

NEW AND USED BOAT MARGINS.

As we continue to embrace all the new requirements necessary to play in this exciting industry, it will take margins above what we have been experiencing the last few years. And although it will take some time to build them back to what we may have seen in years past, it is the driving lifeblood of our success.

IN SUMMARY.

This industry has been changing pretty rapidly in the last 5 years; partially due to the necessary adjustments we’ve been forced to accommodate as a result of the economic environment we’re experiencing; and partially because it’s just past due. The next 5-10 years will be another “growth spurt” driven by advances in engine and boat technology, competition with other recreational opportunities, social networking, and likely a dramatic rise in inflation and interest rates. And I believe that by 2015, this industry will be unrecognizable as we know it today.

If my predictions are true, we have 2 choices:

1. Sit back and watch it change before our eyes; and hope to keep up; or;
2. Be part of the process to direct and control our future.
At Lake Union Sea Ray, we’ve chosen number 2.

Kevin Roggenbuck, Pres/CEO
Lake Union Sea Ray

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