Air of optimism after Fort Lauderdale show

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The second Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show held amid the economic downturn wrapped up Monday with the expected mix of optimism and realistic expectations expressed by exhibitors.

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Celebrating its golden anniversary this year, the show, which typically draws about 100,000 attendees, saw attendance drop 4 percent last year, and organizers budgeted for an 8 percent drop this year. But that appears to have been too skeptical.

"I was thrilled with the way the show turned out," said Efrem "Skip" Zimbalist III, chairman and CEO of Active Interest Media, which owns show producer Show Management, in an e-mail to Soundings Trade Only. "The number and quality of both exhibitors and attendees far exceeded our plans."

Final attendance figures were unavailable this morning, but Zimbalist was expecting "flat to up 1 percent" for this year's attendance.

"Attendance was up 10-plus percent through Friday," Zimbalist said. "We had a small dip in 'family' attendance on Saturday and Sunday, with Monday trending up slightly. I've heard from several exhibitors that sales were well up compared to last year, but still a ways to go to get back to 2007 levels."

Frank Herhold, executive director of the Marine Industries Association of South Florida, which owns the show, summed up the event this way:

"Sales were made, the weather held, crowds were strong - everything fell into place. Even in these times I call the 'new normal,' the show remains a bellwether, and I think this year it's a positive bellwether for the industry," Herhold said. "This industry is very resilient, an optimistic industry, and we tend to look more to the future than the past."

Though overall foot traffic was down from typical levels, many of those who attended - despite the hot and humid weather - were serious about purchasing.

"The quality of attendees was excellent," Clay Gaillard, public relations manager for Cummins MerCruiser Diesel, told Soundings Trade Only. CMD attended in support of its distributors, namely local distributor Cummins Power South.

"We've had some very encouraging reports regarding consumers seeking opportunities to repower with our Zeus or Axius drives, and a number of OEMs who showed a lot of interest in integrating pods into their product," Gaillard said.

In the scaled-back Fort Lauderdale Convention Center, several smaller boatbuilders said they fared well.

"We had a surprisingly strong show, with six boats from 17 to 33 feet sold so far," said Peter Truslow, president of EdgeWater Powerboats. All were cash deals - two 17-footers, an 18-, a 26-, a 31- and a 33-footer, according to Truslow.

"We also have some other orders coming in from our foreign dealers and expect to close more deals this week," he added.

The Sea Fox & Mariah Boat Company reported a nearly 54 percent increase in sales from the 2008 show.

"It looks like we got 20 solid sales with a possibility of a few more," said Jeff DeBar, senior vice president of sales and marketing. Most are cash buyers and not in need of financing.

"This is a 180-degree change from year's past," he said. "If the 20 sales stick, this would be better than the 13 compared to last year."

Out on the Bahia Mar docks, Pompano Beach Marine Center, which displayed several Grady-White models, including the new 366 Canyon, reported modest sales success.

"We sold some smaller boats this year compared to last year," said salesman Michael Zantop, noting cash sales of an 18- and a 20-footer. He said another customer wants to move up from a 33-foot Grady-White to the new 36-footer, but the sale is pending the dealer finding a buyer for the trade-in boat.

Zantop said a half-dozen 366 Canyon sea trials have been set up for the coming weeks, and the dealership came away from the show with "several good leads."

Robert McDougal, president of Allied Marine, which was purchased by Ferretti last year, issued this statement assessing the show:

"After considerable preparation of our team, we were cautiously optimistic going into the show. Today, we can say that we are pleased with the number of written contracts for both new and brokered boats coming from the show. We are on track for achieving our goals."

— Rich Armstrong

r.armstrong@soundingpub.com

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