The 36th annual St. Petersburg Power & Sailboat Boat Show wrapped up Sunday. Final attendance numbers are currently unavailable, but I was able to catch up with Efrem “Skip” Zimbalist III late Friday afternoon to talk about the pace of sales, show attendance, the overall health of the industry and the importance of educating potential first-time boaters.
Zimbalist is chairman and CEO of Show Management, which produces the show. He is the chairman and CEO of Active Interest Media, which owns Soundings Trade Only.
The four-day 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 said 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.
The show also touted an extensive schedule of marine seminars from Sail America and children’s fishing clinics presented by the non-profit Hook The Future.
The show is endorsed and sponsored by Sail America, presented by Lincoln and sponsored by Budweiser, Gosling’s, Sail Magazine and Power & Motoryacht Magazine.
Q: Has the overall industry’s strengthening picked up its pace or is it still very slow and steady?
A: 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. 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.
Q: How does this show compare to last year’s?
A: In terms of the numbers, so far it’s pretty flat. The total number of boats here at the show is flat and there is a little more power and less sail. Again, that relates more to the dealer situation than anything else. In terms of brokerage, there is more brokerage and less new. Again, that has more to do with the sail side. Attendance is pretty flat so far.
Q: How many boats are here on display?
A: There are 152 boats in the water. We don’t count the boats on land.
Q: And how has the business activity been?
A: We have heard of some of the bigger boats selling. I think the pace of sales is probably running ahead of last year, even though attendance so far is pretty flat. We saw good signs in Fort Lauderdale and the fall, so the sales activity is following suit.
Q: How is the smaller-boat market doing?
A: As we saw with some other shows, we are seeing increased interest in smaller and in entry boats. This reflects the fact that the entry-level buyer is more interested in coming into boating. We have a couple of great pontoon boats — actually a bunch of them in the show. I have seen a lot of activity around them. And I have seen some great pricing on some of the smaller new and brokerage boats. They are starting to come out of the woodwork, so we look forward to our next show in Palm Beach [Fla.].
Q: Did you have any boats make their debut at the show?
A: Yes. We are happy that Beneteau debuted its new 38-foot sailboat here. And Catalina debuted their 27-footer. They are new to the west coast of Florida.
Q: I know that promoting and aiding boating education is important for you. How was that apparent at this show?
A: We are happy to have an expanded Discover Sailing program with lessons and trips on the boat. That I think is great, especially for the entry-level consumer. 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, so having these types of educational programs is critical.