Navigating the Waters: Adapting Strategies in a Changing Market

By Jason Oakes, General Manager, Crestliner Boats

Much like making sure you have enough life jackets for all passengers and double checking your supplies before heading out on the water, figuring out the best path forward for your business takes thoughtful planning to guarantee success. But both boat dealers and manufacturers alike are feeling some uncertainty as we adapt to our post-COVID world and adjust to what will be considered our new normal. The buyer demand during the pandemic was a welcomed anomaly where we could barely make boats fast enough to keep up with dealer and consumer needs. Now, we face unusual economic pressures that are different to what we experienced the last few years. However, there are ways to not just survive this wave of economic uncertainty but to thrive.

Return to Selling
While the boating industry has traditionally been cyclical, the current inflation figures and interest rates are some that many dealers have never seen. The numbers, especially coming off the peak of COVID sales, are understandably causing many dealers to approach 2025 orders with caution. It’s true that for the past few years we’ve essentially been order takers and boats barely made it off the truck before they left the lot. That is no longer the case.

It is imperative for dealers to have a highly trained and dedicated sales team. Sellers must take a consultative approach, listen to the customer, understand their needs and guide them to the few products that would best fit their requirements. If you listen well, the consumer will tell you the brands and models or styles they are comfortable with and exactly what they are looking for. Let the customer tell you what they want or how they plan to use the product and then focus on those needs. One of the best things you can do is to listen and help remove any confusion they may have. In this environment, and to help move through inventory, we really must get back to the basics of selling.

Mind the Gap
For dealers preparing to order 2025 models and that feel best purchasing with a conservative approach, I’d recommend first identifying gaps in your inventory lineup and focus on filling those gaps. For example, if your current product inventory is missing a particular model, consider adding that model to fill a hole. Also, if there is a new model available for the model year, you’ll probably want to stock one or two of the new models because customers really like to see what’s new. You’ll always want to have a solid assortment to choose from. Provide your customers with variety to make their shopping experience and time invested by coming to your showroom as positive and productive as possible. Doing a consistent review of gaps in your inventory whether it be model, size or floorplan, will help prepare you for that next customer walking through the door.

Know your Area
As a manufacturer, we are constantly monitoring where we are heavy and where our dealers are heavy with specific products. We use this data to determine our consumer incentive planning. We are continually evaluating and putting special consumer incentive programs together to help our dealers move the right inventory and enable them to replenish or order newer product. However, dealers can and should take a proactive approach in this same way and reference trends in previous years to see what buyers in the area want most. COVID buying patterns aside, the data from prior years can paint a strong picture of consumer demand, allowing dealers to stock their inventory more appropriately with what will move fastest.

Fueling the Passion
The current economic climate can make planning for next year’s inventory a bit challenging. We want our invaluable network of channel partners to feel comfortable and confident that our products will support their sustainable success. The next months and years will require a different strategy, a much more connected and thoughtful approach with advanced planning of inventory and progressive training of our sales teams. And while the future may look different than what we have seen since in the last four years, passion for fishing or boating remains at an all-time high and it is our responsibility to fuel that passion with the right models at the right price.

Navigating the Waters: Adapting Strategies in a Changing Market
Jason Oakes, GM Crestliner Boats

About the Author:
Jason Oakes is the General Manager of Crestliner Boats, a leading manufacturer of aluminum fishing boats and business within Brunswick Corporation. Oakes is a 14-year marine industry veteran, previously served as Director of Marketing for Lund Boats and has grown the Crestliner brand to be one of the most sought-after brands among anglers. Prior to joining the Brunswick organization, Oakes served in a marketing leadership role at Andersen Corporation.