Lake boating brings economic hope, stress relief in the era of COVID-19

Lake Lifestyles
Boating is a great way to escape from the city and the many stresses COVID has created.

The sometimes-dark CLOVID-19 cloud that has cast some unwelcome shadows on our lives seems to have an unexpected silver lining.

We began shuttering ourselves inside about mid-March and braced for what soothsayers said would be a near-economic collapse and a national health catastrophe. It became known as a pandemic. 

Suddenly, though, there was a flicker of hope as a business in the Lake area began to show signs of rebirth. Phones at real estate companies, at brick-and-mortar businesses and at marine dealers began to ring. After a brief furlough of some employees, the boat business at the Lake was not only alive but it was alive and well.

“All dealers/marinas and other marine industry members are experiencing a great year,” Lake of the Ozarks Marine Dealers Association Director Mike Kenegy said. “All are reporting to me excellent sales of new boats, used and brokered boats this year. Marine accessories such as lifts, docks, etc., are also reporting a great year for sales.”

As one would expect, service work in all areas are also experiencing increased demand, Kenegy added.

Dale Law, general manager at MarineMax Lake of the Ozarks, has had similar experiences. After a decline in service calls early in the COVID weeks, the phone began to ring from people wanting to not only de-winterize their boats but also put new boats in their docks.

Now, sales and service are booming.

“April, May and June have been record-breaking months for our sales department, and for MarineMax nationwide,” Law noted. “Fortunately for us, COVID has resulted in an increase in boat sales.”

MarineMax has promoted boating as an “Endless Staycation: Escape to your own floating resort every weekend.” 

People find boating a great way to have fun while social distancing with their family, Law noted.  Boating is a great way to escape from the city and the many stresses COVID has created.  People are staying closer to home and the Lake area continues to be a great destination for residents of Missouri and bordering states.  Boating has become a great substitute activity for families who were unable to participate in organized sports this summer.  

“We find it very exciting that this summer we have been able to ‘deliver the boating dream’ to many first-time boat buyers,” Law said.  

Inventory has been somewhat of a challenge for MarineMax and other dealers with the increased demand and a shutdown by manufacturers earlier this spring. But MarineMax shares inventory with 59 MarineMax stores nationwide and currently has 1,000 new, pre-owned and brokered boats available for sale. 

With affordable fuel prices, an early start to the boating season, and an increase in the number of people boating, fuel sales have been great as well, Law said. The dealer has also seen record-breaking months with the sales of boating accessories.  

With photos and videos available online for all dealers, the Internet continues to drive boat sales. From the comfort of their home, shoppers can easily explore all models that are available at our stores. 

Early last year MarineMax started offering virtual boat shows allowing shoppers to explore new models, participate in webinars and take advantage of special promotions all from their computer.  

Economic fears

The plunge of the stock market in early spring sent shockwaves through most of us. It was 2008-09 all over again, we feared.

“At the beginning of April when the stock market took a hit, we all panicked!” Trevor Gardner, sales consultant at Premier 54 in Osage Beach said. “But then all of a sudden the phones started ringing, online inquiries started piling up and boats were selling like crazy. The weekends in April felt like typical June weekends and it hasn't stopped since.”

It seems that everyone wanted to get out of the city to stay at his or her lake homes in order to isolate. A sentiment shared in nearly all segments of the economy at the Lake.  

“Many of my customers told me that instead of taking their typical family vacations, they've spent that money on a down payment for a boat,” Gardner said.  “Along with boosting boat sales, it's helped all Lake-area businesses.  Plus, the international attention Lake of the Ozarks got on Memorial Day Weekend, good or bad, really put us in the spotlight.  We all acknowledge that it's a bittersweet situation, though.”

As grocery and discount store inventories began to shrink, as some shelves became nearly bar of some items, the boating manufacturing industry took a hit as well. 

Most of the supply chains are backed up, Gardner agreed. The Chaparral plant shut down for a few weeks at the same time that demand spiked, so it threw the balance of inventory way off. Once the manufacturers opened back up, they had to make the boat show orders a priority over our in-stock orders.  

“We're now getting two or three units per week, some of which already have deposits. We currently have around 50 boats on order,” he said.

And not surprisingly, another significant profit center for marine dealers -- gas dock sales – are doing well.

“Just like everything else, fuel sales and service revenue are way up!” he noted  “Add to that, there are more boats out on the water during the weekdays than ever before.”

Mirroring others in the boating industry, Premier 54 followed Missouri's social distancing directives, limited the number of people in its businesses and changed its approach to customers.

“As sales people, we always want that handshake during any kind of deal being made, so we're asking customers if that's what they're doing. We've even done business and paperwork outside on the tailgates of our trucks with customers that want to be extra cautious,” Gardner smiled.

Like other boat dealers, Premier 54 has been offering virtual tours of new and used boats via FaceTime or live streaming, uploading videos to YouTube, and other types of online communication tools.