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Minnesota cold doesn’t extend to boating world

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Minnesota cold doesn’t extend to boating world

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If the sprawling floor of the Minneapolis Convention Center looks like the largest boat collection this side of Miami this week, that’s understandable and reflects appetite.

In a state that already loves its watercraft, Minnesota sales don’t seem to be letting up from 2020 records. That’s a national story, too.

Undoubtedly fueled by the coronavirus pandemic, U.S. sales of boats and the products and services that power them topped $49 billion in 2020, a peak 14% higher than 2019. In Minnesota, revenue total was just over $1 billion over the same period, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association. This ranked the state among America’s biggest winners.

That brilliance will be reflected at the Minneapolis Boat Show, a winter fixture that’s back this year Thursday through Sunday after COVID-19 canceled the 2021 show. From cruisers to fishing boats to pontoons, the floor space is taken into account, said show director Darren Envall. More than 200 exhibitors are expected.

It also means space for cutting-edge products like Sea-Doo’s Switch line: a pontoon-like vessel with the engine and riding style of a personal watercraft. A Switch Sport starts at $24,000, ranging from a 13-foot to 21-foot compact, with a deck designed to change layouts and the number of passengers it can accommodate.

Envall said the product has the kind of entry-level ease of use and versatility that is timely. As in the recreational vehicle sector, first-time buyers continue to consider trying their hand at boating.

“It’s an effective way to get into the maritime industry,” Envall said, “and so unique to anything out there.”

Minnesota boat registrations (for motorized and non-motorized watercraft such as canoes, kayaks and paddleboards) rose to 830,767 last year, a slight increase from 2020 and the highest mark since 2008, according to licensing data from the Department of Natural Resources.

Minnesota’s maritime businesses are at the center of the action. River Valley Power & Sport in Red Wing and Midwest Water Sports in Crystal are the darlings of Boating Industry magazine’s annual list of America’s Best Dealers. They will be among dozens of dealers at the boat show.

Minnesota’s auxiliary water sports businesses also take on the complex nature of the landscape. They are experiencing record demand while navigating supply chain challenges to produce their goods or have them shipped on time, which is not easy to predict these days.

UltimateBoatWraps in Hutchinson, Minnesota is more than doubling the job with the same crew of four, said President AJ Forcier. They design and apply their specialty films to everything from fishing boats to jet skis to high performance sailboats.

“People were buying used boats and wanting them to look like new,” he said of the boom in their business. Second-hand boats also remain a seller’s market.

Whether it’s customers like the family from Kentucky or pro bass fisherman Seth Feider, UltimateBoatWraps maintains a relentless pace: while packing an average of “one and a half boats” per week as of 2020, they now make three to four weekly at a cost of $125 to $150 per foot to pack. This covers everything from internal design to installation, with a clear laminate to protect the artwork.

“[The demand] is over the moon,” said Forcier.

Paddle North, which notably incorporates lightweight yet strong bamboo to make some of its best-selling paddle boards, is also expanding.

After riding through a 2020 of depleted inventory and backorders, executive Dan O’Brien said 2021 was also challenging, but the company maneuvered to bolster inventory and increase order delivery times.

Now he has the majority of his products in stock, with plans to showcase his scale at the boat show.

O’Brien is optimistic because Paddle North, which opened in 2014, has evolved its product line to meet the continued interest in paddleboarding and other paddle sports.

Most of the sales are inflatable products – paddle boards but also swim platforms and kayaks, he said. Platforms, aka utility docks, can cost $800, depending on size. And the company has Karve kayaks, for solos or pairs, from $1,300 to $1,500. Paddle North’s most popular inflatable paddleboard is the Portager, currently around $700. It also comes in a hybrid, with a removable kayak seat.

With headquarters and a showroom in Columbia Heights, Paddle North also has stores at Rosedale Mall in Roseville and the Mall of America, and opened a store on Black Friday in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

“We expect more growth,” he said.

About the show

  • Minneapolis Convention Center
  • Until Sunday
  • Timetables, tickets, health instructions and more online here.

Minnesota cold doesn’t extend to boating world

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