MONEY SPENT ON PAS­TIME TREND­ING UP­WARD

Boat­ing in­dus­try shows im­prove­ment fol­low­ing eco­nomic re­cov­ery

The News Herald (Willoughby, OH) - - FRONT PAGE - By Jonathan Tressler jtressler@news-her­ald.com @JTfromtheNH on Twit­ter

“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.

JONATHAN TRESSLER — THE NEWS-HER­ALD

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.

JONATHAN TRESSLER — THE NEWS-HER­ALD

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.

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