Now that it isn’t butting heads with New Year’s Eve, the Progressive New York Boat Show saw attendance leap 21 percent, attracting 43,238 shoppers this year, compared with 35,757 in 2016.
The show’s dates this year — Jan. 25-29 — helped draw throngs to the Javits Center in Manhattan. For years, the show has grappled with dates that fell close to New Year’s Day, challenging organizers to attract crowds.
Though the show had better dates in 2015, a scheduling conflict in 2016 forced it to revert to its former dates. This year, exhibitors welcomed the return to a more favorable time slot.
“When you move the dates back to the third week of January, all the wealth is back,” says Chuck Cashman, chief revenue officer for MarineMax, which had several booths within the show. “Last year we had the show right after New Year’s, and at that time, all the wealth is gone. They’re skiing or vacationing. Later in the month, people are back to work, so they go to the show.”
This year’s show was “amazing,” Cashman says, building on the momentum of other fall and winter shows. “We’ve had impressive growth in literally every show,” he says. “At the New York show, every brand was up significantly. All of our key brands were represented in a handful of displays.”
The Sea Ray exhibit — which included the new SLX 400, dubbed “The Entertainer” — “was bigger than ever,” Cashman says. “The Whaler display continues to impress. Sailfish had a bigger space this year. Scout had two displays because we couldn’t get one big enough. We had a big display for Azimut with three boats. We sold a couple at the show, which is nice. And we have tons of qualified leads.”
Even measured against the better dates two years ago, MarineMax experienced “considerable growth,” Cashman says. “We’re encouraged. The shows are great. Everything is going very well.”
Sea Ray itself was up significantly from last year, says Scott Ward, senior vice president and general manager. “The 400s are doing really well during their Northeast debut,” Ward said during the show. “The show is going really well. The economy’s good. People are buying.”
“The New York Boat Show was up significantly over last year across the entire model lineup,” Ward said after the show wrapped up. “The debut of the SLX 400 exceeded expectations, and customer reception was extremely positive. Sea Ray sport boats and sport cruisers continue to gain momentum, and this momentum is expected to continue throughout the year as we launch more new products. Yacht sales exceeded last year, and we continue to be very pleased with the momentum created by our new Sundancer and Fly 460 and the L550, 590 and 650.”
Lines gathered at the 460 Fly, one of the show’s larger boats, as people waited to board. Ryan Shapiro was on hand to give tours of Sea Ray’s new SLX-W, the company’s first foray into the wakesurf and wakeboarding market.
“This boat is really versatile, and it’s good for beginners to advanced boarders,” Shapiro says. “It’s the only boat that has a joystick for wakesurfing.” The boat already has generated buzz, having debuted earlier in January in Atlanta, where Shapiro says the company sold a couple. After appearances in Dallas and Charlotte it was heading on to the Miami International Boat Show, he says.
Ben Dorton, who founded the wakeboarding boat brand Heyday, was at the show to explain the features of the brand, which Bayliner bought last year. “We’ve had a lot of online traffic,” Dorton said during the show. “A lot of people are coming up to me and saying, ‘I saw you on social media; I came to see the boat in person.’ ”
Dorton stood next to a screen showing a video of Bayliner president Keith Yunger wakeboarding behind the boat. “Now that we’ve got an increased budget, we’ve been able to add some good content on social media,” Dorton said.
Being part of Bayliner has helped the brand increase its distribution. It has grown from about 35 dealers to 100. “We plan on broadening out the model line and increasing the model mix,” Dorton said.
Frank Gunteski, in a Scout booth that was part of the MarineMax array, had just sold a 255 Dorado on the Friday afternoon of the show. “It’s been a very good show,” Gunteski said. “All of our shows — Cleveland, Dallas, and Houston — have been up. The economy is good. People are assuming luxury goods are going to be in fashion.”
Don Ditzel, who sells Regulators at Comstock Yacht Sales and Marine in Brick, N.J., and is president of the Marine Trades Association of New Jersey, said a New Jersey sales tax change on boats has helped spark sales.
“It went down to 50 percent of the overall sales tax and was capped at $20,000, and it’s about to go down again,” Ditzel said. “The way it was written is that boat taxes are half of the sales tax, and that’s going down from 7 percent to 6.85 percent in 2018.”
Though some say they see more people postponing purchasing decisions until after the shows, Cashman thinks they are visiting shows with the intention of buying. “I think people, now more than ever, do research online and when they come to shows, they’re prepared to close,” he said. “In the old days, they went to the show to see the boats. Then they’d go home and think about it. Every website today has got virtual walkthrough, so they go to the show ready to buy.”
“Our job is to create urgency,” he said. “Shows are awesome. You’ve got the buyer in front of you; the boat they want to buy is in front of you. You want to be in the room with the buyer and the boat. If you let them out, all you’re doing is making it harder on yourself. We wrote over 100 deals at the show. Wrote. That’s solid, and doesn’t count the leads we brought back. Consumer confidence is at a recent high — maybe not an all-time high, but a 10-year high. I don’t know how much better you want it. The message I have is, if you’re not selling boats right now, look in the mirror. It’s not the economy; it’s not interest rates. People feel good.”
This article originally appeared in the March 2017 issue.