Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

Boat sales still slow

Dealers blame lake condition, economy

By Christine Henderson

Matt Seiber, manager of Freedom Outdoors Marina, St. Marys, places an advertisin. . .

GRAND LAKE - Grand Lake area dealers are optimistic boat sales will turnaround this season, but the businesses are not yet seeing a dramatic increase.
Marina operators attributed past slow sales to both poor economy and Grand Lake's water quality the last two summers. In 2010, the state warned against even touching the water because of toxic blue-green algae blooms.
Before the lake water issue, Kozy Marina, 8500 state Route 703, Celina, sold about 30 new and used watercraft during the boating season, service manager Randy Pace said. Now about five to eight watercraft are sold, he said.
Nationwide, industry projections are for boat sales to rise as much as 10 percent this year but not return to the boom years before 2007. Sales of recreational power boats fell to a record low of 132,000 vessels last year, a 55 percent decline from 2006 and a 14 percent decrease from 2009, according to Craig McDaniel in his McDaniel Marketing Minute and The Wall Street Journal. The number of U.S. boat dealers also fell by more than 40 percent in recent years.
Locally, Ohio Marina closed last year. There are no signs of reopening, according to Brian Miller, interim manager of Grand Lake St. Marys State Park.
The Boat House of Celina closed about three years ago. Windy Point Marina, Montezuma, has not sold boats for about five years, but still has repair service.
The Outdoorsman last year gave up its lease on state land for the East Bank Marina, 215 Gordon Park Drive, St. Marys. Co-owner Dan Manning said the marina suffered a triple whammy - the economy, lake condition and gas prices.
Now at the East Bank site is Freedom Outdoors Marina. It opened this month and has sold 12 new and used boats, manager Matt Seiber said. The majority of sales were bass boats, the company specialty and a very mobile boat.
Still, Seiber said the marina is "maybe not at full potential."
Even so, the crowd at its open house March 12 and 13 was described by Seiber as "nice and steady."
The open house this month at Kozy Marina was "alright," but there were not as many people as the previous year, Pace said. However, the visitors were serious about buying a boat, he added.
He also noted that last year many mechanical problems with boats were due to fuel sitting in boats unused during the season. The fuel breaks down into its parts and gets corrosive.
Bayview Snow and Sun Marina owner Buzz Goodwin said he has sold one new pontoon and an outboard motor so far this year. If people see the state begin dredging and taking action to improve Grand Lake's water, he expects sales at his Bayview Road marina to improve.
Manning, who still operates The Outdoorsman store at 172 East Bank Road, St. Marys, agreed. He said people are waiting to see if the lake will improve. He has sold six used boats and deals are pending on five, he said. The business also brokers used boats.
"When the lake looks better, we will stock new boats," Manning said.
The lake condition also affected sales of ice fishing equipment. Manning said his sales were down 50 percent this winter from a few years ago because fishermen were afraid to eat the fish. The state recently announced the fish are edible.
Manning believes the economy is improving and many people are not so fearful of job loss. They want boats but are waiting to see if they can use it on Grand Lake.
Manning voiced the view of many of the boat dealers: "We are staged for a comeback."

Correction:
When: March 23
What: Story about boat sales
Where: Page 9A
The Boat House at Grand Lake, Celina, has not closed. The business does not sell boats but has a successful marine service and storage business and has been in operation since 1998.
The error was made in reporting.
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