Apparently 2012 is the last summer any of us will be around, if the so-called 'experts' predicting the end of the world will hit 21 December 2012 have their forecasts right. Those of us who don’t take advice from the ancient Mayan calendar are more optimistic that we will see the year out. Back to reality and what is the mood among consumers for 2012? How has summer so far been treating dealers around the country?
In Melbourne, Scott O’Hare from Chaparral Australia and Aussie Boat Sales reports a 'really good month and a half' for the Chaparral brand.
'We have had a tremendous run pre-Christmas and sold a bunch of boats – ranging from 42 to the Xtreme wakeboats. Sydney Boat Show was excellent for us and we sold 35 boats since.'
While the Chaparral brand is not quite a household name, O’Hare says he and his team have worked very hard on the marketing, at boat shows and events to raise its profile. 'Chaparral has an incredible pedigree, 46 years of quality, performance and innovation. It’s a Florida brand built for saltwater, so their boats are ideal for our conditions.'
Also key to the growth of the brand is O’Hare’s effort at finding like-minded dealers around the country, 'people who are service-oriented and have a great deal of experience'. He is currently on the look out for a suitable dealer in Queensland and is considering using this year’s Sanctuary Cove International Boat Show for that purpose, as well as showing off some of the new range of H20 boats, the 'budget line' of Chaparral.
'We have had a lot of interest in the H20 range, which start from about $37,000. We are receiving our first lot of 20 boats in March.'
Launching in to a new range is risky, O’Hare admits, but 'fortune favours the bold, especially in this climate,' he explains.
On the brokerage side too, O’Hare is happy to say they have been experiencing a lot of interest from people upgrading, as well as first time buyers.
'The brokerage side is ticking over. We have seen a lot of people coming through who have been burnt from trying to import boats themselves and now they are wise enough to consult a broker. We won’t touch those boats at all.'
For 2012, O’Hare says there’s a vibe that people have a better outlook for the year ahead. 'Business people, who are the majority of our customers, have had a few hard years fine-tuning their businesses and now they’re ready to buy. Boating is tremendously therapeutic.'
In Sydney, JW Marine is back on deck after a few days break between Christmas and New Year. Jo Howard says they have been particularly busy post-Christmas, with maintenance for several clients and the handover of three new boats.
'We are seeing movement in the sports boats, 38 to 42ft, and hopefully, if the exchange rate with the Aussie dollar and Euro remains strong, it might push people over the fence.'
In the pipeline for brands like Ferretti and Pershing are several new models scheduled for release 2012. 'Where once you would see five years’ gap between models, Ferretti are coming out with a few new models each year, specifically the 870, 690, 720 and one to replacethe 881. They are constantly innovating and upgrading their range.'
In 2012, JW Marine will be attending at least one European show, Genoa or Cannes, as well as Paris with Beneteau, and the usual factory visits for each of its brands.
On Lake Macquarie on the NSW Central Coast, Lifestyle Marine is elated with the effect of the late, but very welcome summer weather.
'We had a shocking November and December,' says Damien Hurt. 'Temperatures didn’t go over 21 and it rained all the time. But since Christmas, the weather has been excellent and we are seeing a lot of activity and interest in boats.'
Lifestyle Marine represents Zodiac, SeaRay, Boston Whaler, Archer Plate aluminium and will soon receive the first of its Mastercraft boats from the US.
'They are specifically a tow boat. We have five about to arrive. They are priced from $85,000 so they’re the upper end of the market – the benchmark – and from what we gather, there’s plenty of interest there.'
The 2011 Sydney Boat Show proved very strong for Lifestyle Marine, providing a great 'kick start' for the summer. 'We are still delivering boats sold during Sydney and following up leads. Summer came late, but we have been very busy, selling plenty of boats.'
On the Gold Coast, Nitro Marine – representing Mercury, Mercruiser, Mercury inflatables, Stacer aluminium, Crownline fibreglass, the Triton fishing range and Pioneer – is seeing steady sales, the same units sold as for the same period last year, but lower yield.
'People are buying smaller boats and they are price sensitive,' says Rob Waugh from Nitro. 'For the past three months, we are about 20% down on last year, despite the good weather.'
Good weather does influence sales, he admits, but a hectic, pressure-filled end of 2011 halted sales. 'We are seeing people use the excuse for Christmas to spend a bit more,' he says, adding that he hopes that adds up to more optimism for 2012.
Tinnies have proven popular, and Nitro set up a tinnie and motor package in the lead up to Christmas that was extremely competitively priced.
'We have also had an increase in parts sales and our maintenance has been booked solid since September. 'We had a quiet winter, so we ran a special in August and we have been booked out.'
People are realising the benefits of spending time and money on regular servicing and maintenance of their boats and engines, Waugh says. 'The consequences of missing a service have added up to more expense than if they had had the service!'
Among consumers, there is a great deal of confusion about imported boats and engines, and who are legitimate dealers and how that impacts warranties.
'I think people realise that importing your own boat or motor is dangerous, but they are telling us that some people are passing themselves off as dealers importing a range of boats and engines. They look legitimate, but when it comes to servicing or warranty issues, they find they have been ripped off. There is a lot of diagnostic analysis that goes in to fitting an engine, especially in the larger end.
'Mercury has introduced a new policy for engines that they have to be sold with pre-delivery inspection (PDI) by a certified Mercury dealer to retain warranty. If customers come to us with queries about engines, we ask them to bring in the serial numbers and we will search the system and see if they’re registered.'
Looking ahead, Waugh is confident there are a few more weeks of blue skies and boat sales to come. 'The sunshine certainly helps, as does the start of a new year. People have been working hard and saving, so they are looking forward to loosening up on their spending.'
In the west, despite the strong resources sector, boat sales are down. While it’s true that there is a mining boom, the rest of the state is suffering, according to MD at Marlin Power & Marine, Eddie Peters.
'It is tough,' he acknowledges. 'WA has a two-speed economy. There’s the resources and the rest. Most industries have had the worst three years in 30 years, especially retail. The marine industry is hurting big time, across the board. Boat registrations are right down. In some segments of the industry, sales are 60% down.'
At the root of the problem is consumer confidence, observes Peters. 'People have no faith in the economy or Labor. Australia shouldn’t be affected by the world financial situation, and yet, people are not spending because they have no confidence in the government.'
Two of the local industry’s largest players, Offshore Marine and Hayway Marine are about to close their doors, reports Peters. 'Survival will depend on restructuring,' he adds.
And that is exactly what Peters plans to do. 'I have been MD of the Honda Shop Group for 34 years. We are planning to add more lifestyle products like motorcycles and other products to our stores to give customers more choice, in the hope that it will increase floor traffic.'
On a brighter note, Adam Duncombe at Challenge Marine, with dealerships in Perth and Mandurah, says while it was a slow start to summer, 'we have sold 15 boats in the past 3 weeks'.
'December was great for us! We delivered 20 boats in December and I hope it continues!' Challenge Marine sells brands from the US and NZ such as SeaRay, Boston Whaler, Bayliner, Trophy and Mclay.
The key to turning over boats, says Duncombe, is 'heavy discounting'.
'It can't be a token amount either, as customers are savvy and they know what you pay for boats. They shop around online and then make their decision. We're in the business to move boats, so we took the strategy of meeting the market and discounting by a severe amount. We know that a lot of dealers are strugglingl, but we are still here and we're quite happy.'
To keep momentum during 2012, Duncombe says Challenge Marine will be beefing up its online presence and marketing. 'The marine industry is slow to realise that online is where it's at. When we first went online, reluctantly at first, we sold 4 boats in the first week. That is how customers are researching and making their decisions.'