The recession lurking beneath the waves the past year has chomped sales nearly in half at Clearwater's MarineMax Inc., the nation's largest chain of boat dealerships.
MarineMax's revenue sank to $165.6-million in the fourth quarter that ended Sept. 30, compared with $318.2-million in the same quarter of 2007. Same-store sales plunged about 45 percent.
Chief executive Bill McGill called it his roughest year since the Arab oil embargo in 1973. Even the 10 percent luxury tax on yachts imposed in 1991 didn't hit the industry this badly. McGill runs 80 stores in 22 states.
"We know this is a major hiccup that most of us haven't experienced before. It's the worst in my 35 years," McGill said Tuesday.
The company's loss for the quarter was $11.1-million, or 60 cents a share. That's a big downturn from the same quarter in 2007, when the company made $6.6-million in profit.
Losses for the year reached $134.3-million, or $7.30 a share. The results include a subtraction of $122.1-million to account for the declining value of company assets.
As is the case with many luxury goods — recreational vehicles, for instance — sales have contracted as fuel prices fluctuate, credit tightens and consumers grow timid.
In recognition of changing tastes, MarineMax is discontinuing yachts by Italian manufacturer Ferretti, a company McGill described as the "Maserati and Lamborghini" of boats.
"Ferretti was too big a leap," McGill said.
The company also will trim costs by closing stores and cutting its staff. It recently shut down its Tampa store near Interstate 4.
Its stock price has nose-dived 90 percent so far this year, settling at $1.50 at the close of trading Tuesday.
Now McGill's strategy is to highlight the appeal of boating as a relaxing, family-oriented pastime for tough economic times. He aims to be the last one standing in a shrinking industry.
"The passion that customers have for boating is second to none," he said. "They say, 'It'll be the last thing I give up.' "