Staying afloat: Boat dealers welcome rising lake levels, sales

Brad Wallace of North Texas Marine in Fort Worth

Texas No. 2

The Lone Star State is No. 2 in recreational boat sales, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA). Florida is No. 1.

In 2014, sales of boats in Texas totaled $1.3 billion, up 11.9 percent from 2013. Florida’s 2014 boat sales totaled $2.3 billion. Total 2014 U.S. expenditures on boats and related costs totaled $35.4 billion, the NMMA reported.

An NMMA reports says the industry group expects U.S. boat sales to grow 5 to 7 percent this year.

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Despite the early boating season getting swamped by May’s record rainfall, North Texas recreational boat dealers are buoyant about the market’s summer prospects.

After experiencing several challenging years – recession, drought – a Fort Worth dealer says his family-owned business is poised for its best year in half a decade.

“We’re as busy the last two weeks as we’ve been since 2010,” said Brad Wallace, service manager at North Texas Marine on Northeast Loop 820. “As soon as the reservoirs started filling up, we got busy in all three aspects of our business: sales, service and parts and accessories.”

“We had the stage set for a below-average sales season,” Wallace said, “but that’s been reversed over the last couple of weeks.” He said he expects the coming season to be his busiest summer in several years. The main challenge, he said, “will be to keep up with inventory demands.”

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Business at North Texas Marine’s dealership in Gainesville near Lake Texoma typically takes an upswing in May, said Brian Wallace, Brad’s brother, who works at that location. The Wallace brothers’ grandfather started the business, which was passed on to their father. And now the brothers are transitioning into leadership.

At the Gainesville location, Brian Wallace said, “We’re getting a lot of boats as trade-ins that haven’t been used over the last three years” because lake levels were low. He said many of the trade-ins are boats that owners couldn’t get out of slips until recently. And the “rise in cost of new boats has made pre-owned attractive,” he said. Pontoon and pleasure boats are also hot sellers, Brian Wallace said. Combining sales of new and used boats, he said, “Our average transaction is $25,000-$27,000.”

Business from “fishermen never really went away,” he said. “They will do business 12 months a year.”

Another North Texas dealer said “the bass boat sales are way up.” Monte Reagan, general manager of Fun N Sun Boats in Hurst, said the dealer has been the nation’s No. 1 seller of Skeeter bass boats, which he said is his business’s “bread and butter” product.

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Reagan said he’s seen a stable turnaround in his boat business “over the last three or four years.”

“It was real rough going and touch-and-go for a while,” he said, “and it’s come around.”

“We’re taking in a lot of boats in trade,” he said. Eighty percent of buyers have trade-ins and “we do quite well with the used boats.” Because the used boats cost less, Reagan said, “They can be sold for cash and get some more people on the water.”

Used boats are also an important aspect of business for a Lewisville sailboat dealer.

“The recession really hurt new boat sales,” said Richard Clary of La Vida Starships. “We’re doing a lot of pre-owned boats.”

“I’m positive,” said Clary. “I think we’ll be up 20 to 30 percent this year. I’ve got deals working.”

“I want to be positive,” he said. “In a few weeks it’s going to be a good time to have a sailboat.”

He added, “You’ve got to like it if the lakes are full. The other direction is tougher.”

The record rainfall in May overfilled most of the area’s recreational reservoirs. High water around lakes closed roads, parks and other public facilities. Boating at most lakes was also shut down.

Some marinas were affected by closed roads, including the Cottonwood Creek Marina on Lake Lewisville in Little Elm.

“The road going up to our marina was flooded, so we were asked to close,” said Ryan Miller, general manager of the marina, which is owned by his family. “We’ll be back open once they get the road back open,” Miller said on June 2.

“It’s not fun,” he said, “but it’s a whole lot better than a dried-up lake. Last year we were 8 feet below normal. Now we’re 14 feet over. We’re glad we’ll have plenty of water to enjoy later this summer.”

Marinas on Eagle Mountain Lake north of Fort Worth were more fortunate.

“All of our marinas at Eagle Mountain Lake are fully operational and open to the public,” Chris Petty, president of Suntex Marinas, wrote in an email on June 1.