Consolidation in the industry has always been there, but for years it was a gradual merger of companies as some of them aged out or went belly-up. Often the owners would tire, or be forced to sell for health reasons and the company would be sold. This was hardly unique to the boat business, but what IS new is the rapid pace of change. Now investment groups have been buying up marinas, boatyards and dealerships at a dizzying pace. OneWater is a conglomerate of dealerships that were once individually owned. MarineMax was probably the first to do this at scale. Safe Harbor now operates marinas in most harbors of any size, including famous names. Is this a good or bad thing?
Well, if the existing staff is kept, people don’t lose their jobs, and customers are able to maintain relationships with those who have been serving them for years, it can be a good thing. Probably the best thing to come out of this is the money that is typically invested in plant and equipment. Tim was just attending a survey at a boatyard in Maine and he was amazed at the improvements Safe Harbor had invested in.
What is the downside? In some cases a virtual monopoly has been created, meaning at some point costs to the consumer may be increased more than they otherwise would. Since marinas and boatyards are located on valuable waterfront property the concern is at some point the owners may sell out to other uses (like condo projects) and the boating access may be gone. In the end this is mainly a real estate play and that is always a potential worry. While things may be good at first, what do private investment groups typically do? They build up the enterprise with the goal of selling it. Once that happens there is no way to know what future ownership may do.
Consolidation is not the only concern we have, the loss of valuable companies, especially in the sailboat world, is another. The number of providers for hardware, spars and so forth continues to dwindle. If you lose your mast the chances are the company that built it is no longer in business, and you might lose a season while a replacement is sourced.
These days most sailboats and related hardware are made offshore, because the North American market is not of sufficient size to support domestic companies. Beneteau, for example, sells to all parts of the globe and therefore they have the market to support and grow their broad portfolio of products. Most J/boats are built in France these days too, for the same reason.