Turnout rises at New England shows

Posted on Written by Richard Armstrong

36_show_01Exhibitors at Providence and Hartford report stronger sales and a more upbeat consumer attitude

Back-to-back January boat shows gave New England dealers an encouraging foretaste of the 2013 selling season: Attendance rose in Providence (R.I.) and Hartford (Conn.), and there were positive signs at both events.

The bottom-line conclusion: People are buying boats again, even in this new economic climate.

“The days of sitting at a boat show and writing deals are over. The whole biz model for boat sales has changed,” says Richard S. Petersen, sales manager at Beacon Point Marine, a Scout, Sea Fox and Bentley dealer in Connecticut. Beacon Point sold two boats at the Hartford Boat Show, held Jan. 24-27 at the Connecticut Convention Center. “But the temperament and quality of people, the attitude of the customers, has been more upbeat than in years past.”

Beacon Point’s successes were a 25-foot Sea Fox center console and a 24-foot Bentley pontoon boat (a new line that the dealership, which has offices in Greenwich and Shelton, only recently acquired). The story behind the Bentley sale was representative of the wide net dealers can cast in the online era, Petersen says.

37_show_01“He was a new guy out of nowhere who had looked at the same boat online in Georgia,” Petersen says of the quick turnaround sale. “He knew exactly what he wanted, and we had that exact model and color at the show.”

In addition to the two hard sales, Beacon Point was able to schedule several post-show sea trials from strong leads, including 32-, 26- and 24-foot Scouts.

Petersen says his dealership has made sales to customers as far afield as Canada and Europe who found that Beacon Point had the right boat in stock at the right time.

“To me, it’s all about price in this economy on both new boats and used boats,” he says. “They’ll watch your website and wait for the price to come down, and as soon as you lower it you’ll get a response.”

Attendance was up 12 percent at the four-day event in Connecticut, which attracted more than 14,000 people, according to Amy Lynn Clark, director of programs for show sponsor the Connecticut Marine Trades Association. Clark says more than 140 boats were sold, and several dealers considered it “the best show in 10 years.”

‘Engaged crowd’

The previous weekend, Providence Boat Show organizers say, despite the 20th anniversary show running for three days rather than four, attendance rose 17 percent from the previous year on the show floor at the Rhode Island Convention Center. Organizer Newport Exhibition Group does not release exact figures.

“The Providence show was fairly successful for us for both the Bennington pontoon and Larson boat lines that we represent,” says Susan York-Duquette, who owns Lakeview Marine in Webster, Mass., with her husband, Rory Duquette. “We did sell a few boats from each line, which actually exceeded our expectations going in,” she says. She declined to offer specifics on the sales.

“Overall, the pontoon market has been strong lately, with customers trading up their current boats and new-boat owners entering the scene. Pontoons are versatile, and we have seen a larger demographic become interested in the boats over the last few years.”

Al Elson, president of Striper Marina, an authorized Glacier Bay Catamaran, Pursuit and Sailfish dealer in Barrington, R.I., says his team made three sales at the show and had several strong leads to pursue.

“It was refreshing to see such an engaged crowd,” he says.

Just 20 minutes after the Hartford show opened its doors, Ben Wilde of Wilde Yacht Sales, a Nordic Tugs and Ranger Tugs dealer in Essex, Conn., was signing the paperwork that closed the deal on a new Nordic Tugs 49 with a customer he’d been working with to move up from a 42-footer.

“We’re excited about this year. We’re hearing good things,” Wilde says. “It may not be 2006, but we expect to have our best year in the last five years.”

Organizers counted more than 14,000 visitors at the four-day show, which featured about 150 exhibitors and 300 boats. The show office logged more than 110 qualifying sales of vessels and engines, which organizers say is double the level of serious sales activity from the 2012 show.

Overall, dealers at both shows echoed the sentiment heard at shows around the country.

“The market is still the market, and nobody is lighting it up, but we’re selling,” says Mark Misbach, general manager at Diamond Marine, which sells Steiger Craft at its East Haven, Conn., dealership. “It used to be we’d have a lot of first-time buyers we’d have to teach, and then they’d teach their kids. That guy has disappeared, leaving the guy who already owns a boat and just loves boating. I just hope we’re not missing a whole generation because of this recession.”

This article originally appeared in the March 2013 issue.

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