New England Show digs its way out

Posted on Written by Reagan Haynes

newenglandTraffic picks up after a snowy first weekend; exhibitors say sales and leads beat expectations

The Progressive Insurance New England Boat Show garnered rave reviews on the venue — the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center — solid reviews on the crowds and lousy reviews on the weather.

Despite snowstorms that struck during the first weekend, the Feb. 16-24 show, which is owned by the National Marine Manufacturers Association, attracted 43,389 visitors, compared with 44,051 in 2012. Attendance on the first Sunday — typically a big selling day — was off about 40 percent because of the weather, so the fact that overall attendance was relatively flat was a positive thing, says NMMA New England Boat Show manager Joe O’Neal.

“Weekday traffic has been up 18 to 20 percent each day,” O’Neal said during the show. “Usually the serious buyers come out on weekdays, and up to this year it’s been flat.”

“Many exhibitors reported solid sales and seeing quality buyers in attendance throughout the show,” says NMMA spokeswoman Sarah Ryser.

O’Neal thinks New England benefits from the fact that real estate values didn’t plunge as steeply as they did in other regions. “Selling prices are firmly up, our unemployment has never been as high as the rest of the country, so if people are feeling good about their house and their job, it doesn’t matter what’s going on in Washington. They’re concerned with what’s going on in their own home,” he says.

Exhibitor space was sold out a month before the show opened, with 401 exhibitors lined up to display in the Boston area’s largest show, O’Neal says. That was an 8 percent increase from the 372 who participated last year. This year, the show used 364,000 of the exhibit hall’s 516,000 square feet, the same as last year, but more than it had in 2011.

During the last few years the show has broadened its audience well beyond its core market of Greater Boston and Cape Cod to attract exhibitors from Maine, Rhode Island and Connecticut.

Exhibitor feedback

“My gut feeling on the weekend I was there was that there weren’t as many EdgeWater buyers as I would normally see,” says EdgeWater Power Boats sales and marketing manager Peter Orlando. That, however, was the snowy weekend. “We still had one of the best Boston shows we’ve had in a very long time,” Orlando says. “The first weekend wasn’t as good — the wind was whipping and the snow was blowing — but sales were good, and leads have been good.”

newengland2Bryant Boats also reported a stronger second weekend. “Today’s been the day,” Bryant Boats customer service manager Ron Bibee said on the second Saturday, one day shy of closing. “We’ve gotten money down on three or four boats and have plenty of solid leads.” It seemed to Bibee that bigger boats were selling better than smaller boats this year.

Formula sales consultant Gerry Fagan says every day of the show was fantastic. “This is the best start we’ve seen to the New England show in five or six years. All week long, we’ve had quality people. We’ve got a lot of good stuff on paper and a lot of good leads to work.”

Carl Aldrich, of Nauset Marine, says there had been huge interest in Boston Whaler’s new 230 Vantage dual console. “That’s what people want — a dayboat. It’s versatile and rugged, but it doesn’t feel rugged.”

James Milne, a Grady-White dealer with Baert Marine, says the show exceeded expectations. “We are doing deals and getting quality leads,” he says.

“It’s nice to see this show has grown again, and it’s nice to see all the new, innovative product,” says Parker Boats founder Linwood Parker. Attendance was good at all 17 shows at which the brand exhibits. “The reports we’ve been getting are that traffic is not back, but it’s coming back. Sales are improving gradually.” The “value brands” have seen the biggest increase, but Parker, who launched the brand 33 years ago, says Parkers have been selling at every site, including Boston.

The venue

Like many, Fagan thinks part of the appeal is the condition of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, where 40-foot ceilings allow for sailboat builders to participate. Numerous large windows allow for natural light to accompany the showroom lights. Glass skybridges span the exhibit floor for easy point-to-point movement, offering a bird’s-eye view of the exhibit hall, as do the panoramic windows in the food court. “A lot of venues are so run-down, and this venue is amazing,” Fagan says.

Like Fagan, Bibee travels to shows around the country and says he enjoys the Boston center. “I love this show. It’s a fabulous venue,” he says. “The only downside is that it’s expensive.”

At this year’s show, Welcome to the Water signs announcing “For under $250/month” were prevalent on boats. “People think boating is so expensive. We’re trying to show people that it’s not expensive as they might think, and the insurance really isn’t as high as they might think it will be,” says Paul Melanson of Advantage Yacht Sales, who was working the Welcome to the Water/Discover Boating booth. “The whole idea of this is to show what you can get for $250 a month and less. There are a lot of options.”

A family show

Whether the show should coincide with the local school vacation week is always a topic of debate. “This year, the show was scheduled during winter break, and a lot of our customers take their kids to Disney or skiing,” Orlando says.

Next year, the show will not be held during the vacation week. It will take place Feb. 22-March 3, show manager O’Neal says. Although they often debate whether holding the nine-day show concurrently with the vacation week is a positive or negative, many dealers agree that they might lose opportunities because at least some of the boat-buying clientele is out of town when the kids are out of school.

Last year the show was held the week following vacation week, and it saw attendance of 44,051. That was only slightly more than this year’s attendance of 43,389, although the first weekend was affected by snow, O’Neal says. “We do try to avoid school vacation week,” he says. “And this way Miami won’t conflict, either.”

Those who do stay in town often bring their children to the show, which can have advantages and disadvantages, says John Huether of Cataumet Boats. “I love having kids and families running around the show,” Huether says, “but it does make it more difficult to talk to serious buyers because they’re more distracted.”

John McLaughlin, of 3A Marine, says sales were much better this year than last, but he does not know whether that was attributable to the timing of the show, the addition of the Robalo brand to his lineup or just a more confident buyer. “At this point we’re doing better than last year,” he says. “I think having the show at this time has its pros and its cons. If they’re going to buy a boat, they’re going to make time to come.”

Fagan thinks the new dates will put the show at a disadvantage. “What happens is production gets all choked up in a late show. You’ve got all the orders from early shows ahead of you and you can’t get stuff until May and June, so the guys in the earlier shows have the advantage.”

This article originally appeared in the April 2013 issue.

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