WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — In a slow and steady comeback, the marine industry has seen an uptick in new-boat and brokerage sales as serious buyers have replaced the tire-kicking show-goers of the last few years, the CEO of Show Management told marine journalists on Thursday, the opening day of the Palm Beach International Boat Show.
"I'm very optimistic about the industry," Efrem "Skip" Zimbalist III said at a media briefing and breakfast where about 100 people gathered to hear the "Signs of Strength in the Marine Industry."
"If you walk the docks at this show and others, there is more seriousness about buying by the attendees. We saw a lot of sales at the [Yacht & Brokerage Boat Show in Miami Beach]. We had a half-dozen to a dozen of our exhibitors issue press releases about how many boats they sold at the show."
Click play for a look at the show.
In fact, some exhibitors, heading into the Palm Beach show, were scrambling to assemble boats for the show because they had sold their inventory at the Miami event, Zimbalist said.
"That's certainly a good 'problem' to have," he said. "I think there is a renaissance in boat sales. The buyers are there and they expect the latest innovation, the latest technology, and they expect a great deal. And those companies that are providing that are experiencing great sales."
The 27th annual Palm Beach show, which runs through Sunday, features hundreds of boats, including 8-foot dinghies, runabouts, fishing boats and megayachts exceeding 150 feet. The show is one of the top 10 boat shows in the nation and it presents more than $350 million worth of boats, yachts and accessories.
Aiming at mobile communication
The media briefing was held by Active Interest Media, which owns Show Management and a number of marine magazines. The event also marked the formal introduction of AIM's marine group of media organizations, publications and websites.
"Over the past eight months we have been able to bring together eight of the leading marine media brands and organizations, which include Show Management, Yachts International, BoatQuest, Passagemaker and their TrawlerFest, Soundings and Soundings Trade Only, and more recently Power & Motoryacht and Sail magazines," said Andrew Clurman, AIM president and chief operating officer.
Combined, that group reaches almost 6 million monthly readers and has almost 28 million page views a year, and the boat shows attract more than 350,000 people to the six shows that Show Management produces, Clurman said.
"So each of these brands and combined teams of over 100 show and media pros are all dedicated to one central mission — giving boat owners and buyers the information they need to pursue their passions with confidence," Clurman said. "And this is an industry where there is a lot to learn."
The marine group will focus on communicating with boaters and the industry through advancing technologies — especially social media, mobile media and iPad or tablet media, Clurman said. Two billion people worldwide now use the Internet, one in five people worldwide logged on to a social network in the last month and 11 percent of the U.S. population is using an iPad or tablet device.
"The technologies are really changing how people collect and trade information and talk to each other, whether it's on handheld devices, desktop or tablet devices," Clurman said. "This is really creating a permanent change in how people communicate, which has a big impact on this industry, where there is so much information to learn and so much information people are always gathering when looking to buy a boat."
Clurman gave an example, telling the audience that in the last 24 hours 75,250 people used the Internet to search the term "new boat for sale."
"That equals about 2 million people in the last 30 days," Clurman added. "Obviously we sell a fraction of that in any given month, but that tells you there is a huge pipeline of people out there looking for information about boats."
Not giddy, but optimistic
Zimbalist said brokerage sales have done well recently, "particularly in the middle-size boats. There are still some in the superyacht category, but if you want a high-quality boat you either have to pay up for it in the brokerage market because there is a limited supply or ... buy new."
And anecdotal evidence suggests that builders are selling boats, too. "You see the manufacturers on the phones back to the factory asking when can we deliver this and when can we deliver that, which is a good sign," Zimbalist said.
But the optimism is of the cautious kind. The industry should not "get giddy" about the improvements, Zimbalist said.
"We're probably at least 50 percent below where we were at the peak," he said. "We have a long way to go and I don't think anyone is planning on getting back to those days soon. It's going to be a slow and steady climb out. But people love to go boating — it's in their blood. There's a lot of pent-up demand out there."
— Chris Landry