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Boat shows better than expected

We’re now three weeks into the industry’s winter boat show season, and among the descriptions now coming out of them is: “better than expected.”

Sure, no one is expecting attendance to go up at any of the shows, and it isn’t. But those who predicted the bottom would fall out are really being proven wrong thus far.

More specifically, shows I’ve been tracking — namely Cleveland, Toronto, San Diego, New Orleans and Houston — are currently under way or just completed. They have experienced attendance declines ranging from a low of 5 percent to a high of 21 percent. While declines can hardly be labeled “good,” these are significantly better overall than the preshow predictions by some of 40 to 50 percent declines. Happily, no one appears to have even approached those drops!

Better than encouraging attendance statistics, however, are the reports that boats are being sold at these shows. Surprised? We shouldn’t be. Shows have always sold boats, albeit recently not in the numbers we hoped for. But sales are made nonetheless. Moreover, there are some interesting and unexpected observations being reported now.

For example, with the Cleveland show currently half over, virtually all exhibitors are agreeing crowds are “better than expected.” Said Jim Burroughs at Happy Days Boating Company: “We came in not sure we’d see very many people and any sales. But the crowds have been good; we already have four completed sales, and we’re now believing the second half of this show will be even better.”

Lowell Joy, Lakeside Marine, had a different observation. “The prospect-tracking system we use is very thorough, and it’s showing us that nearly 60 percent of the people we’ve taken detailed information on are new to us, not previous prospects or customers. We didn’t expect that. So far, we’ve closed on two Tiaras, and we’ve got a surprising list of serious prospects,” he added.

I find Joy’s experience most interesting because expectations have been that new prospects would be few and far between this year. One thought about this comes mind: Could it be that the Discover Boating campaign is producing some impact we weren’t expecting?

Following that line of thought, there are strong indications that smaller boats are actually doing better than big boats. So reports Ken Lovell at the Houston show and Ken Alvey at Cleveland. Both have dealers reporting unexpected small-boat sales activity in their shows. “We assumed going in that big-boat activity would be the more robust, but the opposite appears to be happening,” said Alvey.

While no one is sure exactly what’s happening, yet — i.e. small boats outselling large boats or newcomers exceeding old, etc. — one thing does seem certain: Thus far, boat shows are generating more activity than most admit they expected.

Specifically, I visited the Cleveland show all yesterday, and the mood throughout was more upbeat than I ever expected. That reaffirmed my conviction that dealers who intend to be around for the recovery recognize that boat shows are still where the action is.

Lowell Joy summed it up best when he said, “Shows are still all about staying in front of your current customers and finding those new prospects.”



14 comments on “Boat shows better than expected

  1. Arch

    I heard the Atlanta show was decent too and that traffic on the weekend was better than expected. Not sure about sales though.


  2. Jeff

    The boat show in Cincinnati is going into its second weekend. The first weekend was much better then anybody expected in both sales and attendance. We also have many first time boat buyers who are good prospects! There are local lenders who are still giving great rates on RV equipment! Don’t believe everything the liberal media tells you! Put a smile on and sell the lifestyle, its GREAT!

  3. Mike Niemczura

    We also did a Boat Show the first weekend in January, and the results were better than last year. Very optimistic look out for this year. Also, follow up from the show has also resulted in more sales. Great way to start the year, I hope that it just keeps getting better this year. Too much negativity from some dealers are dragging down the rest.

  4. Rick Allen

    Norm…we are absolutely bucking the attendance trends at boat shows across the country as we just finished a very successful 35th Annual Stuart Boat Show featuring Trawler Expo with attendance equal to our show from last year which was a solid 12% up from the year before…go figure…Although a northern saying regarding the winter and “cabin fever” I think our boating audience needs to feel the escape from the day to day gloom and doom…our boat ramps are full again and the waterways are moving smiles…we are and continue to be a resilient industry!

  5. Carl Mischka

    Norm, the Raleigh COnvention Center Boat Show returns to it’s new permanent location, downtown Raleigh, starting Friday through Sunday. Let’s all hope it is also up in attendance and closed sales.

  6. Steve Justus

    Thanks for the update. We need encouraging news. Hopefully the dealers showing Boats are being honest about sales. Usually if 1 dealer sells 3 boats in a day, the dealer in the next stall sells 4, the next guy 5, etc., all because the first guy thought he Might have 3 boats sold. To those actually selling boats, close the deals so we can all have a good Spring.

  7. Kerry D

    Wow! It’s amazing that all these manufacturers are closing plants and laying people off. Maybe it the dawn of a new day! Funny how the New York Boat Show was so lightly attended. I guess the midwest with all the auto company employees is doing really well right now.

  8. Gordy McKelvey

    Hey Norm, The Nashville Boat and Sport Show is a NMMA show. It concluded about 2 weeks ago. Do you have any specifics as to attenedance and sales from that show? I know Nashville is a “small market” located in one of the boating hot beds of the country. It would be nice to know how Nashville stacks up, say against, Cleveland. The Nashville show had some pretty tough competition the weekend of the show. The second round of the NFL playoffs was on Saturday as well as NASCARS Speed and Sound show. What have you heard about that show? Thanks, Gordy

  9. Larry Tague

    Kansas City Sports show was pretty thin on exhibitors, only 3 but we had a better than expected show there, attendance was down but the customers that showed were upbeat ! Hopefully we can start things back to normal. Given the fact that some of our freinds are no longer in business the ones that are will have to pickup the slack.

  10. Jim Burroughs

    Well Steve, we finished with a dozen honest sales in Cleveland and many possibilities pending. Not up to the level we would like to see, but not bad considering. Continued good luck to all and with a little luck we might just have a decent year yet. Those of us that have been through this before know that things will turn around; but in the meantime hard work and positive approaches to selling will see us ahead to better times once more.

  11. Ron Getter

    Norm, yippee for the boat show in Cincinnati! No, we’re not dancing in the streets, but we have a grin on the results of the show. Yes, attendance was down…but it may have been for the better. Clients were actually able to talk to a dealer representitive, not wait in line for info. And they asked real questions that ment they were, or soon would be, in the market for a boat! Sales were ahead of last year (a trend?), an yes, a lender was approving loans, althought for the very qualified. Gone of the days of “fog a mirror and get a loan”. But if the customer was of good standing, he was able to get financing. Boats of big size (5 of the 8 large boats were sold) and bow riders sold. High end ski/wakeboard units did well. I heard that the first rounds of “boomers” had there kids out of college, and now those funds were being for good ‘ol mom and dad. Other said “it’s time to play again…darn the economic outlook”. Looks like the recreatiion of boating may be coming back!

  12. Pingback: Tradition & Modernity In Trade Shows

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