Boating Industry

October 2016

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October 2016 | Boating Industry | 59 /// Market Trends /// BY CRAIG RITCHIE esigned to blend the generous seating capacity and family- friendly layout of a pontoon boat with the familiar look and easy trailering of a traditional runabout, deck boats would ap- pear to offer boaters an ideal compromise between practicality and performance. They have space for all the people and all the gear, yet they're still fun to drive. Little wonder that so many manufacturers refer to deck boats as boating's answer to the SUV. At first glance most deck boats don't look a whole lot different from the familiar bowrider, and it takes most buyers a moment to realize they retain their beam further forward than the traditional runabout does, and swap the pointy bow with a broader one that may even include an integral deck or swim platform. Sporty and stylish, deck boats come in a variety of configurations, in a choice of outboard or sterndrive power, some even with full windshields for additional comfort early or late in the season. With so many positive attributes, one might expect deck boats to domi- nate all categories of boat sales. But do they? That's not quite as straightfor- ward question as it might appear, mainly because deck boats have changed and evolved significantly – and especially in the wake of the downturn and all the boating industry upheaval that followed. By the numbers The rapid development of new features and capabilities has blurred the traditional definition of exactly what a deck boat is. With the water between deck boats and runabouts increasingly muddied, measuring category perfor- mance has become more difficult, leading to some apparently contradictory results depending how one looks at the data. For instance, the National Marine Manufacturers Association reports that deck boat sales were up by 11.3 percent in 2015, based on the organi- zation's control group of manufacturers which represent 69 percent of the market. Its 2016 numbers are still forthcoming, but overall boat sales are forecast to be up by 6 to 7 percent for the year. Meanwhile, Statistical Surveys Inc. pegs year-over-year deck boat sales through June 2016 as being slightly down, albeit by a mere 0.39 percent. This follows reported category growth of 2.0 percent in 2015 and 2.76 percent in 2014. An answer to the question of how the deck boat market goes seems to largely depend on where you are. Call 10 different dealers in 10 different states and you'll get 10 different responses. This is particularly evident in SSI's 2016 sales figures by market. For its top 20 Basic Trading Areas, SSI notes an almost even split of declines and gains for the first six months of this year. Declines in the Fort Myers, Tampa/St. Petersburg/Clear- water, Miami/Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Detroit, Sarasota/Bradenton, Milwaukee, Orlando, Atlanta, Charlotte/Gastonia and Boston BTAs averaged a drop of 13.7 percent in overall volumes, while gains averaging a whopping 33 percent were reported for the New York, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Raleigh/Dur- ham, Dallas/Fort Worth, Naples FL, Springfield MO and Philadelphia/Wilmington/Trenton BTAs. Just looking at the spread between the BTAs with the greatest sales declines (-24.81 percent, Fort Myers) and greatest gains (+60.42 percent, Dallas/ Fort Worth) over the same period of time clearly reveals the challenge in accurately measuring deck boat category performance. To truly appreci- ate what's going on, you have to look beyond the numbers and talk to the manufacturers directly. A growing market While sales figures may appear to be contradictory and lacking clear con- sensus, what cannot be denied is that over time the number of players in the deck boat market has steadily grown. That wouldn't happen if there was nothing going on. It's also why a number of the builders have been watching the continu- ing evolution of Hurricane with a close eye. The company that created the deck boat market is reported to still hold about a 50 percent share, in spite of upheavals and uncertainty associated with its ownership change last year. "Hurricane created the deck boat market," said Godfrey Marine director of marketing, Jeff Roth. "You might see a lag in our deck boat numbers over the last couple of quarters, which had to do with the disruption around our sale. We didn't have as many units in the field as we would have liked. But that's all in the past and we're now looking ahead. Right now we're building more deck boats per year than our next five top competitors. This is a strong category, which is why we have seen so many other brands enter it." Among their many attributes, Roth says that a WE SEE THE DECK BOAT SEGMENT PROVIDING NICE STEADY GROWTH. IT WON'T BE EXPLO- SIVE GROWTH, BUT IT WILL BE STEADY AND MEASURED… — Tim Schiek, Brunswick The Bayliner Element SP shows the seating versatility of a deck boat.

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