Boating Industry

February 2016

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Page 28 of 43 February 2016 | Boating Industry | 29 /// Market Trends /// BY CRAIG RITCHIE s ince the 2008 economic downturn, pontoon boats have led the recov- ery of the recreational boating in- dustry. At one point accounting for almost one in three new boats sold, the pon- toon market has demonstrated unprecedented growth, with new players jumping into the fray and established nameplates pumping out new models at an accelerated rate. It begs the inevi- table question – how long can this really last? In view of current economic and socio- demographic trends, the upswing in pontoon sales is going to last for a while yet. After years of exhibiting double-digit expansion, the cat- egory has settled into more sustainable growth in the high single-digit range, suggesting we're witnessing more of a boom than bubble. The most recent NMMA year-over-year retail sales data shows the pontoon segment growing by 8 percent for 2015. This aligns with September 2015 data from Statistical Surveys Inc., which shows U.S. retail sales of all pontoons at 39,857 units on a 12- month rolling basis, up from 36,920 units for the previous 12-month period. Boats in the 20- to 23-foot range represent the overwhelming majority of these sales, totaling 20,608 units or just over half of the 39,857 pontoon boats sold through the 12 months ended September 2015. In a November presentation to sharehold- ers, Brunswick freshwater boat group president Jeff Kinsey noted that pontoon boat sales have recovered to 103 percent of their pre-downturn (2007) levels in the United States. "We're still seeing very strong pontoon growth, but not the runaway growth we wit- nessed coming out of the recession, when we had a recovering economy compounded with a number of new dealers beginning to sell pon- toon product, and driving overall sales in such a powerful way," he said. "We see strong growth in the pontoon segment continuing for some time yet. The demographics are favorable, and we're seeing a number of lifelong boaters now looking at pontoon product. At the same time, we're also seeing growth within the segment from buyers in their 20s and 30s with families. It is a category that appeals to a tremendously wide range of prospective buyers." Recognizing the growth for potential, Co- balt Boats has expanded into the pontoon market with its Marker One brand. "Measured in units, the pontoon segment in the 23- to 27-foot range is four times larger than the sterndrive segment in the same size range," notes Gavan Hunt, vice president of sales and marketing for Cobalt/Marker One. "Marker One represents a signifi cant opportu- nity for us to grow our overall business. Cobalt was founded on the premise of bringing yacht quality to a runabout, and Marker One is built on the premise of bringing yacht quality to a pontoon-style boat." Power options drive the market Reasons for the surge in pontoon market share have been well documented – the type's ver- satility, fl at fl oor and spacious accommoda- tions appeal to buyers who don't need or want accommodations below decks. But engine technology continues to be identifi ed as a key driver of growth in the pontoon segment. "We're still seeing particularly strong inter- est in performance models powered by high horsepower engines," said Peter Barrett, senior vice president of marketing for Smoker Craft Inc., manufacturer of the Starcraft, Sylvan and SunChaser pontoon lines. "We're seeing far more demand for three-tube high perfor- mance models than ever before – to the point we had to set up a whole new production line to accommodate it. Developments in outboard engine technology have defi nitely contributed to the growth of pontoons by making the boats more versatile than ever. "But while it's easy to point to the bigger engines and the high performance aspects, the great thing about pontoon boats is that they're so scalable," notes Barrett. "You can put a 200 on the back, or go with a less expensive 115 and still have a great time out on the water. { } The Marker One is a key part of Cobalt's growth plans. "Measured in units, the pontoon segment in the 23- to 27-foot range is four times larger than the sterndrive segment in the same size range." — Gavan Hunt, vice president of sales and marketing, Cobalt/Marker One

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