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Industry Leaders Adapt to Changing Market Conditions

BY ED MORAN AND LUKE REYNOLDS
PHOTO BY PETER SPURRIER

As restrictions to social distancing ease across the country, and rowing clubs wait to see how, or even if, they will be able to begin practicing again, some indication of what rowing will look like first can be found by checking the sales trends among the companies that make rowing shells and equipment. 

Some are seeing shifts in demand, some are witnessing increasing demand, and others still are hardly seeing a change at all. 

In April, erg-manufacturer and industry bellwether Concept2 sold out of machines within days of shutting down production on March 25. They were not the only ones who saw a sales bump as athletes hunkered down in their homes. Hydrow, industry newcomer, has seen an increase as well.

“We’re at four times the volume of sales,” Bruce Smith, Hydrow CEO and founder, said. “There is definitely a big-Covid effect . . . but it’s definitely accelerating the adoption of at-home fitness.

“We’re at four times the volume of sales,” Bruce Smith, Hydrow CEO and founder, said. “There is definitely a big-covid effect…but it’s definitely accelerating the adoption of at-home fitness.”

“We’re incredibly fortunate that we produce Hydrows in Taiwan and they have not been very severely impacted by the Coronavirus,” he said. “So, we’re incredibly lucky that we’re still able to produce and deliver Hydrows.” 

Some shell manufacturers including Hudson and Wintech also began to see a change in the status quo. Demand for team boats diminished and shifted to demand for small boats. 

“I think we’ve had three orders of ten [singles] come through,” said Dave Dickison, director of business development at RowAmerica. “I’ve given the directive to manufacturing ‘just keep making singles.’”

Hudson Atlantic sales manager Matt Muffleman, said that the overall volume of boat sales is down but their single sales volume and inquiries have tripled. With the shift in demand from team boats to singles, Muffleman said he has noticed a change in the motivation behind shell purchases and is taking time to talk with customers to determine what their needs actually are. 

“It’s been hard to gauge,” Muffleman said. “I would say (singles inquires) have more than tripled, significantly higher. Our overall volume is down because nobody is buying big boats, we don’t typically deal in a lot of small boats, but it’s up there.

“But, you don’t need an elite level racing shell for a small boats program at a junior program where cost-benefit is a concern,” he said. “They need more bang for the buck. They need more butts in seats and I think it’s going to be an interesting trade-off in that there are programs that are so used to a certain quality of product or service, and then similarly, you are getting people who are entering the field for the first time, you’re getting parents whose first sentence is, ‘I just have to tell you, I don’t know anything about rowing but I want to buy my child a boat.’

“In a couple of years the used, small boat market is going to be inundated because programs will be back to big boats and won’t need all these singles and will want to sell them,” Muffleman said.

Similar to Hudson, Fluidesign has seen a decrease in overall new boat volume. Inquiries for pairs, doubles, quads and fours have almost completely stopped, and request for new singles has fallen. But sales of used boats that they have in stock have gone up.

“Sales are really interesting,” said Gord Henry, president of Fluidesign. “New boats sales are down, used boat sales are up. The inquiries for new boats are definitely down, like half. The inquiries for used boats are doubled.

“We’re not going to sell a four or a quad. We haven’t had one inquiry for a four or quad. Before this, we were averaging one a week. We’re getting little to no inquiries on pairs or doubles, which we would normally have two a week,” he said.

Henry said that with many new boats customers trade in their old boats and they had a lot available. “So far, we’re selling, on average, three or four used boats a week.”

Swift Racing, which manufactures ocean shells in addition to flatwater shells, echoed some of the same sentiments of Fluidesign. 

“(Business) has changed,” Christian Hawkins, vice president of operations for Swift Racing, said. “We have some containers coming in from some previous orders. We have some interest as well but it’s slow with people pulling the trigger.” 

Not all companies saw a shift to an increase in demand, or shift in interest, however. Durham Boat Company is on pace to retain around the same level of business as years’ previous.

“It’s about comparable to last year,” Colleen Fuerst, President of Durham Boat Company, said. “We’re still getting indoor tank inquiries, but the time from when we get the inquiry until they actually get the tank is about a year.” 

Despite all the changes, the picture remains clear that when athletes return to the water the industry will be ready. Regardless of how different it may look. 

“The best thing the rowers could do is get a single, and you know, try not to launch from a boathouse,” she said.

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