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The drive to continuously grow and improve is at the heart of the MRAA, our members and our staff. That’s why we’re launching this blog: to share what we’re learning in our work and in our lives with you – and in hopes you’ll share what you’re learning too.


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Keep Records of Employees’ Coronavirus Illnesses

Posted By Liz Walz, Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Many of the legal experts that have been providing businesses with advice throughout the COVID health crisis have recommended the creation of systems and processes to track efforts to keep employees and customers safe.

Now, under newly revised policies issued by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), its Compliance Safety and Health Officers will begin stepping up in-person inspections of all types of workplaces and enforcement of the COVID-related record-keeping mandates for businesses, particularly those that employ more than 10 people, as detailed in 29 CFR 1904.

“In all events, it is important as a matter of worker health and safety, as well as public health, for an employer to examine COVID-19 cases among workers and respond appropriately to protect workers, regardless of whether a case is ultimately determined to be work-related,” wrote Lee Anne Jillings and Patrick J. Kapust, acting directors, in an OSHA Memorandum on May 19, 2020. 

The mandates they will now be enforcing require employers to conduct a “reasonable and good faith inquiry” into cases of coronavirus among their employees to determine whether they may be work-related, and if they are determined to be work-related, to record those cases using OSHA Form 300.

This is one of several regulations related to COVID-19 that U.S. marine dealers should be aware of and ensure they are in compliance with.

MRAA addressed some of these legal and regulatory considerations as part of its April 15th Ask the Expert Webinar, titled Legal Insights to COVID-19 Solutions.

Given the changes that have taken place since then, MRAA will once again feature expertise from MRAA partner Bellavia Blatt PC to help dealers navigate these legal and regulatory issues in an upcoming June webinar, date and time to be announced shortly.


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Is Your Dealership Operating Safely?

Posted By Liz Keener, Thursday, May 21, 2020

Here we are on the cusp of summer. With Memorial Day weekend in the U.S. and Victoria Day in Canada unofficially kicking off the season, this is typically a busy time of year for dealers.


We hope this is a busy, revenue-generating time for you as well.


But we also know this year is different. The government is asking us to practice social distancing. Consumers are excited to get out on the water, but many are hesitant to interact closely with you and your staff. Your staff is happy to be back at work, but some are reluctant to come back if certain precautions aren’t made.


So what are you doing to stay safe while people across North America are still being infected with COVID-19?


There are a lot of things to think about from customer interactions to washing surfaces and from marina safety to demo rides and sea trials.


I recently spent a great deal of time with MTAs throughout North America, discussing what it is that dealers, marina operators and boatyard owners need to know about running their operations during the pandemic.


What we developed is a 58-page manual, the Guide to Operating Your Boat Business Safely.


Don’t worry, you don’t have to read the full 58 pages of the guide. We know you’re busy. Find the articles that are pertinent to you. We have a section on Your Business, another on Your Customers and a third on Your Employees. Plus, 17 pages of the publication are downloads for you to use. Those downloads range from printable guides for your staff, to posters for your customers, to customizable Excel documents that will help you run your business safely.


We combed through what the CDC, Health Canada, W.H.O., OSHA and others have been reporting and assessed how their recommendations affect dealerships, marinas and boatyards, and translated that, so you don’t have to.


We hope you find some great resources in this guide! And if you need any additional, resources or information, let us at the MRAA or those at your local MTA know. We’re glad to help!

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Safe Boating, The 2020 Version

Posted By Matt Gruhn, Wednesday, May 20, 2020

If you’re not one of the many marine industry disciples who actually wore their life jacket to work last Friday — affectionately known as Wear Your Life Jacket to Work Day — you should be aware that the week prior to Memorial Day here in the States is always honored as National Safe Boating Week.


Safe Boating Week was designed to bring awareness to the importance of safety on the water, prior to what is normally the kickoff to the summer boating season — Memorial Day weekend. Wear your life jacket. Boat sober. Navigate responsibly. Respect other boaters. And so forth.


With many dealers and marinas reporting that boater activity levels have been at all-time highs throughout the month of May, the boating season is already in full swing, and it is expected that this Memorial Day Weekend could be the busiest holiday weekend ever for boating across the United States.


This year, more than any other year, safe boating takes on a higher level of importance — and not just because of the increased boating activity. Safe Boating week was designed to help mitigate the risks of boating accidents and fatalities, two key metrics that our industry has been successful at improving over time. With greater numbers of boaters on the waterways, a focus on safe boating will be more important than ever.


I would argue, however, that our industry’s focus shouldn’t be limited to reducing the risk of just accidents and fatalities. It should also be focused on limiting the risk that our industry faces with regard to the health concerns in our society today.


Download this and the other resources below to communicate with customers on how to boat
safely in today's social-distancing-focused environment and help mitigate risks to boating.



You may recall that Miami-Dade County in Florida closed down its boat ramps and forbid boaters from using popular boating destinations due to the appearance that boaters were not practicing safe social distancing measures. With increased boating-related website traffic, with an increase in boat loan applications, and positive reports from our dealers, it’s clear that a whole lot of new people and seasoned boaters alike will be taking to our waterways this weekend and enjoying our great outdoors. What are you doing to keep them safe and protect both boaters and boating for the days, weeks and months to come?


Without a good reminder from our industry and our many businesses and their employees, if boating participation isn’t conducted safely and responsibly, it could damage the reputation of boating and once again cause the closure of ramps and/or waterways. Let’s make sure that we’re communicating, as an industry, all of the ways we should be boating safely.


Here are a few resources you can use to do that:

MRAA: Communicate Safe Boating With Your Customers

MRAA's Boating Do's and Do Not's 

Boat Ramp Do's and Do Not's

Discover Boating Article: Tips for Safe Social Distancing


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This time, it’s different

Posted By Matt Gruhn, Wednesday, May 20, 2020

With the memory of the significant toll that the Great Recession had on our industry still somewhat fresh in our minds, I think it’s important to note that this downturn is different in a number of ways.


Between the crash in 2008 and the middle of 2010, nearly 2,000 boat dealerships were forced out of business. Buying programs with volume-focused discounts, coupled with loose inventory management practices put many businesses in a no-win situation when the economy came to a screeching halt.


It’s estimated that as much as 60 percent of the inventory on dealership lots during the Great Recession was more than a year old. And, notably, very little if any of that product had been curtailed, meaning the dealerships hadn’t paid down the value as it aged.


The financial crunch it placed on the dealers also hit the floor plan lenders hard, and all of them, aside from GE Commercial Distribution Finance, vacated the market place, leaving dealers and the industry to fend for themselves. Today, the former GE team operates under the Wells Fargo Commercial Distribution Finance banner, and two other lenders — Northpoint Commercial Finance and TCF Inventory Finance — are supporting manufacturers and dealers through this crisis, and there’s some relatively good news to report, in comparison to the last downturn.


Based on MRAA’s industry conversations, non-current inventory at dealerships in April, sat on average, at around 20 percent of the total inventory in the field. That’s a major shift from the precarious position dealers found themselves in during the Great Recession days. 2019 model year boats made up about 19 percent of that and only 1 percent of the non-current, new inventory in the field was 2018.


What’s more is that today’s inventory has also been curtailed. What that means is that as consumers look for more value and choose to pay less and buy a non-current model, there’s more cash injected into our dealerships.


One of the major concerns with any downturn like we’ve seen with the Great Recession and in today’s environment, is that consumers or dealers will default on their loans, have boats repossessed and then re-sold in the market place in a manner that deteriorates inventory value and further hurts our businesses. If the inventory levels are any indicator on the likelihood of that scenario, and I believe they are, then we should be in much better shape today than we were in 2008, 2009, and 2010.

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Boating offers ‘bright spot’ in midst of social distancing

Posted By Courtney Chalmers, Friday, May 15, 2020

As a socially-safe activity, boating is growing in demand 


New data from Boats Group showing Boat Trader and YachtWorld marketplace activity soaring in recent weeks prove water lovers have grown tired of “streaming” their way through today’s remote lifestyle. Boaters began to crave this year’s boating season more than ever after the declared global pandemic in March and were quick to turn their attention to browsing for boats and dreaming of better days on the water in April. Similarly, people who were previously on the fence about owning a boat are now showing strong interest as summer concerts, sporting events and travel plans have been canceled. 


In fact, more people are actively looking for boats now than a year ago, and current traffic (+26% YoY) more closely resembles midsummer volume than spring. As water access and marinas across the country are reopening, leads across all regions and classes are increasing. 


A closer look at that demand shows boats under 30 feet are currently receiving the heftiest volume of leads. Pontoon (+149% YoY), ski/ wake (+100% YoY) and freshwater fishing boats (+94% YoY) are generating the most interest. A view regionally shows that the Southwest, Plains and Gulf Coast areas are among the strongest in lead conversion, which, combined with the category data, suggests that river and lake lovers are the first to make boating their go-to social distancing activity.



Given the strong lead growth across the entire U.S. (+76% YoY), it is clear that many people will turn to boating for their social distancing activity. As pent-up demand continues to grow in the coming months, dealers and brokers should focus on nurturing prospects and building their pipeline.


To provide additional support to its industry partners as demand accelerates, Boat Trader and YachtWorld added new features to their marketplaces to help dealers and brokers merchandise their virtual and delivery services to make way for more sales. 


Boating appears to offer people a silver lining to an unprecedented reality. More and more people are eager to get outside, enjoy time with family and friends (at a safe distance) and get on the water. What better way to do that than with a boat?

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Answers to More of Your PPP Questions

Posted By Liz Walz, Thursday, May 14, 2020

If you’re a marine dealer based in the United States, you’re likely one of the 90 percent of dealerships that have applied for a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan offered by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).  


The question on many dealers’ minds is: So, what now?


Many of you who have applied and received these funds may be wondering how your business can use them in a way that helps your business stay afloat, and gets as much of the amount forgiven as possible.


That’s no surprise. The SBA had provided limited answers to those questions up until now, but has been promising more guidance would be coming.


Well, today we received some of that promised guidance from the U.S. Treasury Department’s release of some frequently asked questions around the Paycheck Protection Program. You can find the SBA document here.


The PPP is one of several Coronavirus Relief Options offered by the U.S. Small
Business Administration that many marine dealers have applied for and are now
putting to use; however, several questions remain about how to apply for
forgiveness of these loans.




This week, MRAA also received some guidance from Eric Craig of USA Specialty Lending, which is approved by SBA to originate and process PPP loans.


As a longtime friend of MRAA and someone who has spent much of his career in the marine industry, we asked Eric some questions to help dealers navigate these difficult times and PPP loans in particular.


QUESTION: Eric, you said that there are still a lot of funds available through the PPP, and recommended dealerships that have not yet taken advantage of the program consider it. Can you explain why you recommend that? I know a lot of dealers have concerns about applying for the loans because there have been so many unanswered questions about the program – and specifically about loan forgiveness.  


ANSWER: I’m sure every dealership has been affected by this pandemic. The funds are meant to give temporary relief for specifically these types of small businesses. The ability to have the loan forgiven, should the funds be used appropriately, offers very little downside. If a dealership can apply, and hasn’t already, they should do so soon. The second round of funds are estimated at over $100 Billion, giving qualified businesses and business owners the ability to obtain some relief.


QUESTION: For those dealers who have already applied for the PPP and received their funds, what advice do you have?


ANSWER: First, try to be patient. Lenders, just like dealerships, are awaiting further guidance from the SBA as to what documentation to collect and how the process for forgiveness will be implemented. Second, if you haven’t started already, collect payroll documentation, utility bills, lease payments or mortgage statements and bank statements for the 8-week period following the initial disbursements of funds. More detailed information from the SBA and your lender will follow, but it’s helpful if you start putting some of this together now.


QUESTION: We have heard that you have eight weeks from the date the PPP funds are deposited that it can be forgiven, if you use the funds to pay for approved costs. Is that right? Does that mean you have eight weeks to use any funds you want forgiven or eight weeks to apply for forgiveness for the funds you plan to use for approved costs?


ANSWER: Based on guidance thus far, the funds utilized during the eight weeks following initial disbursement are eligible for forgiveness. Keep in mind, 75% of the funds eligible for forgiveness must be utilized toward payroll costs.


QUESTION: After the eight weeks, you can either return what you didn’t use or any amount that has not been forgiven by the SBA (either because you used the funds on unapproved costs or because you didn’t apply for forgiveness in time) becomes a loan at 1% interest. Do we understand that correctly? Is that the same interest rate no matter what bank you went through?


ANSWER: This is a loan that happens to have the ability to be forgiven. If funds aren’t utilized appropriately or in their entirety, the borrower will have a six-month deferment and then a repayment period of 18 months. The interest rate, no matter the lender, is 1%. The funds can be repaid at any time, in full, if you so choose. However, I would read your loan agreement thoroughly as to the lender’s guidelines on prepayment.


QUESTION: What do you need to do within the eight weeks to get the PPP money forgiven? Do you send in something that shows how you have spent that money? Is that done on a portal or hard copy? Through your bank or directly with SBA?


ANSWER: As previously mentioned, start collecting payroll, rent, mortgage and/or utility documentation. While the documents vary per entity type. I’d like to think every lender will send instructions on what documentations is needed and how to submit. This documentation will go directly to your lender. It is your lender’s responsibility to apply for forgiveness. It seems there will also be a final certification the borrower’s representative must make regarding the documents provided and how the funds were utilized. This might be an SBA form or something your lender may provide. Further guidance has yet to be relayed on this topic.


QUESTION: If I understand correctly, an IRS rule published late last month suggests that companies that use PPP dollars toward their payroll and other covered expenses can't then deduct those amounts from their taxes. Is that right? I think it’s important dealers understand this and plan for it, as it could potentially offset some of the loan's benefits.


ANSWER: While this detail is important, I am not a tax advisor and any discussion of tax implications should be had with the dealership’s accountant.


QUESTION: What else should dealers know about participating in this program?


ANSWER: It’s a very simple application process if you already have a commercial banking relationship and they offer the SBA Paycheck Protection Program. There is also a finite window to apply. Once funds run out the program is over. There doesn’t seem to be any more funding going before Congress at this time.


Got more questions? Here are four places to turn:

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Help MRAA Support our Industry

Posted By Matt Gruhn, Tuesday, May 5, 2020

As businesses across our industry fight to navigate the landscape of federal stimulus packages, there’s an untold story you should be aware of.


That is that the organizations the government designates to support their respective industries — which in this case means almost every single one of the marine trade associations you know today — are NOT eligible for the federal stimulus program.


As a 501(c)(6) non-profit trade association, the MRAA was created for the sole purpose of supporting and fostering the success of the marine industry. Our founding documents call it the “welfare of marine retailers” … or in other words the health, happiness and fortunes of those businesses. But 501(c)(6) organizations were left off of the list of organizations eligible for the PPP.


Despite this decision, over the last 45 days or so your MRAA team has worked tirelessly to support your business. They’ve produced more webinars in 45 days than they had planned for the entire calendar year. They’ve written and designed more pages of educational content than any single quarter in the history of this organization. They’ve flipped the switch on years (and more than $100,000) of online educational course investments to give every dealer – members or non-members — free access. They’ve had more conversations with decision makers in Congressional offices and at the state-level than any previous two-month period. They’ve battled for the “essential” status of retailers in almost every state. They’ve conducted and shared more research and best-practice-related blogs than any entire year previous. It's been a herculean effort in support of our dealers and all despite the payroll reductions that we, too, have had to incorporate.


The MRAA is a non-profit entity and as such is focused on providing support much more than collecting revenue. Yet, in times like these, it’s so easy for businesses to think that their membership dues don’t mean a lot and are easy to trim out of their expenses. The exact opposite of that is true. Your membership dues are what make MRAA’s work possible.


I don’t know who had the authority to designate today #GivingTuesdayNow, a day designed to raise awareness of non-profits in these difficult times, but regardless, our team here at MRAA is pausing (after yet another great webinar, mind you) to recognize this movement and to ask for your support. Let me be clear, we’re not asking for a donation … we’re asking for you to support the MRAA in ways that will give you incredible return on investment and amplify our ability to advocate for you.

·       Renew your membership or join the MRAA for as little as $395.

·       Upgrade to Silver Membership for $995 and give your team access to 140 courses at

·       Or Get Certified and gain access to a proven business template for your dealership.


Even though the MRAA is a non-profit, it is a business just like yours. Except we are unique in that without support from our industry, from the businesses and individuals we work so hard to support, we don’t exist. While we continue to fight hard to help create more opportunities for your business, we are also fighting to gain access to some of the same stimulus package opportunities for ours and other 501(c)(6) organizations.


We’ve heard plenty of experts tell us to be direct when making an “ask,” so that’s what I’ll do. We ask that if you find MRAA’s programs or services or any of the COVID-19 related webinars, documents, data, best practices, publications, communications or other resources of value, please support the MRAA and this incredible team by becoming a member.


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A closer look at March new boat registrations

Posted By Matt Gruhn, Thursday, April 30, 2020

When we turn on the news these days, there is a lot of data being thrown at us. And for good reason. With all the speculation about what might happen in the COVID-19 economy, data is needed to help us sensibly navigate our current reality. It also grabs our attention, and the media knows it.

But as important and compelling as it is, data needs to be understood in the proper context. Take, for instance, recently reported data showing an 18-percent decline in new powerboat registrations in March 2020, as compared to the same time last year.


In normal times, registration data gives our industry a monthly pulse on how our industry is performing. It is invaluable and remains critical to understanding the trends in the market place at any point in time. This blog is not meant to question that.


However, when looking at recent registration data, it is important to note that of the 50 state offices that process boat registrations across the United States, only two — Georgia and Wyoming — are actually open to the public. Four others — Arizona, Iowa, New Hampshire and Oklahoma — permit consumers to enter administrative offices on an appointment-only basis. The other 44 state offices, as well as countless municipal offices responsible for administering motorboat registrations, are closed to the public, offering only mail-in or online services.



44 of the 50 state offices that processed registrations are closed to the public, offering only mail-in and online registrations. 



As a regular practice, organizations that analyze state registrations comb through monthly data from “early-reporting” states, and the number of states reporting for any given monthly snapshot fluctuates on a regular basis, typically between 25 and 32 states. March 2020 early-reporting states totaled 22 in all, or about 42 percent of the U.S. boat market. Comparatively, February 2020 early-reporting state data was based on registrations from 30 states or about 61.5 percent of the market.


I am not disputing the accuracy of the new boat registrations that were reported. Nor would I argue that new boat sales haven’t been negatively affected — we have every reason to believe that boat sales would be impacted by the mandated closures of many marine businesses and the restrictions placed on the public in many states.

However, as the ability of states to keep up and accurately report registration data has been disrupted by closures and delays, the possibility of a temporary disconnect between boat registration data and new boat sales as a result of this pandemic is also part of the story we need to understand.


I spoke with dealers in each of the “appointment-only” states, and it sounds like there remain opportunities, albeit reduced, to get boat registrations processed. And even in states like Minnesota, where registration offices are closed to the public, some dealers have noted that they have a “secret way in” to the office that’s not available to the public.


Regardless, the decline in the availability of state government employees and offices to process registrations has undoubtedly impacted boat registration data, particularly when it is compared to the same month last year. During this time when our businesses and our government offices can be deemed “essential” or “non-essential,” it’s important to identify that such statistics don’t offer an apples-to-apples comparison and may be influenced to varying degrees on a state-by-state basis and on a month-by-month basis, depending on the status of each specific state office and their many satellite locations.


Although we researched and identified the status of each of the 50 state registration offices (see graphic), their actual operational capacity for processing registrations remains unclear. We know, for example, that the Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles was shut down on and off for weeks, dating back to mid-March, with some branches being unable to register private-sale boats. While the DMV has adjusted procedures, they are admitting that they are delayed.


We also identified that some states, like Kentucky, are taking steps to extend registration timelines so customers can use their boats while there are delays. Other states, like Colorado, are offering boaters the option to obtain another temporary registration permit from the dealership they purchased their boat from. In addition, agencies are moving to a larger emphasis on online and mail-in registrations. This, of course, could increase the already-existing lag time between purchase and boat registration as well.


It is reasonable to expect boat sales to be off of the pace of last year, as there are significant challenges for our dealers right now. Many dealerships are only partially open, at best, learning on the fly how to run a brick-and-mortar retail business out of individual employees’ homes and conducting boat sales by appointment only. Mix that with rising unemployment and serious economic concerns, and the playing field looks like a giant uphill battle.


While it’s clear that government office closures undoubtedly impact the flow of boat registrations, it’s difficult to ascertain the size of the overall impact and whether the reported numbers are better or worse than what’s actually happening out there. It may simply mean that there will be a larger-than-normal lag before registrations are processed, and we’ll need to understand that that’s part of our current registration analysis reality until shelter-at-home orders are lifted, social distancing guidelines relaxed and the economy regains a sense of normalcy.


Until then, MRAA will continue to look at boat sales trends through a variety of lenses, including a study that MRAA began fielding on Tuesday.

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Michigan closure causes mass layoffs; elsewhere, PPP loans save dealership personnel

Posted By Matt Gruhn, Wednesday, April 29, 2020


Boat dealership layoffs spiked in the state of Michigan in April, when compared to other states, as government officials locked down the state due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a survey conducted by the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas.


In a survey of 199 dealerships across the United States during the week of April 20th, 61 percent of the respondents suggested they had no layoffs to date, and another 14 percent had laid off just 1-10 percent of their staff.



Question: What percentage of your location's workforce have you
had to layoff due to the COVID-19 Crisis?

61 percent of dealerships reported having no layoffs through the third
week of April. And 80 percent laid off fewer than 26 percent of their teams.



Of the 21 percent of dealerships that noted that 26 percent or more of their teams had been laid off, a full 45 percent of them were from the state of Michigan.


“Our state has shut down our business as well as the right to do any motorized boating,” noted the president of one Michigan-based dealership.


“Get the governor to let us do some business,” demanded the CEO of another dealership there.


In Michigan, Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced on April 10 that the use of motorized boats would be prohibited, and marine businesses had been deemed “non-essential” and therefore must remain closed. Her executive order remained in place until April 24, the day before this MRAA survey closed.


“Our governor has made the use of a boat with a motor against her mandates, with a minimum fine of $1,000 if you get caught,” commented the owner of a Michigan dealer. “We lost a month, but things are looking good as long as our shutdown doesn’t get extended.”


Similarly, dealers in New York, a state that also had strict “non-essential” mandates on marine businesses, recorded high levels of layoffs in the MRAA study, noting nearly 20 percent of the responses in the 26 percent and up categories. The “essential” business status for N.Y. marine businesses was returned on April 18, the Saturday prior to this survey launching.


One dealership operations manager from New York noted that the company had laid off more than 75 percent of its employees, but “we were allowed to reopen on the 20th, and we have brought back 35 percent of our workers so far.”


“We used our own cash to keep everyone on when the mandate to close first started,” shared another New York-based dealership president. “Now we have the assistance of the PPP loan program to help. We have just been able to reopen, so it remains to be seen how business will be and how long we can continue to front the payroll, the insurance and of the rest of our expenses.”


More than 80 percent of survey respondents had laid off fewer than 25 percent of their team members, a threshold that’s notable because the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program provides for forgivable loans, so long as business owners retain 75 percent or more of their payroll. And it’s true that the PPP loans were mentioned numerous times throughout the 85 comments the survey received as the means for which dealers didn’t have more layoffs.


“Only because of the PPP was I able to keep my people working,” noted an Iowa-based dealership president.


“We were able to get the SBA PPP loan and keep our folks on payroll and working in the shop,” shared a Pennsylvania-based dealership general manager.


And many dealers who noted they had gone through some layoffs, have brought staff back since they received their loan proceeds.


“We reduced our staff from five days a week to four days a week,” commented a New Jersey-based dealership manager. “We received our PPP funding from the SBA on April 17, so we had our employees return to the five-days-a-week schedule.”


“Since we received the payroll protection SBA loan, we are almost back to 100 percent,” said the CEO of an Indiana-based dealership.


“I am lucky so far,” noted the president of a dealership who reported no layoffs. “I did not have to close so far, and we are busy. Liquidity is still an issue, though, and if we don’t close the gap in boat sales and/or get our PPP money, I will need to reduce staff by 20 percent and cut pay within the next 30 days. If I get the PPP money, I will actually add a technician.”

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“Way more interest in boats” dealers report

Posted By Matt Gruhn, Saturday, April 25, 2020


In a news cycle that’s heavy with bad news, it’s important to underscore the positive things happening around the marine industry. And there’s a lot to take note of, so I thought I’d spend some time sharing what we’re hearing.


Little by little, politicians are noting the importance of outdoor recreation in today’s physical distancing culture. In Minnesota, Governor Tim Walz recommended from the early days of his shelter-at-home order that getting outside, and notably fishing and boating, was important. Last week, he backed up those words with actions and transitioned boat retailers to “essential” status, allowing them to service boats and sell by appointment.


Within days, Governor Andrew Cuomo in New York reversed a decision to exclude marinas and dealerships from the essential list, collaborating with governors from New Jersey and Connecticut to announce that marinas, boatyards and marine manufacturers will be allowed to open for personal use as long as strict social distancing and sanitation protocols are followed. (Find 49 best practices for creating your strict protocols here.)


In what has been the most restrictive state in terms of boating limitations, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer relaxed boating restrictions on Friday and allowed for prep, delivery, launch and/or curbside pickup of boats in storage or boats ordered online or remotely, provided the business and employees adhere to social distancing guidelines.


And then Miami-Dade County Mayor announced a three-phase plan to reopen public ramps and marinas in south Florida, reversing restrictions he had placed on them a month earlier.


For the dealers around North America, navigating these on-again, off-again restrictions and re-openings has no doubt created challenges, but what we’re seeing is that consumers are turning to boating for the ultimate physical distancing activity.


On Lake Minnetonka outside of Minneapolis, boating activity has rarely, if ever been as heavy as it has been through mid-April. Boat sales reports in the state have been better than expected for many dealers.


“There’s way more interest in boats than I can ever remember there being in April,” says Dave Briggs, who owns Wayzata Marine located on Lake Minnetonka.


MarineMax, Inc., who also has a location on Lake Minnetonka, as well as 60-plus other locations across the United States, reported revenue growth of almost 2 percent in the quarter ended March 31st. While MarineMax noted its results were partially impacted by the pandemic, the company noted that its online engagement with customers has been stronger than usual.


Similarly, Discover Boating, the industry-led marketing campaign to grow participation in recreational boating reported strong performance and growth this week, compared to the same period last year. The Discover Boating team has been tapping into real-time data on consumer interests and providing relevant, helpful content, resulting in record site traffic. Compared to March of 2019, site traffic in 2020 has shown a 30-percent increase in website visitors, 44-percent increase in organic traffic, a 118-percent increase in visitors to the Boat Loan Calculator, a 45-percent increase in female visitors and a 78-percent increase in visitors age 18-24. And things look to be getting even better, as early April saw a 300-percent spike in organic traffic following the release of new content.


While soft spots remain in the market place, the desire to get outside and go boating seems to be on the rise as people remain on shelter-from-home orders and spring temperatures move upward. At Norris Marine in Oklahoma, sales picked up over the last week, and the service department has been busy.


“I’m cautiously optimistic we can get things going,” said owner Shawn Easton. “People’s attitudes change with the direction of the news, but at some point, they’re going to get a little stir crazy and want to get out on the lake.”

At FB Marine Group in Fort Lauderdale, they’ve had to deal with the ramp closures in Miami-Dade, and that has caused a hit on the company’s service work. At the same time, however, boat sales have been solid, and when I spoke to owner Kim Sweers last week — before the ramps had opened back up — the company had sold a couple boats that day.


While certainly cautious optimism will be key, I’m a firm believer that boating could help lead our economy out of this slow down, as people look to socially and physically distance themselves from each other and from the confinement of their homes. And this upward trend for boating could last for years!

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