Boat industry showing signs of recovery

Published online: Jan 24, 2012 News Brent Frazee - Kansas City Star
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You call pull in the lifeboats. Maybe the ship isn't sinking after all.

The recreational boating industry, dead in the water for much of the last four years, is starting to show signs of getting under way.

Talk to dealers at the Progressive Insurance Boat and Sportshow at Bartle Hall this week. They are heading into this year with the type of enthusiasm that they haven't felt for some time.

"I've been in the boating industry for 52 years now, and I can't remember a rougher time than the one we just came through," said Jim Rand, owner of Blue Springs Marine. "Everything fell apart in the last half of '08 and by '09, a lot of boat dealers we're saying, `Let's survive.'

"But since then, we've seen a steady climb. I think a lot of people who were on the sidelines, waiting to see what the economy would do, are ready to buy again. I think there's a lot of pent-up demand."

The storm that swamped the recreational boating industry wasn't without victims. Hundreds of dealerships, including a handful in the Kansas City area, went out of business. And sales dropped to all-time lows in some cases.

But the survivors are saying they might come out of this in better shape than ever. Rand's company, which handles everything from pontoon boats to runabouts, has been in business since 1960. And Rand is optimistic that his dealership is on its way back to calm waters.

"I'm not saying this will be a record year," he said. " I think we're looking at a gradual climb. But that's sure a lot better than three or four years ago."

Jay Zimmerman, owner of Midwest Marine in Harrisonville, also is encouraged. He, too, sees better times ahead.

"I don't know if we'll ever see the sales numbers that the industry had in the mid-80s," said Zimmerman, who has been in the boating industry since 1984 and has owned Midwest Marine since 1995. "But things are definitely looking better.

"We actually had a record year (for sales) last year. We were selling $70,000 to $80,000 pontoons.

"I think a lot of people just said, `We're going to live our lives.'?"

Mark Adams, manager of the Kansas City Boat and Sportshow, also has seen that trend.

"He cites figures that show 6 percent more boats were sold in the last half of 2011 compared with that same time period the year before. And early indications in National Marine Manufacturers Association shows, of which the Kansas City event is a part, have also been encouraging.

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