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IBEX opens on wave of good economic news

The opening of the International BoatBuilders’ Exhibition & Conference this morning in Tampa was surrounded by good economic news and an anticipation of large show crowds.

In his “State of the Industry” address at the opening breakfast, NMMA president Thom Dammrich fired up the packed house when he declared: “These are good times for boating.” And he backed it up with examples ranging from overall increased industry sales numbers to the success in drawing increased attendance at virtually every boat show so far this fall.

For example, The Conference Board’s U.S. Consumer Confidence Index rose to 104.1 in September from 101.8 in August. This monthly survey of 5,000 households is the leading barometer of the U.S. economy (currently indexed to the year 1985 = 100).

“Not since the summer of 2007 has the American consumer exhibited such optimism,” Dammrich said, “and its fantastic news for us, largely the result of consumers having a much more positive view of labor markets.”

Optimism also prevailed at the recent National Marine Lenders Association annual conference. Following Dammrich’s keynote there, an excellent lineup of speakers examined the outlook for boating. For example, Andy Sturner of Boatsetter.com revealed that while the average age of a boater today is 55, the average age of a Boatsetter (peer-to-peer boat rental) customer is 41. Many of these boaters are entering their prime earnings years, have now experienced the joys of boating and are prime prospects for future boat purchases.

Similarly, Seth Woolf of Cleveland-based Northcoast Research, noted he generally sees good things ahead for boating. His expectations include continued industry growth of 4-plus percent for the next five years. (As I see it, 4 percent is on the conservative side.)

But Woolf also shared some other interesting predictions. These included: the average selling price of boats will continue to increase in low single digits; there will be an ongoing trend to bigger boats; we can expect more and larger outboards; boats will continue to feature more technology; and there will be more consolidation at retail (this was spoken before Monday’s big announcement of Bass Pro Shops’ acquisition of Cabela’s). And Woolf predicted there will be continued industry focus on the three top concerns of boat dealers, namely affordability, demographic changes and participation.

Wrapping up his talk at IBEX, Dammrich reminded attendees they can’t help but be optimistic about boating’s future when viewing all the good things propelling the boating market. These include the fact that employment is strong; average wages are rising; interest rates remain low; gasoline prices are low; and the all-important housing market is growing (yes, new home sales dropped 7.6 percent in August after a 13 percent gain in July, but they’re still up a solid 20 percent over last year, he noted)

Here’s more: the economy continues to grow (albeit slower than we want); consumer confidence is high; disposable income was up 4 percent last quarter; consumer spending continues strong; the myriad of new boat designs from builders and advanced electronics have clearly drawn boater’s attention back to shows; and the cutting edge products and technologies on display at IBEX loudly speak of the continued advances for boating.

So what’s not to like about that picture?

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