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Call of water, road fueling sales of boats and RV’s

Eddie Smith, owner of Duncan Marine, shows off a 20-foot Ranger bass boat. / Photo by Jack Weatherly

By JACK WEATHERLY

It’s too much of a good thing in a bad situation.

Sales of recreational vehicles and boats have hit records across the nation and Mississippi.

That came after the first coronavirus lockdown and then the lifting of it.

People had been isolated in their homes and naturally wanted to get free.

Nothing like taking a camper or cruiser on the highway or launching a fast boat on a lake, river or the Gulf.

No masks – and the opportunity to take a deep breath of freedom.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Jesse Holcomb, sales manager for Midway Marine in Fulton.

He, of course, was talking about boat sales, but he could’ve been speaking about RV sales or for buyers.

Midway took a gamble when the virus first made major inroads in the country. It bought more boats than usual.

“We bought when everybody was scared to,” Holcomb said.

“Sales were up 25 percent from this time last year,” he said.

Manufacturers are “slowly opening back up,” but, as with so many dealers, boats on the lot are way down, 25 percent of normal, Holcomb said.

Phil Demarie, sales manager for Dad’s Camper Outlet in Picayune, said that after a two-week, ordered lockdown in April, the months of May and June set records for the dealership.

The average sales price is about $25,000, Demarie said, adding that “a lot of people are paying cash.”

Demarie said he saw a similar trend after Hurricane Katrina wrecked New Orleans, along with the Mississippi Coast.

Thousands of autos were lost and there was a great need for replacements.

But in this case, there is a different need, even psychological, as many Americans have sought counseling to deal with depression brought on by isolation.

Many factors play into the buying spree.

Hotels are restrictive, many requiring the wearing of masks. Same for restaurants, which in Mississippi limit seating to 50 percent of capacity. Not to mention commercial air travel.

Also, fuel is cheap.

Eddie Smith, owner of Duncan Marine in Brandon, said the manufacturing goes beyond the companies that make the boats.

Parts makers can be the problem, he said, citing a case where waiting for a $25 part is blocking the sale of a $50,000 boat.

“Sales have been great,” Smith said, but his inventory is suffering. Still, Duncan Marine has not had to lay off any of its 13 employees, Smith said.

Lisa Furlan, owner of Furlan’s Marine in Gautier, said that sales “have been definitely above normal, to put it mildly.”

“It’s been, I guess, just a blessing in the middle of a mess,” Furlan said.

She guessed that sales have been made with money that had otherwise been put aside for vacations.

She said dealers all along the coast have had excellent sales.

“How long will it last? I don’t know. Does anybody know?”

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About Jack Weatherly