What a difference a date makes

More than a third of the visitors who responded to an NMMA survey were at the New York show for the first time.

More than a third of the visitors who responded to an NMMA survey were at the New York show for the first time.

NEW YORK — Attendance at this year’s New York Boat Show was up 19 percent (to slightly more than 34,000) and exhibitors attribute the increase to an improving economy and more favorable dates for the January show, now in its 110th year.

“We found all attendees very upbeat and most were there because they were in the market for something, whether it was a new or pre-owned boat,” says Bob Petzold, president of Petzold’s Marine Center in Portland, Conn. “What was absent was the people stating they will see us ‘when they win the lottery or when they retire.’ ”

Early indications from regional shows in the Northeast, in New York, Providence, R.I., and Hartford, Conn., are that the industry can expect a third consecutive year of steady growth. The National Marine Manufacturers Association is forecasting a 5 percent gain in sales of new powerboats in 2015.

The New York show was held Jan. 21-25 at the Javits Center in Manhattan.

Petzold, who was exhibiting his dealership’s line of Sabre, Back Cove, Regal and EdgeWater boats, says the show’s new mid-January dates are far more appealing than those in previous years that fell too close to the holiday season.

The show has agreed to go back to its earlier dates in 2016 (Jan. 6-10) as part of a deal with other stakeholders who were incensed at New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decision to assign the show more favorable dates from 2015 to 2019. After that one-year concession, it will return to its preferred middle-of-the-month dates in 2017.

“The show still has a hard time getting people from Connecticut and remains primarily a New York show,” Petzold says. “We were able to get a contract on a small EdgeWater and are working on several other boats at this point. Each salesperson returned with about a dozen good leads to follow up. Lower fuel prices had customers talking about more boating for this upcoming season.”

Petzold says December was typically slow for the 70-year-old eastern Connecticut dealership, “but the phone’s been ringing ever since we opened up on Jan. 5. I think we definitely turned the corner. We may not be growing by leaps and bounds, but we’re definitely heading in the right direction.”

Show organizers at the NMMA say 37 percent of those who responded to their visitor survey were on their first visit to the show and 50 percent say they “plan to purchase a boat in the next 12 months.”

Steve DeFeo, co-owner of DeFeo’s Marina in Greenwood Lake, N.Y., says his dealership, which carries the Bennington line exclusively, signed contracts on three pontoon boats on the opening day of the show.

“An 18-, a 24- and a 25-footer,” he says of the boats under contract. “All three were women buyers, which I’m not sure if that means anything, but all were very enthusiastic about the boats.”

By the end of the show, DeFeo says, he counted seven signed contracts, “then wrote two more a week later, which came from the show, and we have three or four very strong leads that we anticipate signing contracts on.”

DeFeo says at least four of the customers were first-time buyers, and none were trading in.

“These are high-end people buying $60,000, $70,000, $85,000 pontoon boats, and credit approval has been no problem,” DeFeo says.

He says his dealership weathered the Great Recession relatively well and has seen 20 percent revenue increases during the past two years. He expects a 30 percent jump in 2015.

“People are definitely buying more expensive pontoons, and usually with the maximum horsepower,” DeFeo says. “I’m very optimistic, very excited going into this year.”

Among the boats that made their consumer debuts at the show was Chaparral’s 250 Suncoast single-outboard-powered deckboat.

With its open layout and walkaround swim platform, the boat is geared to families, says Bill Mudgett, Eastern regional sales manager for the manufacturer.

The stars of the Chaparral lineup, however, are the Vortex jet-powered sport, fish and ski boats that the manufacturer introduced last year.

“We’ve had more Web hits for the jets than anything we’ve ever had before,” Mudgett says, adding that his dealers came away from the show pleased with the sales, numerous leads and overall positive consumer response.

“We exceeded last year in sales deposits at the show, and larger express cruisers created most of the increase in sales from last year, as well as Chaparral’s new Vortex jet-powered boats, and our Robalo fishing boat line is experiencing tremendous growth,” he says.

“The 2015 boat show season is off to the best start in several years. All January shows were up year over year for Chaparral, some with as much as a 100 percent increase in unit sales, and Baltimore Boat Show sales were up 300 percent.”

Doug Nettles, East Coast business manager for Boston Whaler, says the builder is picking up where it left off in 2014.

“We’re off to a great start. The traffic has been good and the quality of customers has been good,” Nettles says of the show. “And the three dealers we have here (Hampton Watercraft & Marine of Hampton Bays, N.Y.; McCarthy’s Marine Sales of Brielle, N.J; and three regional MarineMax dealerships) are all top-quality dealers with professional sales teams.”

More than ever, new product is the lifeblood of manufacturers and dealers, Nettles says.

“We’re not resting on our laurels and will continue to bring new products to consumers,” he says. “It generates great buzz and it generates sales.”

Jeff Vaughn, vice president of sales, marketing and customer service for Boston Whaler, says the three Whaler dealers at the show “retailed significantly more boats than in the previous few years.” He also noted the more desirable show dates and relatively mild weather.

“It appears as though serious boat buyers feel better about the economy and their personal situation within the economy,” Vaughn says. “Lower fuel prices have not hurt, either.”

This article originally appeared in the March 2015 issue.


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