As it did for other industries around the country, the economic door slammed hard on high-performance marine industry businesses with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic and its shelter-in-place strategy for resolution. From East to West, companies such as Cigarette Racing Team in South Florida, DCB Performance Boats in Southern California and Nordic Boats in Arizona, have temporarily shut their doors.
The veteran father-and-offshore racing team of Jason and Johnny Saris are still working hard at Performance Marine in Upstate New York. Photo courtesy/copyright Pete Boden/Shoot 2 Thrill Pix.
This is no doubt that some high-performance marine businesses will never open again.
But some will, and as daunting as the task ahead will be outfits such as Double-R Performance, a full-service Nor-Tech dealer in the Ontario, Canada area, and Performance Marine, the home of Saris Racing Engines and a full-service marina in Bolton Landing, N.Y. Though both are allowed to work in house, both have closed their doors to clients. And the teams behind them are already thinking ahead to reopening and all that will entail.
Deemed a non-essential business, the marina at Performance Marine is closed and its service center employees have been sent home.
“We are closed to the public per Governor Cuomo’s orders,” said Jason Saris, who co-founded Performance Marine in 1967 with fellow offshore powerboat racer Richard Gage. “Johnny, my son, and I keep working as we are family. We are returning phone calls and continuing to work on the projects we already have in-house and following the current guidelines we have been given concerning the staffing and operation of small non-essential businesses.”
“We’re still finishing up a very busy winter,” he continued. “We’re still getting a lot of calls from people trying to line up spring work like EFI tuning, seasonal service and so on. We just can’t really schedule it without knowing how long the stay-at-home order will last and what boat-launching protocols will be.
Regardless of what comes, Johnny Saris said the company will be ready to go and open to the public when the novel coronavirus restrictions are lifted.
“Absolutely we will,” he said. “Our customers will all need installations and water testing. Plus, we do winter storage for about 75 boats. They all need to get uncovered, recommissioned and launched. There’ll be no sleep in our future when the flood gates open. We’ll be slammed.
“It’s something I’ve never experienced before—we have no customers here but we’re still really busy,” he added. “We have 10 engines on the floor and one on the dyno ready to go when we’re allowed to open back up.”
Double Performance last delivered a Nor-Tech center console—a 39-footer—in mid-March. But the dealership, which delievered 11 Nor-Tech boats last year, has another 39-footer and a 34-footer being finished at Nor-Tech that were planned for spring deliveries.
Minus customers in its showroom or service center, Canada-based Nor-Tech dealer Double-R Performance is still open for business. Photo courtesy/copyright Pete Boden/Shoot 2 Thrill Pix.
As of this report, the Fort Myers, Fla., company is still building boats under COVID-19-mandated restrictions. At least for now, that means additional deliveries for Nor-Tech’s other dealers.
“Both of our shops were deemed essential services in Ontario so we’re still working,” said Peter Roberts, who call owns Double-R Performance with his brother, Raymond. “Now, there’s talk of thinning the list of essential services. We aren’t doing any really ‘spectacular projects’ right now, but we have lots of work. We also preparing boats for our Canadian customers
Robert paused, then laughed. “The regular ones pay as much or more per hour than the spectacular ones,” he said. “We’re doing Whipple supercharger installs, redoing an old Chris-Craft, handling a bunch of fiberglass work and general service and so on.
“Other than having no customers in the shop, we have not closed,” he continued. “So we’re already ‘green-lit.’
As the owner of a marine business that has survived two recessions, Jason Saris is tempering his optimism with realism. He’s confident that his business will survive and hoping that others will as well.
“I think if the restrictions are lifted early enough, say by mid-June, we will be overwhelmed,” he said. “But in a seasonal-business world there is no getting back what has been lost, so it will be a hit for everyone. For us as a non-stocking boat dealer it’s not as bad. I feel for the guys with a million dollars or two in inventory and will miss half or all of the Northeastern selling season, which will also be impacted by the stock market crash.
“I’m sure this is going to thin the herd just as it did in the early 1990s” he continued. “Being small helps us to move faster, pull back quicker to save resources and spool up quicker when things come back. Our strategy is to stay as flexible as possible on this uncharted passage, react quickly and always remember that boating is not a necessity so make sure it stays fun for your clients so they don’t give up on it. If you are one of our customers, we are going to try to make your boat and the time you spend on it the very last thing you’re going to part with in hard and trying times. It’s worked before.”
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