Buyers came out in St. Petersburg

The number of new and used boats was up 3 percent.

The number of new and used boats was up 3 percent.

Exhibitors say sales were brisk amid signs that the overall market is on an upward track

Boat dealers, manufacturers and other exhibitors at the 36th annual St. Petersburg Power & Sailboat Show reported strong selling activity despite a dip in overall attendance.

Turnout, which had risen more than 5 percent in 2012, was down by 6 percent at the 2013 show. The number of new and used boats at the Dec. 5-8 production rose by 3 percent.

“We think it was a good show,” says Eastern Boats sales manager Bruce Perkins. “It wasn’t an overpowering crowd, but it was steady. When you have too many people you can’t spend as much quality time as you would like with them. Hey, I would rather have less people and more buyers.”

Wefings Marine in Eastpoint, Fla., is a dealer for Perkins. The dealership sold an Eastern 248 Islander and a 21 Seaway Sport.

The show was held at the Progress Energy Center for the Arts Mahaffey Theater Yacht Basin and Albert Whitted Park. The waterfront event featured boats in the water and on the hard. Organizers say this year’s show was larger, with expanded in-water displays featuring nearly 300 exhibitors and hundreds of boats.

The largest boat was from Curtis Stokes Yacht Brokerage — a $1.6 million Northcoast Yachts 84 Pilothouse, Sailbad the Sinner, says Efrem “Skip” Zimbalist III. He is chairman and CEO of Active Interest Media, the group that owns Show Management, which produces the show. (AIM also owns Soundings Trade Only.)

Zimbalist says the sales climate is improving.

“We are definitely seeing the pace picking up on the east coast of Florida and a strengthening of not just our business, but our exhibitors’ business,” Zimbalist told me. “Some of the dealers on the west coast [of Florida] are still recovering from the recession, so there isn’t as much inventory on this side as there is in some other places in the country, especially on the sailing end of it, which is a big part of the show. So it is improving, but on the west coast of Florida it’s improving slower than on the east coast and other parts of the U.S. But will the west coast catch up? I certainly believe so.”

Sailboats were a big part of the show, which is endorse and sponsored by Sail America.

Sailboats were a big part of the show, which is endorse and sponsored by Sail America.

The small-boat market seems to be picking up, too, Zimbalist says.

“As we saw with some other shows, we are seeing increased interest in smaller and in entry-level boats,” he says. “This reflects the fact that the entry-level buyer is more interested in coming into boating.”

Zimbalist says he saw strong interest in pontoon and other dayboats at the show. “They are starting to come out of the woodwork, so we look forward to our next show in Palm Beach [Fla.],” he says.

Case in point: Dee and Michael Sharples of St. Petersburg. At the show they were considering a Formula 270BR (bowrider) or a 290BR. They are thinking about trading in their current boat — a 28-foot Formula — and buying a new one. Dee Sharples told me they enjoy taking their grandchildren boating, but “they are getting older now and have competing activities, so we’re trying to figure out if this is ‘it’ for us as boat owners or whether we should buy.”

She wants to stay in boating. “These are incredible waters here in Florida,” she says. “How can you not own a boat?”

At the show I met the owners of a new powerboat dealer in Sarasota — the Viage Group. The business has gotten off to an impressive start. In fact, co-owner Barry Marshall says his business sold two Beneteau powerboats at the show — a Gran Turismo 49 and a Swift Trawler 34. “We are very pleased,” Marshall says. “We sold a couple of boats and have set up a couple of sea trials. We have a lot of clients to follow up with.”

Viage kept a few boats in the water in the St. Petersburg area for sea trials for a 30-day period after the show.

The show also touted a healthy schedule of marine seminars from Sail America and children’s fishing clinics presented by the non-profit Hook The Future.

Educating future boaters is critical for the marine business, Zimbalist says. “The industry is taking more of a role teaching boating, and this is especially important for people who did not grow up boating. If you are middle-aged you may love boating and probably have been on a couple of boats, maybe friends’ boats, but you really need to know the ins and outs of a boat and how to operate it and maintain it. All this can be daunting to the newcomers.”

The show is endorsed and sponsored by Sail America, presented by Lincoln and sponsored by Budweiser, Gosling’s, Sail Magazine and Power & Motor-yacht Magazine.

This article originally appeared in the January 2014 issue.


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