After months of generally lean times in the sailboat industry, it looks as if spring has really arrived, in more ways than one.
For atleast one of the area's bellwether marine firms, things went so welllast month that the good news is rippling out across the industry, bringing what appear to be realistic hopes of renewed health and strength and replacing dire predictions of overall disaster.
Interyacht, the Annapolis area's largest yacht brokerage -- and perhaps the largest company in the nation specializing in brokerage yacht sales -- posted a record sales month in March. About 20 boats of a combined value of more than $2.2 million sold during the month.
And as if that weren't promising enough, Interyacht President Alan Hamerstrom reported Monday that the firm already had signed contracts in a similar volume expected to close during April.
"The amazing thing is we have almost as much as that pending for April," Hamerstrom said. "We're already anticipating back-to-back records, and we've never done that before."
The March sales record represents a 22 percent increase over the previous monthly record -- $1.8 million during June of last year -- at the 25-year-old firm.
Last month also was the first time an individual broker at Interyacht posted sales of over$1 million in a single month. That honor went to Annapolitan Keith Yeoman, who generated a cool $1.1 million in sales during March.
Yeoman, transplanted to Annapolis from England by way of Florida and California, has been with Interyacht five years. He has led the firm atthis point in its fiscal year for the past three years running and turned in top annual totals in two of the past three years.
"All the boats I'm selling are going at very realistic prices," Yeoman said."It's looking great right now."
Yeoman said he believed his success, and that of his fellow Interyacht brokers, was due to "an accumulation of things," but he gave a great deal of credit to Hamerstrom's aggressive and unstinting advertising campaign, even during the leanest times.
"Alan's given us tremendous support with advertising," Yeoman said. "He hasn't backed off on it at all, and if anything he'sincreased his spending on advertising, which has kept the pipeline full for us."
Of course, the hard work and professionalism of brokers, management and support staff for which Interyacht always has had a strong reputation are also essential elements of the firm's success, in both the long and short term.
Interyacht handles brokerage ofboth sail and motor yachts, but Hamerstrom said that all but three of the boats sold in March were sailboats, with a median value of around $75,000.
"It's pretty much the same mix as we've been selling all along," Hamerstrom said. "The smallest sale was about $20,000, andthe biggest was about $650,000, with a pretty even spread across that range. We seem to be in a phase where sailboats are heading back upand powerboats are dropping off."
Most of the boats sold will remain on the East Coast, although three went to West Coast buyers and two or three are being exported to Europe.
"That's reaching out farther than we have in the past," Hamerstrom said of the firm's sales to buyers in California, Oregon, Great Britain and Gibraltar, but he added that his vision of the future did not necessarily include such distant markets.
"With the dollar now strengthening again after thePersian Gulf War, I'm not placing my bets on European business," he said. "I'm placing my bets on primarily East Coast U.S. business."
Hamerstrom explained that the current economic crisis was a "top-down" recession, which severely has affected the top-dollar luxury market, particularly as credit became tighter and harder to find.
"It'sprobably generally true that the market bottomed out in February," Hamerstrom said. "But now the sellers' confidence has gone up, and they won't accept the prices they did before. The buyers know this, too,and they seem to know they had better act quickly if they want favorable prices. It's almost as if a sort of a feeding frenzy has started."
Although some distress-sale bargains have been found here and there on the market recently, panic sales and low-balling bargain-hunters apparently have failed to drive prices to ridiculously low crisislevels. Instead, it seems that potential sellers have been able to wait out the worst of the economic uncertainty, and buyers and sellersalike now are responding to post-war optimism.
"When the recession came in we didn't get the listings, and that tended to bolster the sailboat market, so prices have remained very constant," Yeoman explained. "We've been sifting the market pretty carefully, and now we're getting a lot more qualified buyers."
Yeoman's biggest single saleduring March came from a lead provided by his brother during a Christmas Day phone conversation to his native England. The boat was a Deerfoot 61 that had been on display at last October's U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis and was consigned by the builder to Interyacht for sale.