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Why the pandemic lifted boat sales in the B.C. Interior

Image Credit: SUBMITTED: Kingfisher Boats

First, it was toilet paper, then flour and yeast, with bicycle and toy stores also reporting that they were doing well.

Now boats can be added to the list.

"It seems like in about mid-May business absolutely took off," Glen MacPherson told iNFOnews.ca.

As the general manager of Sorrento's Little River Boatworld, MacPherson had been bracing for the worst. Then people started showing up.

"People come in specifically citing the idea of staycation," he said.

MacPherson said a lot of families would say now they're going to be doing their vacationing close to home they want to get a boat.

"At first it was our fishing boats... people just wanting to get out on the water to go fishing," he said. "Now we're seeing all the genres of boats, we’re seeing a lot of activity."

With international vacations cancelled and domestic travel outside of the province still a way off, it appears people are moving their vacation funds into investments for other hobbies.

MacPherson says he's seen plenty of newbies come into the Shuswap store looking at getting their first boat. He's also having a great year for canoe and kayak sales, and guesses standup paddleboards will be popular once the weather gets warmer.

With "less expensive" boat packages ranging from $7,500 to $35,000 being on the water isn't exactly cheap. However, MacPherson also says he's starting to see the $80,000 to $100,000 boats start to move.

What is missing from the showroom floor is really well-heeled customers, who will drop $200,000 on the right boat.

"I'm not seeing those buyers right now, they're not really around," MacPherson said.

In Kelowna, Martin Motor Sports branch manager Tony Essler said numbers were down compared to last year and plenty of preorders got cancelled.

"But considering the circumstances, it's surprisingly okay," he said. "We sell very expensive things nobody needs in our industry... by the time they come here they're really wanting something."

Essler said used boats have sold well and they've had a mixture of customers from repeat buyers to first-timers. They've still managed to shift boats in the $200,000 range.

Like MacPherson, Essler points to the staycation as one reason customers are coming into the showroom.

And with sales floors buzzing with activity, boat manufacturers are feeling it.

"We're already basically sold out for the season," KingFisher Boats sales director Mark Delaney said. "It's been a late push that caught us all a bit surprised."

The Vernon-based boatbuilders said demand has increased anywhere from 30 to 100 per cent depending on the type of boat.

Like MacPherson, Delaney puts it down to staycations.

"After the initial shock (of COVID-19) people started to realize their travel... wasn't going to happen and they looked inward," he said.

Boating also fits in with safe social distancing from crowds on the water.

Delaney said the boatbuilders shut down for three weeks due to the pandemic and then staggered its reopening. They're currently building boats for this season, instead of building up an inventory that would ordinarily be sold next year.

"Our dealers are clamouring for more boats," Delaney said. "We can't just keep working overtime... we're doing as we can do."

And while the businesses are certainly glad they are not facing the crisis so many others are, MacPherson said they're not out of the woods yet.

"It's been a very strange and weird year," MacPherson said. "If the momentum can keep going for another eight weeks it will be great and for a lot of the marine dealers, their businesses should be okay."

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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