In an old industrial building where Wellcraft once made the Scarab cigarette boats made famous on 1980s TV show “Miami Vice,” the centerpiece these days is a giant robotic router.
As reported by the Sarasota (Fla.) Herald Tribune, the four-legged mechanical monster sprawls over a 20-foot-long chunk of high-density foam that will ultimately define the deck of a freshly designed yacht.
The current activity stands in stark contrast to recent years, and is a potent symbol of how far the region’s boat building industry — one of Southwest Florida’s most important historic drivers — has come.
Throughout the Great Recession and its aftermath, from 2009 until last year, the old Wellcraft complex — 35 acres and 350,000 square feet of buildings — stood empty. Its parent company had moved operations to Michigan.
Along with Chris-Craft Corp., which furloughed the remainder of a shrunken workforce in late 2008, and Donzi Marine, which pulled up stakes for North Carolina in 2010, the empty Wellcraft complex stood as a powerful reminder of the demise of local boat building.
“Chris-Craft and Wellcraft were definitely big production guys,” said Wylie Nagler, the founder and head of the Bradenton-based Yellowfin Yachts, which has emerged as a major player regionally.
“There were a lot of vendors that they kept alive,” he added. “When they plummeted, a lot of those guys went out of business.”
Before the economic downturn began in 2007, boat building accounted for roughly 2,000 direct paychecks in the region. Today, it’s about a quarter that figure.
Countless others, from teak deck makers to welders to electrical system outfitters, got hammered as well.
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The National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) is touting three emerging markets as potential areas of export for boatbuilders. As reported by Sounding Trades Only, the group is offering members a chance to visit and exhibit at several shows at a discount.
The NMMA is working closely with organizers of the new International Boat Show and Festival scheduled for Oct. 17-20 in Sanya, Hainan, China. The group is also spearheading a U.S. pavilion March 22-24, 2014, at the Cartagena Boat Show in Colombia.
Because the Korean government has loosened regulations on marine recreational activities and yacht use — now actively supporting growth of a recreational boating industry — the NMMA plans to return with an even larger North American presence June 12-15, 2014, at the Korea International Boat Show in Seoul, South Korea.
The group is also still supporting a U.S. presence in mature markets, offering members a chance to exhibit Nov. 19-21 at the Marine Equipment Trade Show in Amsterdam; Oct. 2-6 at the 52nd Genoa Boat Show in Italy; and May 22-25, 2014, at the Sanctuary Cove International Boat Show in Queensland, Australia.
When the recession hit, the boating industry took a huge dive, as consumers cut back on big-ticket luxury items and financing opportunities dried up.
But now that the economy is on the path to recovery, boating is bouncing back – and it’s doing better than ever.
This summer, the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) reports that more than 88 million boaters are expected to go out on the water, and the Fourth of July is the biggest holiday for the industry.
“We always have an uptick the week before the Fourth of July, because there’s great weather and people want to be with their family,” says Rick Danderweel, the store manager of North Texas Marine in Fort Worth.
And it looks like this summer will keep getting hotter and hotter for the boating industry, which grew 10% last year – and is continuing to see huge growth.
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New data from the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) show 88 million Americans expected to take to U.S. waterways this summer.
According to a press release, NMMA reported that recreational boating in the U.S. has an annual economic value of $121 billion. The industry’s rising tide supports 964,000 American jobs and 34,833 businesses, generates $40 billion in annual labor income and drives $83 billion in annual spending.
The NMMA, on behalf of the U.S. boating industry, released these findings as part of its annual U.S. Recreational Boating Statistical Abstract, a collection of data and analysis on the state of the U.S. recreational boating industry.
Additional data highlights include:
New Boat Sales
• Retail sales of new power and sailboats increased 10.7% in 2012 to 163,245, demonstrating a post-recession recovery for the industry. (Note that this number includes inboard, outboard, sterndrive, jet and sail boats).
• New powerboat (inboard, outboard, sterndrive and jet boat) sales increased 10% to 157,300 in 2012.
• New sailboat sales increased 29.2% to 5,945 in 2012
“Summer is a peak selling season for recreational boats, accessories and services throughout the U.S. as people look for ways to disconnect from the daily grind and enjoy fun times on the water, “ said Thom Dammrich, NMMA president. “New boat sales have historically been a barometer for the U.S. economy and the steady sales increases we’re seeing is being reinforced by the slow uptick in consumer confidence, housing and spending. As economic growth continues, we anticipate sustained steady growth through the remainder of 2013.”
In light of an improving consumer outlook, more than half of marine industry survey participants say now is the time to increase inventory levels to be fully stocked for the spring selling season.
That’s according to results released by GE Capital, Commercial Distribution Finance (CDF), which reported that 51% of respondents said it was the best time for dealers to increase inventory.
GE Capital’s survey was conducted Feb.13-15, according to The Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch. The respondents are a variety of marine industry participants, including manufacturers, dealers and distributors.
“Overall, our data indicate sales are improving, costs are down and earnings are up at the dealer level,” Bruce Van Wagoner, president of CDF’s marine group, told the paper. “We believe that 2013 will look a lot like 2012 — slow and steady growth in a smaller, healthier market.”
Forty-three percent of survey respondents said they expect sales to increase 5% to 10% this year, and 30% said they expect sales to increase 10% to 15%.
CDF’s forecast calls for the marine industry to grow about 8% in the United States in 2013. “Of course, positive news on some of the most critical economic factors could kick up consumer demand and drive industry performance beyond current expectations,” Van Wagoner said.
Forty-two percent of survey respondents said consumer demand was their greatest business concern, down from 64% in 2012.
Asked which trend will have the largest impact on the boating industry this year, 32% of respondents pointed to the popularity of low-cost or “base” models, up from 23% last year. Thirty percent of respondents expect long production lead times, compared to 21% last year.
The state of the marine industry is looking up, with sales of boats and engines expected to be up 10% this year and another 10% in 2013, National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) president Thom Dammrich said at the industry breakfast that marked the opening of the 22nd Annual International BoatBuilders’ Exhibition and Conference.
“There’s a new spirit in the marketplace,” Dammrich told about 200 people at the Oct. 2-4 event in Louisville, Ky. “If you look at the data, there is a reason there’s a new spirit — because things are turning up, slowly turning up, slowing improving and that creates a more positive spirit.”
Soundings Trade Only reported that in 2011, sales of outboard engines and boats rose to $6.8 billion, Dammrich said. “People are still buying boats — and even through the recession people were still buying boats,” he said. “People still have a very strong desire to get out on the water.”
Boating participation has been up in five of the last six years, and 82 million adult Americans went boating in 2011, Dammrich said. He cited a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey that showed fishing participation was up 11% during the last five years.
Looking across the boat yard at WakeSide Marine on the north side of Elkhart, Ind., owner Jeff Haradine saw blue skies and sunshine both in the view outside the window and on his balance sheet.
The pontoon and sports boat dealership on S.R. 19, near Simonton Lake, has compiled a healthy increase in sales over the past year. Banks are lending to consumers who are comfortable with their finances and have decided they can afford to go boating, The Elkhart Truth reported.
“I’m having a hard time seeing the economy as bad as people say it is,” Haradine said.
WakeSide reflects the upward trends being posted in the boating industry as a whole, including pontoon makers in Elkhart County. Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association, noted 2011 was the first year the industry recorded an increase in sales since 2006. In addition, he expects retail activity to continue to grow in 2012 between 4% and 5%.
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Boat inventory is leaving showroom floors twice as fast today as it did a couple of years ago.
Sounding Trades Only reported that Bruce Van Wagoner, president of GE Capital’s commercial marine lending group, delivered that message during an address on the state of the marine industry via podcast last week with National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) president Thom Dammrich.
“That’s a very promising indicator,” Matt Gruhn, president of the Marine Retailers Association of America, told Soundings Trade Only. “We’ve traditionally been known as a two-turn industry, but I think it’s really a little less than two turns, so for us to be up and over that, it means we’re managing our inventory better.”
Inventory more than a year old is at a historic low of 13%, compared with 47% at the recession’s peak, Van Wagoner said in the podcast.
The decision to buy a boat can still be impulsive if consumers see what they want, Dammrich pointed out. That’s why “dealers really need to make sure they have adequate inventory levels,” Van Wagoner said.
“The dealer’s risking losing a sale to a spontaneous buyer if what that person’s looking for is not in stock or if they don’t see a range of choices,” Van Wagoner said. Inventory is one-third less than it was at its peak, he said.
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National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) President Thom Dammrich is asking members to raise $125,000 this year to get as much representation on Capitol Hill as possible through the political action committee.
“As you know, the boating industry faces significant legislative challenges that could negatively impact the boating industry — and your bottom line,” Dammrich said in a letter. “Recreational boating must support candidates who share our goals and are sympathetic to our positions. A strong BoatPAC is vital if we are to protect our industry against harmful legislation.”
Soundings Trade Only reported that the BoatPAC has already raised $59,000, Dammrich said in the letter.
Recreational boating had direct industry sales last year of more than $32 billion and supports hundreds of thousands of jobs, Dammrich said.
“It is time to stop imagining and start executing,” Dammrich said. “Political visibility will be crucial in this upcoming election cycle. We ask you to join our campaign to grow the industry’s political strength in Washington, D.C., by supporting the National Marine Manufacturers Association BoatPAC.”
A variety of issues confront the industry today, including potential punitive tax measures on boating, the introduction of E15, an activist regulatory agenda, trade barriers in expanding markets, intellectual property protection and enforcement, small vessel security initiatives, punitive measures against wood importers and greenhouse gas regulations, Dammrich wrote.
The National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) announced today (Oct. 11) that Progressive Insurance will be the title sponsor of its 18 boat and sportshows from 2012-2014.
“We’re thrilled to have Progressive Insurance on board as the title sponsor of NMMA boat and sportshows,” said Ben Wold, executive vice president of NMMA in a press release. “Our involvement with this great organization will help bring boating to more consumers and reach millions of potential show attendees, elevating the NMMA shows’ brand. In addition, this partnership will provide new resources to invest in our shows to help grow attendance, improve the consumer experience, and ultimately attract more customers for our exhibitors.”
“We’re excited to collaborate with the NMMA and support the boating industry,” said Rick Stern, Progressive’s boat product manager. “Seventy-five million people participated in recreational boating in 2010, and hundreds of thousands of them attend boat shows. This sponsorship is a great opportunity to let boaters know that with Progressive boat insurance they can go wherever they choose, whenever they choose and have peace of mind they’re protected with our flexible, year-round coverage.”