Will tide turn in Miami?

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14_miami_01Signs of an improving economy generate optimism for the big show among organizers and exhibitors

The thousands of boats, engines, electronics and accessories on display at the 2012 Progressive Insurance Miami International Boat Show & Strictly Sail are only the beginning of what there is to see and experience at one of the world’s largest boating events.

The five-day show, in its 71st year, takes place Feb. 16-20 across three sites: the Miami Beach Convention Center, Sea Isle Marina & Yachting Center and Miamarina at Bayside (the sail component). It runs concurrently with the Yacht & Brokerage Show in Miami Beach, staged on Collins Avenue, and there is free shuttle service between the independently operated productions.

This year’s Miami show features interactive family activities, a new sailing simulator, a chance to scuba dive, a variety of seminars and appearances by well-known boaters. “Nowhere else in the world can boaters find such a vast array of boats and accessories for sale, plus free activities and education that offer everyone a chance to discover the boating lifestyle,” show manager Cathy Rick-Joule says.

Owned and produced by the National Marine Manufacturers Association, the show will feature about 2,000 exhibitors at the three locations. “I’m feeling pretty good,” Rick-Joule said in early January. “We’ve still got some space to sell, but for the most part we are in pretty good shape. The convention center has filled up really nicely. The outside patio space has filled up really nicely. So we’re about 1 percent ahead of where we were last year. It renewed much faster than I thought it would, and we’ve had some dealers and manufacturers take on additional space this year.”

15_miami_02Kevin Murphy, manager of the Strictly Sail portion of the show, echoes Rick-Joule’s enthusiasm. “We had a good show last year and I think the industry is turning a little bit in the right direction,” he says. “There’s a lot of optimism out there. People signed up early, and we look really good. The in-water space sales are definitely better this year than last year … so things are really starting to pick up.

“Land space is very full,” Murphy says. “All of the booths in the big tent and on the sidewalk spaces are completely full. We have a couple of booths left in the back tent, but not many.”

Most of the expected exhibitors have signed on. “The only ones who are out [as of early January] is the whole Fountain group — with Fountain and Donzi and Pro-Line,” Rick-Joule says. “We had hoped to have them back again this year … and they were in for a while, and then they had some challenges, so they unfortunately are out again. But my understanding is their goal is to secure some space in the water, so I wouldn’t be surprised if … they’ll be back.”

Rick-Joule continues: “Certainly we’ve had some exhibitors happy about that because it opened up some more space on the main floor that we needed. The Sea Ray group has increased their presence pretty dramatically. Carver has increased their dimensions pretty significantly, and Pursuit also.”

On the sailing side, Murphy says, “The international catamarans have come out of the woodwork and the big cats are coming in very strong. The international monohulls are starting to show up again and they haven’t been around for a couple of years.”

U.S. builders will also be represented well, he says. Close to 100 boats will be featured at Strictly Sail, up from 77 last year.

Exhibitor enthusiasm

Builders who spoke with Soundings Trade Only say they are optimistic heading into the show and suggest that the economic tide seems to be turning. “My feeling at this time, which is still very early in the new year, is that the potential customers are certainly more engaging than last year, and they are willing to sit down and talk about the details of their next purchase,” says Joey Weller, vice president of sales and marketing for Grady-White Boats. “So heading into Miami and other shows around the country, I feel optimistic that there is built-up demand.”

Miami by the numbers

• 2,124: number of exhibitors in 2011

• 50: number of exhibitors at the first Miami International Boat Show, held in 1941 under a tent at Miami’s Bayside Park

• 104,168: number of attendees in 2011

• 45,000: number of people working the show, including exhibitors, contractors, facility staff and show employees

• 200,000: estimated number of hotel rooms booked for the Miami show and Strictly Sail

• 45: percentage of visitors who travel to the show from outside Florida

• 817.8 million: dollars the show generates annually in gross sales and wages in Florida

• $4,500: cost of least expensive powerboat at the 2011 show

• $700: cost of least expensive sailboat at the 2011 show

• $8.7 million: cost of most expensive powerboat at the 2011 show

• $1.5 million: cost of most expensive sailboat at the 2011 show

• 6 feet: length of smallest powerboat in 2011

• 9 feet: length of smallest sailboat in 2011

• 87 feet: length of largest powerboat in 2011

• 68 feet: length of largest sailboat in 2011

Miami is a “major marketing show” for Grady-White, Weller says, adding that the company has expanded its space to accommodate three new models, along with nine others in its lineup, making this the company’s largest display in many years. Grady-White’s new models include the Canyon 271, Freedom 285 and Freedom 335, which is making its debut at the show. “We are very hopeful,” Weller says.

Bill Yeargin, president/CEO of Correct Craft, the builder of Nautique boats, says he’s also confident, having had a good fall boat show season when compared to the industry numbers and the overall economy. “We are excited heading into the Miami show related to our product and international sales,” Yeargin says. “We are cautiously optimistic related to the domestic market. There have been some positive economic signs, and the increase in the published consumer confidence numbers is great for our industry and our company.”

Pursuit Boats also sees Miami as an important show, says marketing director David Glenn. “Miami is traditionally a good show for us, both domestically and internationally. We’ll have about 10 boats on display,” he says, noting that the additional booth space will allow the builder to display its full line, from 18 to 38 feet.

Sales, he says, have been going well, and Pursuit is building its market on new products, including a 26-footer that will be at the show. “[In Miami] we try to take advantage of the momentum,” he says. “You get past the holidays, and people are starting to get excited about weather warming up, and I think all those things come into play.”

Hands-on experiences

After a successful introduction in 2011, the interactive Discover Boating Resource Center is back this year, providing opportunities to get on the water and discover the boating lifestyle through hands-on education. Attendees can preregister or sign up on site for an assortment of complimentary courses on topics ranging from close-quarters handling and offshore cruising to safety.

“We’re thrilled to bring the Discover Boating Resource Center back … so boaters of all ages and levels can learn more about navigating the waters and experience the benefits of boating firsthand,” Rick-Joule says.

Another new interactive feature is Fred’s Shed, which offers daily seminars and talk-show-format clinics covering a variety of topics, from fiberglass repair and fuel economy to installing electronics and general detailing. Visitors will be able to observe a cutaway boat and engine, and participate in hands-on clinics and interactive Q&A sessions.

Strictly Sail also features seminars — nearly 100 of them — as well as intensive on-the-water clinics; boat rides; an appearance by sailor and author Jimmy Cornell, who will offer his long-distance cruising master class; a Discover Sailing Center; and a new sailing simulator. “We’re giving them a good idea of what sailing’s all about,” Murphy says.

Dealer Connection

Returning to Miami this year is Dealer Connection, a networking/business-building program exclusively for boat, engine and accessory manufacturers and dealers. It is designed to help manufacturers find new dealers/distribution channels and dealers find new brands/product lines.

16_miami_04The program includes confidential manufacturer/dealer meetings set up through “easy-to-use” appointment software; exclusive invitations to special industry events, including the State of the Industry breakfast and awards ceremony on Feb. 16; a Dealer Connection welcome reception; and a VIP Dealer hospitality lounge. A seminar element has been added this year.

As of early January, 125 dealers had registered. “I think we’re going to continue to see an interest in that,” Rick-Joule says. “I’ve had conversations with several manufacturers who were able to secure dealers because of the program, and I have no reason to believe that’s not going to continue.”

The NMMA and Boating Writers International will recognize as many as 16 products with Innovation Awards (plus one environmental award) in a presentation ceremony Feb. 16 during the industry breakfast.

And to help attendees get around the show and see all there is to see, there’s the Progressive Insurance Miami International Boat Show & Strictly Sail app — a personal show guide.

“We’re feeling pretty optimistic,” Rick-Joule says. “Most people are saying they are seeing a crack in the wall and improvement. Across the board, boat people are pretty optimistic.”

This article originally appeared in the February 2012 issue.

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