EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR’S CORNER
Signs of Renewed Life in the Sailing Industry!
By Jonathan Banks
Executive Director, Sail America
With the fall boat shows well underway, there are encouraging signs that the sailing market is finally improving, with reports of strong sales at both the Newport and Annapolis shows.
In last month’s Sail America News we reported that attendance at the Newport International Boat Show was up 10% and that consumer sentiment had definitely improved. These trends continued at the United Sailboat Show in Annapolis, where we saw encouraging sales across the board.
In this issue of Sail America News, there’s an excellent report on the Annapolis show (click here to read article). I think it’s fair to say that sales at the show exceeded expectations; you could almost hear a collective sigh of relieve from exhibitors. During the course of the show, I spoke to well over 100 exhibitors and the feedback was unanimously upbeat, with many retail vendors reporting that sales were back to 2007 levels. Subsequent discussions over the past two weeks with a cross-section of the sailing industry suggest that buyer activity is holding.
With the economy still in the doldrums, what is driving this recent uptick in business? Is it the result of pent-up demand or is it the start of the much-awaited turnaround? I don't pretend to have the answers, but I do believe there are a number of positive factors that are helping fuel the recent increase in sales and that will help the sailing industry recover.
- People who buy sailboats still have money; they’ve just been afraid to spend it. As the economy stabilizes, people are feeling more comfortable about spending money again. This certainly isn’t going to change overnight but consumers are starting to take out loans and appear to be using their credit cards again.
- Sailing is a lifestyle choice and potential buyers don't want to let the window of opportunity pass them by while they wait for the economy to recover. Whether it is a newly-retired couple or a family with young kids, the window to start/go sailing is relatively short. Also, for many sailboat buyers, the decision to buy a boat has been a long time in the planning. It appears that buyers were willing to postpone the purchase of a boat by a year or two, but they are not willing to put off the purchase indefinitely.
- Innovation is driving growth. With over 20 new sailboat model introductions at the Annapolis Sailboat Show and with many new gear and equipment launches, the sailing industry recognizes the importance of offering customers something new.
- People with jobs are feeling more secure and are starting to make financial commitments again. Although unemployment is at a near all-time high, perhaps people who have kept their jobs are feeling that we’re past the worst of the storm and that their employment is more secure going forward.
- Access to retail financing is accessible. Contrary to popular belief, consumer financing is available to the right customer. Interest rates are at record lows and there are still some great deals to be had.
- Sailing participation has held steady, which has resulted in continued demand for sailing-related products and services.
- Even the best made boats and gear wear out over time, and upgrades or replacements can only be deferred for so long.
Yes, the market is fickle and could easily falter again, but for the moment, anyway, it appears as though there are sufficient drivers in place to promote at least a short-term uptick in sales.
I am interested in getting feedback on what you're seeing in your segment of the market and to understand what you believe is contributing to the current sales activity. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts and ideas, and we’ll share the results in the next issue of Sail America News.