by Jeni Bone
Things are looking up in the US, off the back of a positive Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, strong RV sales and a rebound in the US economy.
In November, unemployment in the US fell to 7%, its lowest level in five years , as employers took on 203,000 new people.
The figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics may have been bolstered by the return of hundreds of thousands of federal employees following October’s government shutdown but they still represent the fourth straight month of good growth in the jobs market. November’s gain followed a 200,000 gain in October, revised down from an initial estimate of 204,000.
In October, despite the colder weather, boat sales saw double-digit gains for the fourth month in a row. Sales in the main powerboat segments rose 16.9 percent, or 593 boats, to 4,105, and industrywide sales climbed 14.4 percent, or 755 boats, to 5,988, from October 2012 in 33 states that represent 63 percent of the national market, according to data compiled by Statistical Surveys.
Two of the industry’s sales-leading categories — aluminum pontoons and 11- to 40-foot fiberglass outboards — posted gains of more than 20 percent. The outboard segment surged 24.1 percent, or 364 boats, to an industrywide high of 1,877 and, on a percentage basis, pontoon sales climbed an even higher 26.7 percent, or 145 boats, to 688.
Sales of aluminum fishing boats, which have climbed in tandem with pontoons during the industry’s nearly two-year recovery from the Great Recession, rose 6.9 percent, or 71 boats, to 1,102.
Another litmus test of the economy, recreational vehicle (RV) sales and shipments showed growth, as credit criteria continue to loosen, which industry experts say bodes well for boating because the RV industry is often viewed as an indicator of what’s to come in marine trends.
The RV industry says its focus on the 30-to-49 age group also has paid dividends, with younger families entering the market for towable RVs attached to pickups or hitched to other vehicles.
Led by sales growth for towable RVs and pricier standalone motor homes, RV makers expect to ship more than 300,000 units to dealers’ lots this year for the first time since the Great Recession battered the industry in 2008 and 2009, according to an Associated Press report.
It’s a big turnaround from 2009, when shipments sank to 165,700 units amid weak demand and dried-up credit that left dealers’ lots filled with the hulking vehicles. Some manufacturers closed. Those that survived cut their workforce.
Employment across the industry has rebounded, and consumers who once picked small, no-frills travel trailers, dubbed 'recession trailers,' are trading up or buying larger, pricier RVs.
The 54th Fort Lauderdale Boat Show took place October 31 to November 4, and was marked by clear skies, record attendance and revenue.
According to organisers, show attendance was up 28 percent from previous years to 130,000 over the five days, and sales were strong – a remarkable recovery from previous years, and buoying the yachting industry the worldover.
Efrem 'Skip' Zimbalist, III, chief executive of Show Management, the producer and management company for the event said 'This will be the biggest show in terms of revenue'.
The 2013 show is expected to generate US$500 million in economic impact for the Fort Lauderdale area, benefiting not only businesses in the marine industry, but also local restaurants, hotels, transport and other local companies.
Australian manufacturer, Maritimo had its 'best results ever' at the recent Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show and sales and marketing manager, Greg Haines says the increased number of boats on display and people through the gates indicate 'a renewed level of consumer confidence in the Americas with the company securing record sales'.
'Fort Lauderdale was our best result in the USA post the GFC and with approximately 400 more boats on display at the show this year than last year I think there is clear evidence that the economy there has turned the corner,' he said.
'While we are not going to release actual sales numbers the deals we have finalised were valued at many millions of dollars and we are still negotiating with buyers who inspected at the show and have requested sea trials, who we believe will materialize into more sales. 'We are very happy with the result which was a record for us.'
In Australia recently hosting new owners on a factory visit and pick up of their new boat, Dave Northrop, President of Maritimo US, says the boat market is coming back.
'I wouldn't have expected to hit even 50 percent of the targets we reached at Fort Lauderdale,' he said. 'Canada and the North West have been healthy for the past 12 months, and in the past four months, the east coast of the US has lit up. The Americas are proving strong markets again. We sold two boats to Venezuela recently, and two to Connecticut at Fort Lauderdale. We haven't sold boats in Connecticut for four years, and now we've sold two, with another two on the go.'
Northrup admits Australia is 'perhaps the most expensive place on Earth to build a boat', and 'a weaker Aussie dollar would help' sales in the US, but he said that as an Australian brand, Maritimo strikes a chord with American buyers looking for a 'premium product'. 'They are seeking to move up into a serious long-range cruiser, with the best fuel efficiency and better range than anything on the market. With the trademark Maritimo features like aft galley, walkaround decks and internal staircase, and now with the addition of the full beam master which makes it the biggest master in the segment, we didn't just fix a problem, we blew them away!'
Northrop said buying a boat is 'not a financial decision'. 'Our buyers are not day boat people. They are looking for a long range cruiser and Maritimo ticks all the boxes. Boating is in the Australian DNA. Unlike anywhere else in the world, boat building is a career, not a job. People see their role in the big picture here, they're not just punching in a part on a production line.'