The marine industry continues to see strong attendance numbers at boat shows.
At the 33rd annual Suncoast Boat Show in Sarasota, Fla., attendance jumped 12 percent from 2014, and exhibitor participation at the three-day event increased by 7 percent, organizers say.
Show Management, the company that owns and manages the show, also reports that the number of new and brokerage boats on display went up by 15 and 37 percent, respectively, and the number of boats in the water increased 20 percent.
“It was great to see the show increasing 20 percent in size over 2014 because it’s an excellent venue and place to meet our current clients and meet new people,” says Jimmy Rogers, a yacht broker with the Tom George Yacht Group, which sells brokerage boats and new boats from the Cobalt and EdgeWater brands. “Current clients that were dormant for a long time are now wanting to get back into boating or make that upgrade they have been holding off on.”
Customers are more cautious with their money these days, but there are some “impulse” buys out there, Rogers adds. For instance, Rogers says he sold a Cobalt R7 27-foot bowrider to a “gentleman who just came up to the boat and said, ‘I want that boat — I will buy it for whatever it takes.’ ”
The Suncoast show, which is held at Marina Jack on Sarasota Bay, is a regional show that draws boaters from all over the state. Steven R. Stevens sold a boat to new clients from the east coast of Florida — Boca Raton. “It is good to see people from outside this immediate area travel here and buy a boat,” Stevens, a yacht broker at Sarasota Yacht & Ship Services, told Trade Only a few days after the April 15-17 event.
Stevens, who has been a broker with the company for four years and in the marine business for 16, sold a 2005 Meridian 368 motoryacht. “At this show you have a high number of quality buyers in a small venue,” says Stevens, who previously worked at MarineMax in Sarasota. “It’s a multifaceted show that has everything from center consoles to trawlers to motoryachts. It has great variety.”
MarineMax, the nation’s largest boat retailer, sold 15 boats on the Friday of the show. The company displayed 23 boats at the show, several more than last year, says Jason LeFevre, MarineMax Sarasota general manager.
The in-water portion of the show expanded this year to the south end of Marina Jack, and free off-site parking with shuttle service to and from Marina Jack worked well all weekend, according to Show Management.
“The show’s wow-factor got a big boost from the largest motoryacht we have ever had here, a 130-foot Westport,” Brett Keating, vice president of marketing for Show Management, says in a statement.
The Westport was one of the yachts on display from Galati Yacht Sales. “Not only are our sales growing, but our size is growing,” Galati vice president Darren Plymale says.
Galati has added staff and now has seven locations on the Gulf Coast and one in Costa Rica. Galati expanded its Sarasota display to 22 boats this year, including models from Tiara, Viking, Grand Banks and Prestige.
This was the third consecutive year at the show for Chris Juall, founder of Lazy Bunz water floats. He was busy tending to customers when Trade Only caught up with him on the final day of the show. “The quality buyers are here,” Juall says. “We are seeing a lot of repeat buyers.”
Sales were good at Suncoast but particularly strong at the Palm Beach International Boat Show, held in March, he says — so strong that his company sold out of product a day before the show’s end. “The cupboard was bare, but we just started to take orders,” he says.
This year’s show offered for the first time three days of seminars and hands-on training for powerboaters, organized by Discover Boating. Seminar topics included advanced docking, powerboating made easy, close-quarters handling, first-mate skills, open-water skills and anchoring.
“We’ve put 5,000 people out on the water through these seminars,” says Discover Boating’s Tom Knighten. The seminars, he says, have exposed people to powerboating and sailing from San Francisco to Miami.
Capt. Mike Singleton, of the Cruising Florida Powerboat Academy, said after a morning seminar that he got good feedback from his five participants during the close-quarters handling session. Maneuvering a boat in tight areas is all about managing inertia. “We’re just managing energy,” he says.
The boaters practiced back and fill maneuvers on a Sea Ray 300 Sundeck. Showgoer Paul Oaks signed up for the seminar to learn more about various types of boats.
Oaks says he has a pontoon boat on Lake Windward in Alpharetta, Ga., but he’s building a house on the Manatee River and would like to buy a second boat. The on-water lessons during the seminars, coupled with the show’s opportunities to see a variety of vessels, will help him make his decision, he says.
Show Management is owned by Active Interest Media, which also owns Soundings Trade Only.
This article originally appeared in the June 2015 issue.