MONEY SPENT ON PASTIME TRENDING UPWARD
Boating industry shows improvement following economic recovery
“In 2008, we had a much stronger membership and definitely a much stronger Boating membership.” — Commodore, John W. Rampe
How healthy is Lake Erie? We take a look at the health and popularity of Lake Erie as the summer recreation season begins. In addition to the growing algae problem, this three-part series will look at invaders such as Asian carp and also the state of recreational boating.
Those in the know as far as boating goes say the effects the 2008 recession had on the industry around Lake Erie have begun to slow.
From boat dealers and marina managers to marine mechanics and area boat builders, the consensus seems the same: Things are looking up.
“This place was hit hard,” said Mentor Harbor Yachting Club General Manager Jamie Cordova of the impact the economic slump had on the place and its membership numbers, which he added was likely a good indicator of Lake Erie’s boating industry overall during the recession. “And we’re probably a good microcosm to look at.”
The club’s Commodore, John W. Rampe agreed.
“In 2008, we had a much stronger membership and definitely a much stronger Boating membership,” Rampe said. “With the downturn starting in ‘08, going into ‘09, I thin everybody was looking into their discretionary spending and had to make decisions based on how important it was in their lives. Unfortunately, being a private leisure club, you know, it’s one of the first things that will get cut out of people’s budgets.”
In terms of numbers, Cordova summed up the recession’s impact on the club.
“I can tell you that the membership then was pretty much double what
it was... in 2015. The club’s membership (post-recession) pretty much got cut in half over the ensuing years,” Cordova said, adding that it’s looking up lately, however. “The membership numbers over the last three years have trended up for the first time since 2007.”
Both Cordova and Rampe credit a core group of about 50 members who helped keep the club solvent and active during harder times, many of whom lent their personal talents — everything from financial planning, investment expertise, operations experience and other fortés — to the club’s cause during the leaner years with its promising post-recession resurgence.
“We were definitely lucky in the fact that we had some smart people who were able to lend their expertise — to do better budgeting, better operations — to help us operate well, yet be more lean. We learned how to run the place in a much more lean fashion.”
To put things into perspective, Cordova cited the club’s numbers: “Right now, we have 190 total members. Back then — 2007 going into 2008, it was more like 350400 in any given year.”
“It’s been a slow increase,” Rampe said.
Yacht clubs and marinas are far from the only indicators Lake Erie’s boating-market health. Not only do dockage concerns, boat-launch tenders and boaters, themselves have their fingers on the pulse of what’s happening in and around our great Lake’s waters. The folks who maintain, repair and store the vessels do, too.
Take David Bencic, for example. He owns and runs Gale Force Marine Services on Tyler Boulevard in Mentor and prides himself on the fact that “if it’s associated with a boat, we try to do it.”
“We do detailing, bottom painting, mechanical work... We kind of do a little bit of everything,” he said, adding that he’s seen the industry gradually emerge from the rut it was in post-2008. “It’s definitely been picking up over the last few years.
Bencic he’s been seeing more and more boat owners take a proactive approach to maintaining their craft in recent years, compared to dealing with maintenance and upkeep issues on an asneeded basis.
“For a while it was pretty lean,” he said. “People would do only required service. They were not asking for anything extra and just pretty much doing the bare minimum to keep their boats going. Recently, though — I’d say over the last four to five years — it’s been picking up. People are coming to us, asking for electronics installations, for us to do more preventative work as opposed to needbased things. Before that, it was when something stopped working. That’s when they’d call us. Now it’s becoming more common for guys to call and say: ‘It’s not giving me trouble. But I want to make sure it stays that way.”
Yacht clubs and marine mechanics aren’t the only ones seeing an uptick in demand. One area boat dealer said he’s seen the demand for vessels, both new and used, skyrocket in recent years.
“Oh, it’s booming,” said John Sima, president of Sima Marine operating out of Chagrin Marine on the Chagrin River in Eastlake. “Our biggest problem in the industry right now is product availability.”
Sima said that, after the economy tanked 10 years ago, manufacturers cut back on production to stay solvent and that “because boats weren’t being built, due to the economic downturn, there’s a big demand now for used boats.”
He added that it wasn’t until 2011-2012 that boat builder, for the most part, started ramping up production.
“It’s been steady growth since then,” he said, adding that, between 2008-2009, sales decreased by 60-70 percent compared to 2006-2007.
“Now, all manufacturers are going strong — for anything from aluminum fishing boats up to big yachts,” Sima said. “It’s across the board.”
A Lake County boat builder who sits on the “big yachts” end of the boat building spectrum concurred with Sima and everyone else about the uptick in demand and boat usage over the last few years.
Tim Jackett is the sales and marketing manager and chief designer at Fairport Harbor Village-based Tartan Yachts and its powerboat segment, Legacy, and he’s seen his company go from a two-facility operation (one in Conneaut and the other in Fairport Harbor Village) with roughly 200 employees, pre2008, to one facility employing seven people before recovering and ramping up its employee roster and production over the last 10 years.
“In 2006 we had just shy of 200 employees, between this operation (in Fairport Harbor) and the factory we had in Conneaut,” he said. “In 2009, it went down to seven (employees). It was a pretty major fallout.”
He said that, going into 2009, things were moving along as usual, with orders to fill coming out of the boat shows at which they present their craft. But then it all changed.
“What happened was , we went through the latter part of 2008 OK,’ he said. “We went to the fall boat shows in September and October to, you know, generate some business and that gives us an idea of what’s going to be coming for us over the next year. We sold boats like we normally did at those boat shows, through the end of the year. But then, on January 1, 2009, there were no new orders. It just stopped. It just dramatically stopped.”
He said that, in the meantime, they closed the Conneaut facility, were forced to lay off the lion’s share of the company’s staff and, thanks to the orders that did come in during 2009, were able to have “at least a soft restart”
“In 2010, we saw enough of a resurgence on the sailboat side to bring back about 25 (employees),” he said. “But it never caught the type of momentum we’d seen in past years.”
Thanks to acquiring the Legacy powerboat brand in 2010, which “sat dormant until 2014,” Tartan’s own legacy got a boost and is now serving a more diverse market than it had in years past.
Jackett said he credits that move with helping to reinvigorate sales.
“It’s been a relatively slow ramp. But, at this point, the powerboat side of things in 2018 will represent about 5340 percent of our business and it’s a growing segment,” he said, adding that the overall boating market has changed in the last 10 years.
“Sailing is certainly more of a commitment, from a lifestyle standpoint, than powerboating is,” he said. “So, (as far as) people coming into boating, there’s certainly a larger influx into smaller powerboats. It’s turn-the-key, go run the powerboat, take the kids, let’s get the tubes out and, you know, go fish if you’re a fisherman. I think that’s why the powerboat side recovered quicker and brought more younger people coming into it.”
But that’s not to say Tartan’s sailboat line isn’t making a comeback, too.
Jacket said he predicts that, by 2019, the Legacy powerboat line and the high-end sailing vessels Tartan manufactures will likely share their sales figures 50/50.
Chagrin Marine employees Kenny deRuyter, left, and David Arent maneuver a Travel lift bearing a 60-foot Carver motor yacht into the water at Chagrin marine’s marina May 17.
Angel Colon, a painter at Tartan Yachts in Fairport Harbor Village, lays a coat of primer down on a Tartan Model 345 performace yacht, May 17.