Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Results are IN!

Well, the first annual Red Right Returning July 4th service survey is now complete. An exhaustively unscientific study of the results has been carelessly compiled by Rusty Shackle, VP of our market research division, who may have spilled some beer on the data before he had a chance to enter it all....

So, the overall grade for the 4th was about a B-, meaning that most markets experienced a "slow" 4th of July weekend. Not dead, not crazy busy. I think the best word for now will be soft. Business is soft, but boaters are going out, and breaking down. It will definitely be an off year, and no one is going to break any new records. (Except for, funny enough, my favorite bar on Block Island, which broke sales records 3 days in a row over the weekend. Rumor has it their profits increase when I'm not out towing boats...) To be sure, some areas are doing better than others, but the B- kinda sums up the overall. If your area was gang-busters, knock on wood; if your weekend sucked wind, take heart as there is hope.

SeaTow International released a statement today, which included this quote from JoeFro

Boaters across the country celebrated the holiday despite high fuel prices both on land and on the water,” said Capt. Joseph Frohnhoefer III, Sea Tow’s vice president of operations. “Reports from across the country indicate that boaters stayed close to home this year, however, that trend could be equally reflective of the unpredictable weather patterns that plagued much of the East Coast as it is of current economic conditions. [click here to read it all]

I think the "close to home" thing is right on, and distant harbors or island destinations like Block Island will probably suffer more during a soft year. For instance, the official boat count for Great Salt Pond was 1485 on Friday; 1800-2000 would be more typical numbers for a 4th of July. So, boaters showed up, just not in droves.

SeaTow also reported

While call volume at the company’s 24-hour national dispatch center was statistically on par with last year, it experienced a 30-percent increase in the number of requests for on-water assistance.

Wow, 30 percent increase over last year? The fuel docks would kill for those numbers...

Evidently, SeaTow's research budget exceeds ours here at RRR, because they go on with a bunch of impressive statistics about how many calls they did and exactly which hours were the most popular for their services and how many knots the entire SeaTow fleet tied in 24 hrs - that kind of stuff. [editors note: why doesn't BoatUS publish these kinds of stats?]

Now, a soft year should benefit the SeaTow business model, because if fewer members break down, the local franchisee keeps more of the membership income. But this dramatic report of a 30% increase doesn't sound like a soft year. Is there something about the color yellow that attracts boater who break down? With every segment of the recreational boating industry experiencing a slowdown, why would SeaTow be so busy?

Vicious Rumor: I heard a report that there were empty moorings over at Avalon, Catalina, over the weekend. I'm still contacting my sources to confirm, but it its true, that would be an unprecedented event.