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Smaller buyers want multi-use, reliable boats

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The panel discussion titled “What’s driving sales of boats under 60 feet?” offered insight from the heads of several manufacturers. Moderated by Bill Sisson, editor of Soundings, here are the highlights from the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show:

Who’s buying your boats, and what do they want in a boat?

  • Scott Deal, president of Maverick/Hewes/Cobia: Buyers are young people, not baby boomers. And they want one boat that will do lots of things. They need a place to sit down and they want a head. That’s where the volume is.
  • Todd Albrecht, vice president of Jupiter Marine: If you had asked me 5-8 years ago, I would have told you our buyers would be 65-plus. We’re starting to see people in their 40s. They were looking at cruisers and pontoons, but now they’re looking at us. They’re not new to boating, but their lifestyles have changed. They want more of an SUV-style boat. They want to go fishing and take the family out, tow the kids skiing, and go farther. The biggest thing they want is reliability.

How are outboards shaping your product line?

  • Ken Clinton, president of Intrepid: Our customers want outboards. They don’t want to lose cockpit space and they prefer the ease of maintenance. When we went to the engine manufacturers and said we want more power, they didn’t believe us. They have since changed their minds. Customers want the convenience of letting the boat sit for a month because they are busy and then go out, turn the key, and it starts.

How significant are boat shows?

  • Clinton: We average $9.5 million at this show, 50 percent of our sales for the year. This is where I have my most amount of creativity. Customers say what they like and don’t like and I come up with new, from-scratch models from these comments.

Looking ahead 5-10 years, what’s driving change?

  • Deal: Lack of use is abuse. Boating is too expensive. If you want to grow boating, manufacturers have got to get more efficient and bring costs down.
  • Huw Bower, president of Boston Whale: The cruiser market is 10 percent of what it was before the recession.

So what size is selling most?

  • Clinton: All of them.
  • Bower: 23-27 feet boats are growing in double digits. Below 23 feet, single digits.
  • Deal: Boats 20-22 feet, we could sell more but there’s no margin in them. Our 34-foot model is at capacity.

Lucy Chabot Reed is editor of Triton Today, lucy@the-triton.com.

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