Local boat sales look strong

Local boat sales look strong

The mild winter cut into snowmobile sales at Southside Auto Sports & Marine.

But it’s been a big boost to boat sales, said Gary Mueller, owner of the business at 3425 Mormon Coulee Road.

So far, Mueller said last week, “This is by far our best year” for boat sales. It’s his fifth year of boat sales and follows two years that were only “so-so” because of unfavorable weather, he said.

“There’s more people looking (at boats) than ever,” Mueller said. “On Saturdays, we’ve had 100 to 200 people come in. Usually, we only get 30 to 40 (on Saturdays) in March.” This year, people began checking out new fishing boats in mid-December rather than mid-January, partly because there was open water on parts of the Mississippi River much of the winter.

The strong economy also has helped sales of fishing boats this year, Mueller said.

The peak season for fishing boat sales is March through May. It’s too early to know how pleasure boats will sell, because that season runs from about mid-April to the Fourth of July, Mueller said. “I think it’ll be pretty decent,” he said, but that depends partly on the weather. Hot July temperatures last year boosted sales, he said.

Most of the boats Southside sells are fishing boats.

“High-end stuff, $15,000 and up, is selling really well this year,” Mueller said. “And we’ve got a lot of lookers in the $8,000 to $15,000 range. Low-end stuff (boats priced at about $5,000) is not selling well.”

His business no longer sells new personal watercraft, which many people refer to by the brand name Jet Skis. “There’s too many regulations being promulgated on them,” and their resale value has suffered, Mueller said.

“Personal watercraft sales are way, way down (nationwide),” said Jim Tucker, who with his wife, Barb, owns Power House Marine at 518 Logan St. “There have been too many accidents, too much bad publicity, too many laws going against them.” Power House doesn’t sell them.

But sales of the boat lines that Power House carries are off to their best start since the Tuckers opened their business in 1994. It carries fishing boats priced at $5,000 to $10,000 and pontoon boats for $6,000 to $12,000.

“And our Mastercraft sales have been real good for us,” Tucker said. “That’s a niche market for avid skiers,” and the boats cost $25,000 to $40,000.

His business sells more than 100 boats a year and sales have been increasing each year, Tucker said. “We’re in the right price range and we’re getting better known,” he said.

“The economy’s been strong, and the weather’s been good,” Tucker said of this year’s strong start. “We had a mild winter.” And he’s hoping for sunshine rather than a lot of rain this spring.

Another local company, Beacon Bay at 127 Marina Drive, has struggled and filed for protection in January under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. One of its creditors is the Mississippi River Regional Planning Commission, as administrator for a $200,000 loan from a La Crosse County revolving loan fund. A federal grant to the county established the loan fund for businesses that were affected by the flood of 1993.

Beacon Bay received its loan in 1996, and the planning commission has filed a bankruptcy court claim for $201,486, which includes principal, interest and penalties for past due payments.

Beacon Bay President John Naper said his company plans to stay in business. “We are a marina,” he said. “We have dockage and storage. We are selling boats, both new and used,” although he isn’t sure whether the business will continue selling boats.

“Boat sales have been down the past few years. That’s a national trend as well,” Naper said. His company’s problems are partly because of that, he said. “I think the major reason (for its problems) was the flood of 1993, and then we had a flood last year as well,” which damaged his property and hurt sales, he said.

“We’ve had good traffic,” Naper said of boat sales so far this year.

BOATING BY NUMBERS

The National Marine Manufacturers Association gives these estimates of the numbers of new boats and related products sold in 1997, with 1996 figures in parentheses.

* OUTBOARD MOTORS — 302,000 (308,000)

* OUTBOARD BOATS — 200,000 (215,000)

* BOAT TRAILERS — 181,000 (194,000)

* PERSONAL WATERCRAFT — 176,000 (191,000)

* CANOES — 103,600 (92,900)

* STERNDRIVE BOATS — 92,000 (94,500)

* INBOARD RUNABOUTS — 6,100 (6,000)

* INBOARD CRUISERS — 6,300 (5,350)

Copyright La Crosse Tribune Apr 06, 1998

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