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Michigan City Show reports positive results

If increasing a dealer’s show sales from four last year to 13 boats this time means anything, the Michigan City In-Water Boat Show last weekend signaled that things continue to improve and buyers will respond.

That was the bottom line for B&E Marine director of sales Rod Bensz.

“We really put a lot of effort into making our display exciting and different this year and it paid off,” Bensz says. “Our theme was ‘Experience The Fun’ and our traffic was steady all weekend because we featured a lot of different things that grabbed people’s attention.”

Clearly, the B&E success illustrates the need to think more broadly about creating a show display. New product is important, of course — people come to shows to see what’s new. In B&E’s case, that included the premiere area showing of Sea Ray’s new 35-foot Sundancer as well as the debut of Boston Whaler’s new 23-foot Vantage and 27-foot Dauntless. Among the 13 boats B&E closed were three Whalers on the smaller end and a 54-foot Sea Ray Sundancer at the top end.

“We took in a 47-foot Sundancer on the 54-foot and sold it before the show closed,” Bensz said with obvious pleasure. “That was really great because, as we all know, big-boat sales have been the tough ones.”

Excitement in the B&E display was also added by having a demo boat — a Sea Ray 22 Sundeck Outboard — docked at the end of the display.

“We’ve been in this boat show for 34 years but never thought about a demo boat,” Bensz says. “It added a new dimension for us this time around.”

Similarly, the display also featured a 33 Sundancer that demonstrated Joystick Control.

Steve Wenzel, sales manager for Spingbrook Marina, didn’t disagree with Bensz’s comment about big boat sales being tough this year. However, he said Springbrook, which primarily sells big boats, is having a better sales year even in the face of major flooding problems on the Illinois River in the Seneca area.

“At one point,” Wenzel says, “we actually had to lift out all the boats in our marina until the high water receded. But, in spite of that minor inconvenience, we’ve been successful selling new and pre-owned boats. For example, we closed on our new 450 Prestige Motor Yacht at the show and I’m very confident about several strong leads for our Cruisers that we expect to close this week and some good ones on pre-owned boats where we’ve done very well all year.”

He also noted he’s been aggressive in pursuing good used trades and even in buying some good used boats outright.

Michigan City is the first of the industry’s major fall shows, with Tampa next, followed by Newport, Cedar Point, Norwalk and many more with the circuit ending up in St. Petersburg in early December.

According to Ken Alvey, president of the Lake Erie Marine Trades Association that produces Michigan City, overall attendance didn’t see the double-digit percent increase he expected — it was up only 4 percent primarily because showers opening day wiped out 40 percent of the normal crowd.

“The remaining three days saw significant gains and pulled us out of the attendance hole,” he says.

“Most important to us, however” he continued, “was the sales activity dealers characterized as significantly better than a year ago. For example, Huber’s Marine reportedly sold both boats they displayed; Fay’s Marina closed four boats; and Springbrook’s Steve Wenzel may have captured it best when he said ‘This year’s show was four times better.’ ”

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