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Do used boats fit in new-boat shows?

The 51st annual Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show opens today, and while the industryís last major in-water show of the fall circuit doesnít come until early December in St. Petersburg, Fla., the show created by the late Kaye Pearson in Lauderdale is the best of the best.

Covering more than 3 million feet in five locations, the docks will be packed with hundreds of new boats, current and non-current. There will be hundreds of used boats along those docks, too. It has always been that way at Lauderdale ó new and used making a great show.

Itís common practice to include used boats at in-water shows. The combination has never been a problem. With the 2010 in-water circuit coming to a close, however, thoughts will shift to the 2011 winter shows just a couple of months away.

The winter (mostly indoor) shows have traditionally been limited to the display of new boats. It goes back more than 100 years when the New York Boat Show started it all. Over the years, new-boats-only was the DNA of the winter shows. Manufacturers provided dealers with financial support for showing their new models. The shows were advertised as the first showing of the new yearís models. It was a winning formula for decades, but itís not working well these days.

The Great Recession has left major winter shows struggling to maintain a size and attraction that will bring in customers. Manufacturersí financial support for dealers at shows has dried up. Dealers donít have the new products to fill their large exhibit spaces of the past. Yet itís critical for the show and the dealers to keep a large footprint so as not to ďturn offĒ the audience.

In recent years, most shows have relaxed certain rules ó for example, allowing new non-current models. At some shows, acceptable non-currents have even been more than just last yearís models. But is it finally time for used?

Why not? Jack Ellis, of Info-Link Technologies, speaking at IBEX, pointed out that an average of 1 million boats change hands each year for about $10 billion. For every boat purchased new, three were bought used.

In 2009, used boats accounted for 82 percent of all sales, compared to 73 percent in 2007. Eighty-five percent of first-time buyers enter the market through a used boat. Notably, about a third of the used-boat buyers will purchase their next boat new. Itís all pretty compelling, isnít it?

Exploring the idea of used boats in this winterís shows should make for spirited discussions. But it needs to be discussed. Could they be displayed in a dealerís main exhibit or separately? Would a separate special used-boat section in the show be more desirable? Should there be a reduced price for used-boat exhibit space? Will the show draw increased attendance if used boats are included. Is it time for used?


7 comments on “Do used boats fit in new-boat shows?

  1. John Greene

    Used boats placed in indoor shows increases the risk of sever fire damage, for they have filled fuel tanks, electrical connections that have been modified, and might have wireing that could ignight. If it happens in a marina, that is bad enough, if it happens in an indoor arena, it would probubly be devistating. I vote to keep unused boats only in indoor shows.

  2. Bill Bates

    I spend 12 years as the manager of used cars for a luxury auto manufacturer. In the beginning, no one wanted used cars in auto shows. Over time, however, dealers realized that used cars are a key profit center. Anything that could help sell more vehicles — used or new — should be at the show.

    Used boats are the same. The dealers support the shows, and the shows are an opportunity to get the products in front of thousands of potential customers. Anything that can help sell a boat — new or used — is good. End of story.

  3. Chip Hart


    In Cincinnati & Columbus, we began permitting clean, late model used boats in the shows to enable dealers in increase their return on their show investment. These were placed in an area away from the dealer’s new boat displays. With limited new model floor plans, reduced dealer spending on space at shows, and the need to present a ‘full show’ to the public, the opportunity was met with resounding success.

    For the dealers, they were able to increase their show sales, move used product, and offer nice used boats to new buyers that maybe weren’t prepared to take on the financial responsibility of a new boat.

    All boats are checked by fire marshals before entering the building so issues with gas were nil (we have a limit in Ohio of less then 1/8 tank of gas in motorized product).

    This was a natural progression in the current marine retail climate.

    Chip Hart

  4. korn

    A recent look here in Ohio clearly shows that the demand for clean, reliable “pre-owned” recreational vessels are in more demand than are untitled, new boats. I suspect that dealers who attend boat shows would find good traffic if they presented quality products at an affordable, attractive price. By the way, Norm, you ought to come back for a couple of days to fish. We’re slaying the bass in the Mentor Lagoons.


  5. C. Moore

    If used/preowned boats are let into a “New Boat” boat show then it wouldn’t be a “New Boat” Boat show would it??? I think you answered your own question with the title to your post..
    Any used boats shown at a show should be certified & have a minimum 1 year warranty like CPO cars without a deductable.

  6. Mark Lassila

    I used to participate in a big way in five major new boat shows a year, but when it stopped penciling two years ago I stopped. I would certainly welcome the idea of used boats at major boat shows and would jump back in.

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