Rebuilding America: Boating industry encouraged about summer sales

Staff Writer
Lake Sun Leader
Kyle Kelly (left) with his son, Randal, and brother Ryan.

Ask any marine dealer at the Lake of the Ozarks the best way to practice social distancing and they’ll tell you to go boating – better yet, buy a boat from any of the more than dozen lake-area dealers.

While that may sound a bit self-serving, it’s true. Boating offers a mental health day from the worries of the world and at a safe distance from others out enjoying the scenery offered by more than a thousand miles of shoreline. But at a time when we’re bound to the guidance of health departments and governments, the boating industry appears to be sliding through in fine fashion.

There is more to owning a boat at the Lake of the Ozarks. There is a plethora of accessories that offers safety and pleasure options, all purchases that help motivate the economy. And every boat needs fuel to navigate the lake.

At least one marina gauges the health and diversity of its business on fuel sales. At Kelly’s Port in Osage Beach (19.5-mile marker), it’s been a good spring so far despite the cooler, wetter than normal weather.

On May 3, the first Saturday of the “soft re-opening” of the lake, Kelly’s Port set a single-day record in volume of fuel sold. Kyle Kelly, manager, was pleasantly surprised. It also was one of the unique 80-degree days the lake has enjoyed this spring.

“We’ve never seen this level of activity in our 44 years,” he said of his fuel sales. “Second homeowners and local residents are sick and tired of being sick and tired. Boating is the perfect social distancing exercise.”

Boat sales have been volatile, he offered, and the COVID-19 issue has posed challenges. But in late April, sales “jumped overnight.”

Kelly’s Port has diversified its inventory to meet the wants and wishes of customers like a good investment portfolio helps smooth out the highs and lows. A challenge his dealership faces now is finding inventory as the demand exceeds supply, and as manufacturers have reduced their workforce to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. Kelly said he’s having to find sources other than directly from the manufacturer.

“But I think boating is a segment of the economy that is winning in spite of what’s going on,” he said.

Kelly’s Port, like many other businesses, has turned to social media to get the message out. Kelly and his crew have created virtual tours of boats, and even provide virtual boat rides to showcase the boats and their amenities. The virtual boat rides are especially effective as prospective owners want to see how various boats handle the sometimes-challenging waters of the lake.

While some manufacturers have provided sales guidance during the coronavirus pandemic, Kelly says Kelly’s Port has adjusted to market challenges for 44 years.

“This isn’t our first rodeo,” he smiled. “I’m just really amazed at how well our team has come together to face the challenges, and a special thank you to our clients who have come out despite everything going on. Wouldn’t be here 44 years later without both of those wonderful groups.”

In the category of an essential business, boat dealers have been able to remain on the front lines of meeting the needs of customers. Kelly said he and his fellow employees are very respectful of the current situation and follow the recommended guidelines to make customers comfortable.

Kelly believes that as the guidelines are relaxed and as customers become more comfortable with face-to-face interactions, he will still offer enhanced media options.

“Moving forward, we’ll learn from our challenges and provide positive opportunities for our customers,” he said.

Randy Kelly is the patriarch of Kelly's Port, and he recently passed his heritage to his sons, Kyle and Ryan. They have followed in their father's footsteps and are running the dealership while Randy enjoys his time golfing and spoiling grandchildren. Ryan, the service manager, and Kyle, the sales manager, are present in the dealership on a daily basis. Both boys are graduates of School of the Osage.

Encouraging words

“The feedback I am getting and seeing on social media is that the boating market will bounce back strong this year,” he said. “Boating is a great way to socially distance with the family. Yes, boating and enjoying the lake will be different this year with the social distancing requirements, especially at restaurants, but all are doing what is needed to make the consumer’s experience the best it can be at this time.”

The way boat dealers do business has definitely changed, he noted, but most LOMDA members are doing “a great job of transferring into on-line video sales. Most are reporting softer sales, of course, due to the social distancing restrictions that are in place but are moving products in the new environment. But all are taking calls and inquiries on boat sales which is very encouraging for summer sales.”

What advice does Kenagy have for boaters and potential boat owners?

•Call the dealer first to set up times to view or discuss boat purchases.

•Go online as each dealer has its inventory on-line.

•Find the boat you want and give the dealer a call. They will work on making the purchasing process as easy as possible.

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