BOSTON — Seeing no snow during any of the nine February days of the Progressive New England Boat Show, with nearly springlike weather during the final weekend, exhibitors and organizers say the event was a success.
The Feb. 13-21 show saw 51,000 visitors pour into the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, a 9.5 percent increase from the most recently comparable year of 2014. It was the best-attended New England Boat Show since 2008.
“It’s been good,” says show manager Joe O’Neal, whose pending retirement was announced at the show. “You can’t really compare it with 2015 numbers because of all the snow last year.”
Several exhibitors echoed the sentiment. “I’d say it’s excellent,” Rhonda Corey-Myers, business development manager at Boston Yacht Sales, says of this year’s show.
“When we bring in two boats and sell them both, it’s a good show for us,” adds owner Michael Myers, gesturing to the Sabre 42SE and the Back Cove 37. “Sabre and Back Cove are still in the sweet spot. Our biggest challenge with these brands is getting product.”
The Boston area had been one of the most sluggish postrecession, re-emerging as a vibrant market only during the past two years, says Sabre and Back Cove marketing vice president Bentley Collins.
“A few regions were slow,” says Collins, and Boston was a market that was slow to come out of the buying slump that followed the recession. “Michigan has been slow to come out, Maryland is still lagging, but New England has been really solid with our boat brands for two years,” which began at last year’s show despite the snow, Collins says.
Snow was a no-show
The weather was in stark contrast to last year, when a storm forced the event to close on a weekend day and kept traffic light on many days. A video went viral of a 43-foot Hinckley that got stuck in a snowbank and tied up traffic in Boston as it was being delivered to the show.
In 2015 record-setting snowfall narrowed Boston streets and created monstrous snowbanks, keeping many would-be visitors at home.
“I thought we had good traffic, quality traffic,” says Greg Emerson, sales director of Marlow-Hunter, while visiting Advantage Yacht Sales, a Boston-area dealership that brought two sailboats to the show.
“That show can get slow at times during the week because of the long hours,” says Emerson. “But the reason it goes so long is because of what can happen with weather. Last year they canceled one day of the show because it got so bad. So if it was just a four-day show, you could have a bad weekend, and the show would be blown.”
Despite the attendance drop last year, the show was widely regarded as having generated solid sales. Emerson says two Marlow-Hunter sailboats were sold in 2015.
“We got a boat sold at this year’s show, and maybe another one, depending on how things wrap up,” he says. “I heard of other manufacturers that got a boat done here and a boat done there. I think overall it was a selling show for everyone.”
Springline Yacht Sales had the largest sailboat exhibit with five boats — a Blue Jacket, two Catalinas and two Elans, which made their North American debut at the show, says president Rick Dieterich. Springline not only won for best sailboat display, but the dealership also had strong traffic.
“It was a good show. It was expensive to bring five boats, but since Catalina and Elan were new brands for me, I felt like I should bring them all,” says Dieterich. “I sold three boats at the show, which paid for my display. Now hopefully I will be able to close on a few more leads and come out ahead.”
This year’s show was larger than the 2014 show (which was larger than its predecessor) with the addition of 150,000 square feet to accommodate builders that had dropped out during the recession.
“We ran into some lack of inventory because people had such a good fall and didn’t get more in,” O’Neal says.
On the rebound
Marlow-Hunter sold a sailboat, Emerson says. Many “sold” signs adorned boats, including the new 42-foot Scout, the new 45-foot Cruisers Cantius, the new 43-foot Carver and a 35-foot Pursuit from Bosun’s Marine.
However, the “over 20-foot EdgeWater” was the sweet spot, says Bosun’s owner Tim Leedham.
“In fact, that EdgeWater,” Leedham says, pointing to the 248 CX, “is our biggest-selling model. We’ve sold six of them at this show. It’s big enough to handle big water, but it’s manageable to trailer. There’s been a very positive vibe at this show.”
Scott Hanson, owner of Canadian-built Rossiter Boats, also part of Bosun’s 45-boat display, says it was a good show for his boats, as well. “We’re doing better as a brand because of increased awareness and expanding our U.S. dealer network,” he says. “It’s been a good show. It’s one of our better years in terms of sales and interest.”
Hanson says the company had triple-digit growth last year and increased margins for U.S. and Canadian dealers. “We build everything for the most part to order, but people who have them seem to love them,” he says.
Dealer Ereck Sullivan says it was not just the product that helped Rossiter gain recognition. “Rossiter has the best customer service of any brand I’ve done business with, by far,” Sullivan says. “The others are good, don’t get me wrong, but Rossiter goes above and beyond every time.”
The weekdays of the show were a bit slower because they coincided with Massachusetts’ school vacation week, when many Sea Ray and Boston Whaler buyers are traveling, says Bill Irwin of Irwin Marine, who partners with Russo Marine for a New England show display.
“Last weekend and this weekend have been good,” Irwin says. “It’s been a good boating crowd. A lot of people are excited for spring when they go outside and it’s 50 degrees.”
“This has been the best show for us since 2008,” Larry Russo said on the last day of the show. “As of last night we had sold 55 Whalers. I wish we had the big one here. Next year.”
Four 31-foot Sea Ray SLX models were sold, as was the new 400 Sundancer. “It’s a good product; we are in a good place. We’re very blessed,” says Doug Nettles, regional manager for Boston Whaler.
John Bibeau, who sells Scout Boats for Danversport Marina, says the 42-foot Scout had been the boat of the show. The one on which he stood was sold. So far the company has delivered 11 of the new models, with three serving as tenders.
“We’ve sold four,” he adds. “There’s a backlog now.”
Beneteau was doing well with the four powerboats and two sailboats that Cape Yachts brought, says Paul Sullivan, who invited a family to board the MC4, a 45-foot flybridge cruiser. A salesman for Cobalt Boats says the show was better than last year, adding that Cobalt buyers were out last year despite the snow.
“I’ve been doing this since 1984 and have been in the business since 1980,” O’Neal said of his retirement on the last day of the show.
Bob McAlpine, who worked closely with O’Neal in producing the show for 30 years, will be taking over. When the National Marine Manufacturers Association purchased the show five years ago, McAlpine began doing sales for the Norwalk and New York shows.
“I’ll be relinquishing those duties and doing the New England show full time,” he says.
Boston Yacht Sales owner and exhibitor Myers will be sorry to see O’Neal go, but says he is glad to see the reins handed to someone who has worked so closely with O’Neal.
“Joe has done a great job with this show,” Myers says. “If you walk this floor and talk to anybody, there’s nobody who will have anything but good things to say about Joe.”
Emerson says O’Neal will be missed, adding, “He’s a great guy, and he’s done a lot for the industry.”
NMMA president Thom Dammrich sent a letter announcing O’Neal’s retirement plans to exhibitors a few weeks before the show opened.
“After more than three decades steering the show, Joe has decided to make this his last show season and will be retiring after the 2016 New England Boat Show at the end of March,” Dammrich says.
“Joe’s professionalism, work ethic and ability to build relationships with his exhibitor partners are personal qualities that have created a successful show and supportive marine industry across New England. I know many of you count Joe as a friend. There is almost nothing Joe wouldn’t do to help you be successful.
“Bob has worked closely with Joe and the entire team and brings a wealth of show experience and long-standing exhibitor relationships in New England to this role,” Dammrich wrote. “I know Joe feels very good about Bob assuming the reins of the New England Boat Show and that he’s confident Bob will continue to produce a robust marketplace for selling your products.”
This article originally appeared in the April 2016 issue.