When Tim Stenzel went looking for a new boat last fall, he found a lot of people had the same idea. Boat showrooms were looking fairly bare.
It’s gotten even worse, as the pandemic drove people to buy boats, ATVs and other outdoor wares over the past year.
Stenzel, who lives with his wife Amy on Bass lake near Winnebago, wanted to buy a 24-foot South Bay pontoon.
He looked around but wanted to buy from Mapleton Marine. “Service is important and they have a good line and I appreciate what they do. They’ve always been good to me,” said Stenzel, who previously had a 20-foot Glastron boat.
Stenzel told the staff at Mapleton Marine what he was leaning toward, but he didn’t order one last fall. “They ordered one like I was looking for anyway.” This February when the boat came in Stenzel bought it.
The bigger pontoon will give Stenzel and his wife room to boat with their grandkids and kids and to pull the grandchildren in a tube.
Stenzel hasn’t tried the boat out yet — Mapleton Marine will soon deliver it when they will also put in his dock and boat lift.
“I was very fortunate. I got one of the last boats available.”
Lee Gansen, owner of Dranttel Sales and Service in St. Peter, said every brand and type of boat are in short supply, as are motors, side-by-sides, ATVs and other recreational equipment.
“My showroom looks kind of ugly,” said Gansen of his sparsely filled space. “We just got in one side-by-side and sold it. We ordered 10 ATVs a month ago; we got allocated four of them.”
Gansen said manufacturers are so backed up that a couple of companies he works with stopped taking any new orders for the foreseeable future.
“We’ve sold through a majority of our inventory on boats and we’re told that what we have ordered and what we have on hand is all we’re going to get for this model year.”
He said the current model year of boats runs through about August, when next year’s models will start being produced.
Gansen said service work is always busy, but this year they know there will be delays in getting parts they need. “Even routine things you’d expect to do every day — the water pump impellers, carburetor kits — they’re all backed up. We’re ordering parts we think we’ll need and then schedule people in when we have them.”
Some customers who had their mind set on a certain color of boat and brand of motor have purchased a slightly different boat package that is available. “But some people, understandably when they’re spending that kind of money, want a certain model and color and will wait until they can get it.”
Gansen said the most popular boat in recent years has been the walk-thru windshield models that are 17½ to 18 feet long. “We don’t sell many 16 ½-foot boats anymore. A boat is normally a family thing, whether you’re fishing or skiing or tubing, so they’re going to have three or four or five people in them.”
Josh Schull, general manager of Mapleton Marine, said they are sold out of boats and not expecting much of any new inventory through the summer.
“If we order a boat now, it’ll be late summer before we get it. It’s 27 to 30 weeks out on new-order engines,” he said. “Last year sales were good, this year sales are good, but when you only sell 60% of what you normally do, that’s not good.”
Still, Schull, is not complaining.
“I could be in the bar and restaurant business. Would I like to see more business? Sure. But on the other side, I’m grateful for what we have.”
Pontoons have grown in popularity and have long been a mainstay at Mapleton Marine.
“Pontoons have always been strong since the early ‘90s. But fishing boats sales have been excellent, too. But the manufacturers are having trouble getting the parts they need. They have a few integral parts that they can’t get, and it’s a trickle down and things get back-ordered all the way down to the consumer.”
He said there are shortages and delays in virtually everything. “Trolling motors, depth finders, docks, lifts. For bigger depth finders, the manufacturers aren’t getting the glass for the screens they need so they’re all back-ordered.
“But that’s everywhere — automotive, home building, furniture sales, electricians. I think everybody is faced with challenges of getting product.”
Service work at Mapleton Marine is always busy, but customers have to be more patient this year as they wait for parts. “What was one to three days delivery turned in to one to three weeks and sometimes months.”
Sales up 12%
The National Marine Manufacturers Association, representing North American recreational boat, engine and marine accessory manufacturers, reports retail unit sales of new powerboats in the U.S. increased last year by an estimated 12% compared to 2019.
More than 310,000 new powerboats were sold in 2020, levels the recreational boating industry has not seen since before the Great Recession in 2008.
The sale of off-highway vehicles — ATVs, dirt bikes and side-by-sides — soared even more.
New-model powersports sales increased 18.4% in 2020, with motorcycle and scooter sales rising 11.4%, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council Retail Sales Report.