By Adam Quandt
While many parts of the country deal with snow and freezing temperatures, it’s hard to think about the coming warm months and another season of personal watercraft riding and selling. But that’s exactly what powersports dealers are doing, after an unprecedented year of PWC sales last year.
The most recent statistics from the National Marine Manufacturers Associations (NMMA) report a 13-year high for boat and watercraft sales in 2020. Data indicated that sales of new powerboats in the U.S. increased last year by an estimated 12% compared to 2019, with more than 310,000 new powerboats sold throughout the year.
“2020 was an extraordinary year for new powerboat sales as more Americans took to the water to escape pandemic stress and enjoy the outdoors safely,” said Frank Hugelmeyer, NMMA president. “For the first time in more than a decade, we saw an increase in first-time boat buyers, who helped spur growth of versatile, smaller boats — less than 26 feet — that are often towed to local waterways and provide a variety of boating experiences, from fishing to watersports.”
In PWC sales alone, 2020 sales are estimated to be up 8% to 82,000 units.
“We expect consumer interest in boating to remain strong through 2021 and beyond, with millions of Americans discovering the mental health benefits and joys of being outside and on the water,” noted Hugelmeyer.
Minnesota-based powersports and marine dealer River Valley Power & Sport — and its marine-specific River Valley Marine — shares the NMMA’s expectations headed into 2021.
“PWC sales have been the best I’ve seen in 26 years,” owner John Wooden said. “And I don’t really see that slowing down anytime soon, as long as we stay on top of our game as an industry.”
Despite the snow season, River Valley has found it easy to focus on the coming PWC season. Why? Wooden said they’re sold out of snowmobiles across the board.
As the dealership shifts to warm weather and the coming PWC season, River Valley is already a one-third of the way through its PWC inventory for the year, due to pre-selling.
“Last year we could’ve sold at least 50% more watercraft, if not double,” Wooden said. “We just simply ran out of inventory and manufacturers couldn’t keep up with supply.”
With expectations of another busy, if not busier watercraft season, Wooden said River Valley ordered as many units as they possibly could for 2021.
“It’s going to come down to if manufacturers can keep up with supply,” Wooden said. “We know the demand is there right now and we’re ready to sell, but how long will customers wait when demand is so high, but the inventory just isn’t there?”
In terms of who’s buying PWC these days, Wooden said customers at River Valley range across everything from first-time buyers to the seasoned veteran and ages across the board to match. However, Wooden added that they’ve seen a much larger influx of first-time buyers over the last year and into 2021.
“Just north of 40% of our buyers last year were first-time buyers and included everyone from the millennial buyer to grandma and grandpa getting a unit for the kids at the cabin,” Wooden added.
Wooden also indicated that they’ve seen demand across all segments of the PWC industry, from rec-lite through performance.
“Since its introduction, we’ve seen strong demand in the rec-lite segment and performance will always have its dedicated fan base,” Wooden said. “It’s typically been the middle level that’s always been a little tougher to sell, but even that has seen a high increase in demand lately. It’s looking to be people are increasingly looking for both one long-range machine and one smaller unit.”
With the continuing pandemic putting a stop on most boat and sport shows, River Valley and dealers across the nation have been tasked with finding a new way to get in front of customers.
Wooden said that River Valley immediately shifted the majority of its focus to digital advertising, including putting together a virtual show of its own that will showcase all of their offerings.
“Right now, it’s all about getting people into the funnel, as many of them don’t necessarily know there isn’t going to be a show this year just yet,” Wooden added. “Ultimately, we’re all trying to figure out where people are now.”
Customers aren’t necessarily in their vehicles commuting anymore, sporting events have mostly been cancelled and people don’t watch TV the way they used to, so the traditional ways of advertising aren’t hitting the right people anymore, according to Wooden.
“It’s all about digital buys right now,” Wooden said. “River Valley has focused on data-driven digital platforms that can really show us what’s working and ensures our messages are reaching the right people.”