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Chesky said most buyers make extra payments to pay the boat off faster, but they still negotiate hard to get the original selling price down. “The wife says, ‘We really don’t need this,’ and the husband says, ‘If I can get it for this price, let’s do it.’ ”
Jake Jacobson, general manager of Rapid Marine Group in Ham Lake, Shakopee, Rogers and St. Cloud, said there’s a lot of value to be found in boats priced under $20,000. New boats are more affordable, interest rates are low and values are holding. “You can get a Lund 16-footer with side steering, a fish finder, pedestal seats, a 40-horse, four-stroke motor and trailer for under $15,000,” he said.
Even high-buck buyers spending up to $100,000 are seeing changes in their market. At Midwest MasterCraft in Crystal, owner Andy Larson said that MasterCraft just released a high-end but less expensive line.
“Most MasterCraft boats start at $80,000, but the new NXT will start in the high $50s,” he said.
A year ago Larson added the Moomba line for the value customer looking at boats costing $40,000 and up. The strategy of adding lower price points has worked. Business is up 20 percent so far this year, he said.
For most buyers, a $20,000 floating party busts their budget. According to the NMMA, most boat owners have a household annual income of less than $100,000, making a used boat a likelier option. Hellier said that he and his wife are searching for boats in the $5,000 to $10,000 range, a common price point for used powerboats.
A $5,000 option
St. Boni Motor Sports in St. Bonifacius found a way to attract the buyer with $5,000 to spend. At the Minneapolis Boat Show in January, the motor sports dealer featured the Sea-Doo Spark for $4,999, a small personal watercraft that rides like an ATV but with a much quieter motor than a JetSki.
Niforopulos, the general manager, sold his entire 2014 allotment, 60, during the show. “We’ve been begging manufacturers for something like this. It’s great fun on Minnesota’s pothole lakes.”
The vessel can transport one to three people, which makes it a good hybrid for a teenager’s first boat or moms who want to pull their kids on the inner tube.
The family aspect has always ranked high in the boating industry. It’s an activity that provides shared fun and experiences, for those who can afford it. So the industry is taking steps to secure the next generation of boaters. “We’re creating a database of youth boating programs across the nation. We hope to launch it mid-May,” said Kruhn.
For this season, retailers are cautiously optimistic. Attendance at the Minneapolis Boat Show in January was flat compared to last year, although box-office receipts went up slightly. Sales of new boats are expected to rise 5 to 7 percent in 2014, according to the NMMA.
But consumers are in the captain’s seat. They’re expecting the best products at the best prices, said Jacobs. “This will be a good year. There’s a lot of pent-up demand,” he said. “People have got cabin fever like I’ve never seen.”
John Ewoldt • 612-673-7633