A View from Here

Bill's Sisson's weekly Trade Only blog

There’s traffic on the ICW, and that’s good for business

If your business is doing poorly now, you don’t need anyone to tell you that it is. But I thought you might be interested in something I’ve been picking up on our annual trip south.

It’s been much colder and windier than usual — we’re riding out a gale at Bald Head Island Marina in North Carolina as I write — but there have also been a lot more boats going south than I expected. We’ve made this trip for many years, and we notice patterns. And from what we’ve seen, this doesn’t seem to be a recessed year in traffic, even though some goofballs in D.C. just figured out we’ve been in a recession for a year. And while some marinas and marine businesses are having big troubles, some are getting by relatively well considering the times.

For example, in the Beaufort/Morehead City, N.C., area, Neal Littman told me that the Morehead City Yacht Basin has high bookings, particularly by large sportfishing boats after tuna. Bookings rapidly increased as fuel prices decreased. Tuna and lower fuel prices are probably just part of the reason. It’s a well-run marina, sells ValvTect fuel, and appears well-situated to weather financial storms.

John Warrington, of Beaufort Yacht Sales, a long-established dealer and broker, says they’re selling boats. Deaton Yacht Service in Oriental looked very busy when we visited to pick up a fuel pump for our generator. The folks at Deltaville (Va.) Marina and Boatyard said they’ve been extremely busy storing and preparing boats for the winter.

Folks at Camachee Cove Yacht Harbor in St. Augustine, Fla., said they’re taking a large number of bookings for the winter. Frank Monachello, of Marine Pro in Cocoa, Fla. — they installed a 200-hp Yanmar on my boat — told me they’re off a little but holding their own. He said he’s turning a few more wrenches and pushing less paper, but he likes to keep hands-on and likes to see his many old and loyal clients.

Why are many marine businesses surviving? Although business fate doesn’t always reward the worthy, having run the business well in the good times is definitely an important factor. But there’s another reason. In the areas we’ve passed through, people were using their boats like we always see them — passionately. They were zooming up and down the ICW, in and out the inlets, using fuel and, yes, spending money on boat stuff, because you can’t go boating without that. And I hear that we’ll see more of that as we continue south.

We’re doing what the TV talking heads call “discretionary spending.” But there are a lot of us out here who don’t consider being on the water “discretionary.” I’m one of them. I’ve owned boats since I was 9 years old, and now they tell me I’m 65. I see a lot more like me as we slog down the coast. “Discretionary,” hell. It’s a part of life. And over past years we’ve noticed that some are even more likely to go cruising in bad financial times. Why stay home and listen to the panic pushers on the evening news?

Most of us know we couldn’t be slogging down the coast, or on the water at all, without marine businesses. I’m pretty handy with a wrench (have to be — I’m poor and I travel to out-of-the-way places), but I was totally over my head when my old Perkins died. And Frank Monachello and his guys were there to help.

I, and a lot of people like me, am going to be loyal to the good marine businesses. They help me to be here. I hope I help them to be here.

Tom Neale
Technical editor
Soundings magazine


5 comments on “There’s traffic on the ICW, and that’s good for business

  1. Richard Schneider

    Over the last 12 months our company has seen a slight increase in sales. Our business caters to the marine aftermarket with engine replacement parts. We only sell to wholesalers. It seems as if people who own boats still are using them or our marine customers would not be ordering replacement parts. I think people will be reluctant to purchase a new boat in this economic enviroment but they will keep their old boat maintained and in running order.

  2. Marilyn DeMartini

    Thanks for sharing some good news Tom! With all the gloom and doom being reported, it is important for the industry and all its players to know that there are glimmers of light–and they’re not necessarily a train. As people tighten their belts everywhere, it’s good to know that the call of the sea is still alive and well!
    Happy Holidays and safe travels!

  3. Captain Bob Ulland

    Dear Tom:

    Thanks for a good sounding article! I read lots of gloom and doom, and it is refreshing to read your viewpoint. My business has undergone changes. I was successfully operating a delivery business for dealers and manufacturers. However, with that work off, I am now running vessels part time for a couple of owners and we are again doing well.

    We met on a cruise to Bahamas some years ago. Keep writing, we’re reading!!
    Thanks, Bob & Tracy

  4. Jim Glus

    I’ve been in the boat business since 1977 so as you “Old Salts” know, I’ve seen my share up up-turns and down-turns in the industry. My sincere advice to have a good year? Turn the Media OFF. Don’t listen to the news, Don’t watch the news, and Don’t read the news. Just go on with the right attitude. If someone tries to capture you into a conversation about the economy, walk away. Shut yourself off from that so call ‘outside world’ and concentrate on what’s directly in front of you. Your business, Your employees, the clients that come through that front door. Hell, they wouldn’t be there if they didn’t want to buy something. Get rid of the negative vibes that come from ‘everybody else’. If a salesperson give you an excuse that they can’t sell because of the economy, replace them. As I said before, I sold during the downturn of the late 70’s to early 80’s, the late 80’s to the early 90’s, and start of the 2000’s by not paying attention to all the hype. Truth is that the liberal media started this crap and continue to build it up for a single agenda. Let them pull you into thier hype and you’ll go down, in one way or another. Shut them out of your life and you will do more than survive.

  5. Randy Bloemendaal

    I just found this article with the comment from Captain Bob Ulland. Bob and I went to high school together in Winter Haven, Florida. We did a lot of boating back then too. Bob was a great water skiier and a great friend. We lost track of each other for a while as happens alot. We had a lot in common with our love for the water, boats and cars.

    I got a call February 18th that Bob had passed away. I wanted to comment on the blog to let others know he was not with us any longer and shall be missed. His memorial service was Sunday, Feb 22nd in Winter Haven.

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