Charlotte-area boat dealers report improved sales

Boat dealers and yacht club managers at the 42nd annual Mid-Atlantic Boat Show at the Charlotte Convention Center say they’re seeing steadily improving sales in the post-recession economy.

“We’re not back to pre-recession numbers, but the boat dealers are getting pretty close to that,” said Les Gray, vice president of Southeast Productions Inc., the Greensboro-based, family-owned company that stages the show.

The recession forced dealers to lower pricing, which helped increase sales, Gray said. They also cut the number of models they carried.

The show, which opened on Thursday and continues through Sunday, added 40,000 square feet of display space this year because dealers are adding more models, Gray said. The show has a total of 235,000 square feet of exhibit space.

“That’s a direct reflection of the industry rebounding and the need to put more product in front of the customer,” Gray said.

The show has 35 dealers and attracts about 18,000 visitors.

The $35 billion U.S. recreational boating industry continued its post-recession climb with an estimated 5 percent increase in new powerboat retail sales in 2013, the National Marine Manufacturers Association reported in late December.

The increase followed the industry’s 2012 rebound when new powerboat retail sales increased 10 percent – the industry’s first sign of recovery.

The association expects recreational powerboat sales to grow another 5 percent to 7 percent in 2014.

Leading the industry’s growth are small fiberglass and aluminum outboard boats 26 feet or less in size, with a 6.7 percent increase in 2013, and ski and wakeboard boats, with an 11.7 percent rise in sales, the association said.

“If economic growth persists and the recreational boating industry continues gaining participants, we anticipate sustained growth in 2014 and into 2015 and 2016,” association president Thom Dammrich said.

George Medler, manager of the Commodore Yacht Club on Lake Wylie, said a sure sign of the boating sector recovery is in the number of slips his club leases.

The club leases slips for $190 a month to $800 a month to 18-foot speed boats, 22-foot pontoon boats, 35-foot cruisers and other craft.

“Two years ago, we had 26 vacant slips going into the winter,” he said. “This year, we have only nine open slips.”