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Cincinnati and Cleveland shows lead the pack

Cincinnati is dubbed the Queen City of Ohio but the title should be King City when it comes to attendance at the boat show that wrapped up last weekend. And in the northern part of the state, the Cleveland show also chalked up handsome gains.

The Cincinnati Travel, Sports and Boat Show enjoyed a whopping 30 percent attendance increase for its eight-day run that includes two weekends (the show is dark on Monday and Tuesday), the biggest percentage increase reported by a major industry winter show thus far.

In fact, it must have been Ohio’s turn in the spotlight as the Progressive Cleveland Mid-America Boat Show also scored an impressive 16 percent attendance boost.

The Cincinnati show celebrated its 60th anniversary with free admission on opening night. “Nearly 8,000 people showed up which really kicked things off in a big way,” Hart Productions CEO Vicki Hart said. “After that, everything just kept rolling.”

Meanwhile, attendance at the five-day Cleveland show was pushed up by a big Saturday and Sunday. “We had about all we could handle on the weekend,” show manager Bryan Ralston said. “The exhibits were always packed and our seminars and entertainment features were standing-room-only.”

In boarder perspective, it’s notable that when the other major early winter shows are considered — namely Houston, Atlanta and Chicago — the message is that shows are working for us this season.

More specifically, the 10-day Houston show was up 9 percent, a real plus since the show had to remain closed on one of its two big Saturdays because of a Texans NFL playoff game. And football really drop-kicked the Atlanta Boat Show that runs only a four-day Thursday-Sunday schedule.

On Saturday, traditionally Atlanta’s biggest day, the city literally gave over all the convention center parking to the Falcons playoff game and the rates shot up from $10 to $35. Anyone who knows shows (I produced more than 130) knows it’s impossible to make up all the lost visitors in one remaining day. But attendance rose 48 percent on Sunday and Atlanta closed down only 7 percent, a remarkable comeback. There’s no doubt Atlanta would have been up significantly had there been no NFL game there.

Finally, the attendance at the big Progressive Chicago Boat, RV & Strictly Sail Show remained virtually unchanged again. Indeed, nearly 50,000 visitors have steadily poured into this show’s five-day run for the last three years now, regardless of any external problems including harsh weather.

To add to the successes, exhibitors in every show had good comments and reports. For example: “I had a great Sunday, we sold a lot of boats” said Atlanta exhibitor Eric Williams of Holiday Harbor. In Chicago: “The best show in a decade! Great traffic, quality customers … Buyers are out!” said Mark Felhofer of Bay Marine.

In Cleveland, Tom Mack of South Shore Marine noted: “Everything is working. The attendance is really good and, best of all, these are buyers in here.” And Craig Graham of MarineMax said of the show: “The energy in the building is great. We’re seeing people ready to buy.”

Cincinnati veteran marine dealer Sonny Lodder put it this way: “We’ve been around a long time and this has been the best show we’ve ever had. Our pontoons are selling like hotcakes. I think we only have two left in inventory. So, my concern now is that we won’t have much to sell in pontoons or our glass lines by spring. Our builders are saying they’re sold out.”

So far then, visitors to all the shows reflect a positive view of the economy looking forward. Chip Hart, an old friend and the retired CEO of Hart Productions, quipped: “It’s the Trump effect!” Maybe so. But whether it’s expectations for the new administration or the recovery of housing, stocks and other key influences that impact boat sales, there’s good reason to count on successful shows on the winter circuit.

So, if you haven’t, yet committed to your local show(s), it’s a good time to do it.

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