The theme of the marine accessories market this time of year might as well be Toys ‘R Us.
At the sixth annual Marine Aftermarket Accessories Trade Show, July 19-21 at the Las Vegas Convention Center, water toys are going to be a central feature as retail buyers travel the aisles.
Admittedly, however, they’re a small part of a market that runs the gamut from bow to stern and dockside, too.
“At this time of year, water toys are extremely popular,” says Blake Moore, vice president of sales and marketing of marine parts and accessories for the Brunswick Boat Group. “In addition, people are starting to require better quality accessories that are specifically designed for beauty, practicality and to better withstand the boating environment. People buy boats that fit their lifestyle and they want the add-on parts and accessories to complement that lifestyle as well.
“For example, stainless-steel rod holders are now becoming standard on many more boats because they add a look of prestige and high quality without adding a lot of cost. Another example is in seating. The VisionAir seat introduced by Attwood last year gives boaters the same comfortable seating options in their boat that they have in their offices and homes. These types of enhancements are helping boaters appreciate the boating experience even more.
Perhaps one of the biggest benefactors from the trend to water “toys” has been Airhead, a division of Kwik Tek, Inc., in Golden, Colo.
Aaron Kramer, president and CEO of Kwik Tek, says his company has experienced “fantastic growth this year.” Airhead primarily manufactures inflatable water toys, such as a new Viper series, Stingray and its popular UFO, among many others. Kwik Tek also deals in boat fenders and accessories and other personal watercraft accessories.
“Basically, across the board, just about everything is doing well,” Kramer says. “Accessories, the inflatables, even our rope sales have been terrific. I think, too, because our Airhead products are more well-known now that we’re in our seventh year, they are definitely catching on. We’ve experienced double-digit growth in all areas so far this year. We’ve set a new record every month so far. The OEMs do not really impact us, new boat sales, etc. We probably do better when people are not buying new boats.”
Kramer says his company did discontinue some lower-priced items because the prices of bigger and more expensive items don’t scare people away: “They want quality.”
Steve McKee, the vice president of sales and marketing for Lorenz & Jones Distributors, based in Ankeny, Iowa, agrees that water toys are the “in” products now.
“We have 26 categories that we track” where marine accessories are concerned, says McKee. “It’s a little early in the season yet to get a good feeling as to what is hot, but the We-Go has been so far. It’s a pull-behind water toy that actually flies over the water when you’re towing it. We have videos that have been running about it and it’s been advertised in numerous boating magazines and it has been a hot item so far.”
Consumer caution driving growth
McKee, among others, also sees a trend among boaters of improving their boats.
“Maybe it’s a fix-up trend, but we’ve been doing very well with carpets, seats, cleaners and bilge pumps, too,” McKee says. “Whether or not we’ve got people deciding not to buy new boats and instead fixing up the old one, I don’t know, but that seems to be the case right now. Dock products, too, are selling well.”
Kenneth Garelick, president of Garelick Manufacturing in St. Paul Park, Minn., is one person who will attest to that fact. Garelick has spent 33 years in the boating industry.
“I don’t really know if big boats are selling,” he says. “Some are doing fine, others are down. I think people are being cautious. After 9/11 everyone was saying I’m going to live for today and they spent accordingly on things that would bring pleasure to them. Buy that better boat, buy that nicer car, buy that nicer home. But I think that’s changed now to more of a cautiousness in this country.”
Garelick says his company’s business is about half OEM and half aftermarket.
“One thing that has been a strong suit with us over the years is when people are not buying new boats our aftermarket does very well,” he explains. “Now that we’re getting into the good weather seasons, I think we’ll see that increase during our third quarter as well. April through July is when it has to happen and I think it will.”
David Nirenberg, founder and CEO of Unified Marine/SeaSense of Naples, Fla., agrees.
“We cover a lot of areas [where marine accessories are concerned],” says Nirenberg. “Our biggest growth is in the trailer and accessory business, such as jacks, rollers, winches, a new locking stainless-steel trailer ball, among other things. But so far, this year has been good for us.
“I think on the positive side the accessories business will have a good year and the reason why, historically, is when we have high prices, folks tend to utilize the toys [boats] they have and they tend to fix them up at the expense of new boat sales. Since boats are made out of fiberglass, for the most part, and the cost of raw materials is skyrocketing, I think most people will stick with what they have and fix them up.
“Even with the high fuel prices, I think people will still utilize their boats, continue to play and enjoy them, but instead of going around the lake 15 times or more like they have in the past, they might cut it back to seven or eight. In my 30 years in the marine business, that seems to be the way it has worked. People will definitely use their boats, no question. And I think that alone definitely bodes well for the marine accessories business.”