Sensing a wind shift in the Northeast

Posted on Written by Richard Armstrong

19_windshift_01Dealers at Rhode Island, Connecticut shows saw enough serious buyers to hope for brighter days

While much of the industry was focused on how this year’s Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show will be received, a cautious uptick in optimism marked two major Northeast shows in September.

Although inventories of new and used boats are down, there are still plenty of economic headwinds impacting new-boat sales. That being the case, there was a marked improvement in the mood this year over the last two.

At the Newport International Boat Show in Rhode Island, vendors talked about serious buyers and even some boat sales. “I was bringing it around to put it in the slip before the show and he was waiting and asked to take it for a ride,” Peter Haywood, owner of Winter Island Yacht Yard in Salem, Mass., says of the customer who bought a Ranger Tugs R-27 he was displaying.

The two had been in discussions for a few weeks and the buyer had clearly done his homework and zeroed in on the boat he wanted, Haywood says. But the deal was sealed at the show. It was hull No. 8 of the new model and Haywood says he has already sold hull No. 30, which was still in production when the Sept. 16-19 show was held.

“The tipping point I’m finding is with a price point over $200,000, you have problems,” Haywood says. The R-29 is $225,000 and the R-27 $150,000, although the one that was sold at the show had a price of $185,745.

This was Haywood’s third Newport show. In the three years since he picked up the Ranger Tugs line, he has sold two 27s, three 25s and three 21s. He says five prospective buyers at the show were interested enough to set up sea trials.

20_windshift_02Haywood was jointly displaying with Wilde Yacht Sales, a Nordic Tugs and Ranger Tugs dealer in Essex, Conn. Wilde Yacht Sales president Ben Wilde says his dealership sold a Ranger 25 at the show. “It was the best Newport show we’ve seen in the last five or six years,” he says. “The attendance was truly amazing on Friday and Saturday. Both were very busy days for us.”

Dave McShane, of McShane Yacht Sales in Marshfield, Mass., says he’s the exclusive Luhrs dealer for New England and the top Luhrs dealer in the country. But he picked up the Seaway brand, which was recently purchased by Eastern Boats, during the week of the show to offer his customers an alternative. “We needed a smaller, more affordable boat [line],” he says. “We find people will spend $50,000 to $75,000, but they’re reluctant to spend $250,000.”

On Friday afternoon, he was  working with a customer to get financing on a Seaway 21 Seafarer. The boat show model was selling for $57,666, plus $13,615 for a 115-hp Honda outboard.

The 40th annual Newport boat show saw an estimated 10 percent increase in attendance, according to show manager Nancy Piffard.

Norwalk show

The following weekend, the Norwalk International Boat Show was held in southwestern Connecticut. Show manager Jon Pritko says the attendance of 18,422 was down 7 percent from 2009, but exhibitors reported an increase in qualified buyers who were interested in purchasing a boat. “We [took] several deposits. This has been a really strong show,” Pritko says. “We had the best sales here over the last three shows.”

Bob Petzold, of Petzold’s Marine Center in Portland, Conn., spoke about how the warm, sunny summer in the Northeast had his customers using their boats much more than they did during the rainy summer of 2009.

“We found our service yard was way up because people were using their boats again and had put off repairs,” he says. The dealership is generally delivering “one to two boats per week – mostly used,” Petzold says. The summer of 2010 led Petzold to believe that “people are feeling better about spending their money.”

Jerry Pacella, a sales consultant at MarineMax in Lindenhurst, N.J., which sells Hatteras and Cabo, hadn’t sold a boat by the Friday of the show, which opened Thursday, Sept. 23 and ran through Sept. 26. But he says the mood was clearly better than it was in 2009. “Last year, it was all negative. Now they’re asking about the boat,” he says.

Mike Bassett, of Louis Marine, a Larson, Glastron and Key West dealer in Westbrook, Conn., saw a change among show-goers. “We’re finding the people who are here are buyers,” he says, pointing to a Larson 274 Cabrio. On the first day of the show, the dealership took a deposit on the $79,900 boat – “the biggest cruiser we have on display.”

Bill Gardella Jr., of Rex Marine, a long-standing family-run full-service dealership in Norwalk, is expanding its fledgling Rex Boating Club, which offers customers a chance to buy into boating one season at a time. Memberships, which started at $995 this year, allow customers to reserve and use Rex Marine boats on Long Island Sound without buying one. The dealership plans to add a rent-to-own option next season.

“Americans are bound and determined to enjoy themselves,” Gardella says. “They work hard and they want to enjoy the fruits of their labor.”

This article originally appeared in the November 2010 issue.

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