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Fort Lauderdale: A wet but winning show

Despite ‘monsoon’-like downpours, people came out and boats were sold

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Mother Nature may not have smiled down on the 52nd annual Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, but despite the rain many exhibitors reported sales and solid leads coming out of the five-day event.

Marquis Yachts says it sold 14 new yachts, with additional deals pending, contingent on post-show sea trials. Marquis had 18 international dealers on hand, and boats were sold to buyers in the United States, Algeria, Brazil, Japan, China, Russia and other countries.

Irwin Jacobs, chairman of J&D Acquisitions, which owns Marquis, calls it “the biggest show we’ve ever had throughout any time in our history. We had hoped to sell eight to 10 boats there. It could be 25 by the time it’s all over.”

Jacobs says of his other brands that Larson had a ”respectable show” with about 10 units sold and Carver had several sea trials pending after FLIBS.

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“All in all, I’m very happy,” he adds.

Overall attendance was down about 5 percent from last year, according to Efrem “Skip” Zimbalist III, chairman and chief executive of Active Interest Media, the parent company of Show Management, which produces FLIBS. AIM also publishes Soundings Trade Only.

For the first two days of the show, before the rain moved in, attendance was up.

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“We were very happy with the first two days, and overall happy with sales at the show, from what we heard from exhibitors,” says Zimbalist. “We heard a lot of good things about buyers and interested parties. Clearly, we’re very unhappy with the weather the last three days, especially Saturday, which I think can only be characterized as a monsoon.”

The rain wasn’t the only obstacle. The show was targeted by members of the Occupy Fort Lauderdale movement, who demonstrated outside but did not block the entrances.

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Zimbalist says he understands the group’s frustrations, and says employers should strive to create middle-class jobs. But he says the marine industry provides these types of jobs for thousands of people.

“The marine industry is a huge employer [with] good-paying jobs. People concentrate on the owners of superyachts or the owners of boats, but what they should concentrate on are the hundreds of thousands of people who build the boats, who maintain the boats, who work in the marinas, who work in the dockage areas,” he says. “[The industry] creates big economic impact around the country and particularly in Florida. I think it’s wrong to target boat owners as hurting the economy or in any way hurting employment.”

But despite any obstacles, Zimbalist was satisfied with the show.

“I think the show looked great. I think the buyers were there, and I think a lot of boats were sold,” he says. The Superyacht Builders Association’s 16,000-square-foot pavilion and PassageMaker magazine’s TrawlerPort were strong additions, he says, and he hopes to have both back next year.

There were more than 1,000 exhibitors at the show — about 10 percent more than last year.

“Part of it is the industry’s coming back a little bit. I think people are convinced that it’s hit bottom and it’s starting to come back,” Zimbalist says, adding that some of the show venues, including Bahia Mar and the convention center, were sold out.

Rosemary O ’Brien, director of marketing for The Hinckley Company, says Hinckley showed three boats, and its recently updated Picnic Boat was the Yanmar demo boat. Additionally, the builder used FLIBS to announce a new model, the Hinckley T34, which it will launch next summer.

“We are in serious talks with two individuals who visited with us at the show and, of course, we have several ongoing dialogues,” she says. “Some shows you come away with a greater sense of urgency from the crowd than you do from other shows. I would not say I felt that sense of urgency in Fort Lauderdale this year.”

Maryline O’Shea, marketing director for Beneteau Group’s Power Boat America, says her company sold two boats at the show and is actively following up on 50 or more “very serious leads.”

“Sales leads were of very high quality, and we are now looking into trade-ins and financing conditions with other prospects,” she says. “We were very pleased with attendance on our dock GH where our new models were presented. …We saw that B dock was far less crowded, and we did not register nearly as many prospects there as GH dock, though prospects were still very qualified.”

Bentley Collins, vice president of sales and marketing for Sabre and Back Cove yachts, says his company showed two of each brand and says, “The Sabre 48 stole the show for us and from our competitors.

“We had fly-ins from all over the country, from Canada and from Europe,” he says. “[There was] some new dealer interest, but less than in past years. The show, in general, seemed to be going bigger and more used than ever.”

Viking chalked up 12 sales, matching its total from the 2010 show.

“Aquarius the water bearer was nothing more than a minor inconvenience to the crowd that would not be dissuaded from seeing the Viking fleet,” the company said in a statement. “In spite of the weather more than 3,100 people were registered into the Viking Yachts display.”

The Ferretti Group showcased 15 boats, including five new models, and the company is happy with the response.

“We put under contract a good number of boats during the show,” says James Henderson, chief marketing officer for North America. “Also, we came out with a lot of leads. We’re doing a lot of sea trials. Overall it was a good show for us, very upbeat.”

Cigarette Racing Team also says rain did not deter people from visiting its display, including its 2012 Top Gun Open model, which was announced on the opening day of the show. Its dealers, the company says, reported sales or strong commitments on the new boats it presented

Chuck Cashman, regional president of MarineMax Florida East, says the overall mood of the buyers was much improved from previous years, and that manufacturers seemed to be in better shape with inventory so there were not as many “giveaway deals” as there had been during the past couple of years.

“We sold a very respectable number of boats for a very satisfactory dollar amount,” he says. “We would have liked to see a few more units, but given the weather, I think many locals stayed home. I feel as though the post-show follow-up will yield the sales that we were unable to get at the show due to the inclement weather on Saturday and Sunday.”

This article originally appeared in the December 2011 issue.

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