US industry retail powerboats / Percentage change in units

After four brutal years of declining sales, plant closures, bankruptcies and the culling of aged inventories, enthusiasm is finally replacing fear in many boating executives’ voices.

Nobody is ready to call 2012 a boom year, or even a solid turnaround, especially with big-boat sales still on the decline.

There are plenty of macro-economic trends spooking US consumers – the Eurozone crisis, the most divisive presidential election in many years, uncertainty about taxes in 2013, and a looming “fiscal cliff” that threatens to push the slow-growing US economy back into recession.

But many boat and equipment manufacturers are reporting their strongest sales in four years. A handful are even talking about reaching pre-2007 levels. Many others say their businesses are now leaner, more nimble and able to navigate the “new market reality” much more effectively. Considering the jittery economic background, the marine industry is chugging along nicely.

“It’s enjoyable again,” says Steve Heese, president and CEO of Chris-Craft Boats in Sarasota, Florida. “In ’08 and ’09, it felt like we were grinding it out in our bunker everyday, not being able to make long-term plans, waiting for whatever unknown event to take place. We’re not back to the size of what we were, but we’ve grown nicely in the last few years.”

Heese says that his company “battened down the hatches, learned to live on fewer sales,” and kept developing new product. “We knew at a deep level that it was the right thing to do, even though there was no evidence for that,” says Heese. “The businesses that survived this have learned a lot. Anyone still in the industry did a lot of things right.”

Note: The above is an excerpt from the country overview written by Michael Verdon and published on the October issue of IBI magazine. IBI Plus subscribers can

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