Steve Lavarnway at Clayton Marina Sales & Service. Kara Dry/NNY Business

Clayton Marina has serviced the river community through high water and now the COVID-19 pandemic. Marina sales expert Steve Lavarnway talked with NNY Business about how 2020 boat and jetki sales boomed despite the pandemic. Mr. Lavarnway says he anticipates the 2021 boat and jetski sales to stay on same trajectory.

NNYB: Clayton Marina is known for its marine sales and dockage. When does the business begin selling ATV and UTV vehicles during the year?

LAVARNWAY: ATV sales are pretty consistent throughout the year, but you see a lot of sales in the spring for hunting season, then particularly in the late summer/fall and throughout the winter because customers use them for ice fishing, hunting. Those are our best sales times for those types of vehicles.

NNYB: What are some of the services that Clayton Marina offers to the public other than boat sales, ATV sales?

LAVARNWAY: There is dockage and there is storage. The owners are also putting up two more storage buildings right now and they’re working on some infrastructure work on the property for increased boat dockage. Customers like to have pavers in front of their boats with an area where they can picnic and do things like that. They have the full amenities with showers and areas for all their baggage customers, and pretty much anything that you ask them to do. If they’re able to do it, they will.

NNYB: What is your position here with Clayton Marina?

LAVARNWAY: I’m mostly sales. I came on board with them when they picked up the Sea-Doo franchise because I’ve worked with the franchise for about 15 years. So, my specialty focuses on that, but I will do anything that we need to do.

NNYB: Out of the services that you just outlined, which one brings in the most business to the Marina?

LAVARNWAY: Particularly the boats; the boats and the watercraft. Clayton Marina services the river more than anything. When it comes to ATVs, side-by-sides, things like that, it’s another product line to give the company diversity, but where their primary focus and income generation is going to be through marine.

NNYB: How have winter sales changed over the years?

LAVARNWAY: When I started in the mid 2000s, everything was really good and the market was for bigger boats and go-fast boats and cruisers and things like that. Then around 2008 is when the housing market crashed and when that happened everyone’s structure of buying completely changed. What’s the first to go? A boat, because things were bad financially then. You see people moving into pontoon boats, where they’re not going and staying on it for the weekend, but they want to boat. Pontoons have changed where they can put higher horsepower on them, so they can do 40 miles per hour, and they can still put 10 people on a boat.

NNYB: Did recreational vehicles, like ATVs, fall into that same kind of market and sales trend?

LAVARNWAY: They have always been pretty consistent. There wasn’t a really big swing. When you see people with ATVs and UTVs, they’re more of a necessity for people that own those things. They are avid hunters; it doesn’t matter what the economy is going to do. They are going to go out there and they’re going to do their thing; they’re going to ice fish, they’re going to hunt, that’s activities that they use those for. So, ATVs I feel are a little more consistent, whereas it is the marine sales that fluctuated.

NNYB: With winters being so unpredictable over the last five years has the business shifted marketing or inventory to maintain stronger winter sales?

LAVARNWAY: Not as much with us, but I’m sure that is the case with a lot of other companies. Primarily because we carry side-by-sides, UTVs and ATVs. If you were in the snowmobile industry, I feel that that would have been drastically different. But us personally, here, I don’t feel that it’s changed a ton.

NNYB: The global pandemic has hit many businesses hard with some closing due to low sales. How has Clayton Marina handled the change in the business economy?

LAVARNWAY: It has actually helped us. A great deal due to the fact that people’s structured spending money is so much different now. Whereas if you had a family of four or five, and you go to Disney World, you were going to spend $10,000, which you’re not doing this year. So that means people are going to go buy their boat, and they’re going to enjoy it in their own world with their family and be social distanced. Even for other businesses, for example pools, I don’t think you can get a pool for another two years around here. So, people are spending differently because they can’t do the things you’re used to doing in terms of travel, whereas hotels and cruise lines and those type of businesses are dying, and our type of business is picking up that slack, because that’s what people can do now.

NNYB: Many businesses in your industry, in neighboring states and in the north country, have reported that they have been unable to maintain inventory. How does Clayton Marina plan to handle an influx in sales if that should happen when families are seeking more outdoor activities?

LAVARNWAY: We’ll try to get as much as we can, but we’re limited. We can only get what we’re allowed to give in our Sea-Doo sales. They allotted us up to close to 90 units, and I got them to make it up 15 percent because we need more, because we knew the demand would be there. Of those extra they said that’s a “wish list” and they can’t promise you that. It looks like they’re not going to be able to judging from what’s happened so far with the market this year. It looks like we’ll be out come peak season, again. Pretty much what that means is we put our annual order in, in September, for our upcoming 2021 season and we start getting them sporadically. As of right now, of the amount that we purchased we have 10 percent of them here. Of the ones that are coming, 60 to 65 percent of them all have deposits and are all sold. So, what that means is, our model lines are more limited, because there are a lot of different model lines, and maybe you don’t know what’s going to happen. You put your order in, and that’s a guessing game. Or are they going to like this color? Because that’s the color that is this year. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t; once we find out and then it was a hit, we could be out of that model because they sold quickly and come selling season, we will have none.

NNYB: With the sales of outdoor recreational vehicles shifting due to so much interest in outdoor recreation, are you able to offer better, better comparative competitive pricing? And if so, why?

LAVARNWAY: It’s not necessarily the competitive pricing, it’s all about supply and demand. We’re always going to give competitive pricing to anyone because it’s a family-owned business and they are competitive in business, so much that they want to treat everyone fairly and smother them with service. But when it comes down to that, if you go to another dealer, you’re going to get very similar pricing, because if it doesn’t sell today, it will sell tomorrow. So, because the demand is there, it’s not necessary to make drastic cuts unless the manufacturers offered those rebates, which they haven’t been because of that.

NNYB: What percentage of yearly sales come from the ATV sales versus boat sales?

LAVARNWAY: For the ATV sales in our business, probably I would say like 15 to 10 percent, it’s going be much lower. Again, we try to diversify everything that we offer here in our boat lines. We have pontoon boats or center consoles and you have something that anyone can walk in and may have something that fits your needs. And the ATV, UTV are just another aspect of that. We sell outboard engines. So, if you’re looking at an outboard or you’re looking at this or a personal watercraft or a boat, it’s a one-stop shop.

This interview was conducted by Magazine Editor Holly Boname.

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