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Solid sales, good crowds at Palm Beach show

Following a trend with several recent boat shows, optimism was on the rise at the Palm Beach International Boat Show, which was held March 25-28 in West Palm Beach, Fla.

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Chuck Cashman, regional president of MarineMax East Florida, said the dealer sold a 47-foot Azimut and a 34-foot Meridian to new buyers at the show.

"We thought the smaller fishing boats such as the Boston Whalers and the Sea Rays would sell, so this was a surprise," said Cashman. "We had good traffic and it was encouraging to see new buyers."

Andrew Doole, senior vice president and COO of show organizer Show Management, said the event exceeded his expectations.

"It went extremely well. The weather cooperated and we had tremendous crowds," said Doole. "We had a lot of fly-in traffic. I think some people from the Northeast, who couldn't make it down to the Miami show because they were snowed in, flew down to our show, so we definitely benefited from that."

Show Management CEO Skip Zimbalist said attendance was up 3 percent from last year, and boats on display were up 3 to 4 percent.

"We're really thrilled, considering we were budgeting the attendance would be down about 15 percent," said Zimbalist. "We couldn't be happier."

Presale online tickets were up 5 percent and overall exhibitors were up 20 percent compared to last year, according to show officials. Zimbalist said the show also benefited from a recent $30 million renovation of the city's waterfront.

"From the attendee point of view, this is the most beautiful show in the country, bar none," said Zimbalist. "It's a great combination of big and small boats and, unlike the larger shows in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, it is much more manageable because everything is all in one place and in one setting."

MarineMax's Cashman said it was good to meet some new faces along with returning customers, and he senses the market is slowly turning up.

"There is definitely a sizeable portion of the population that has been deferring a major purchase for a long time," he said. "People are realizing their kids aren't getting any younger, they're not getting any younger, so maybe the time is finally right to get that boat."

Hacker Boat Company, of Silver Bay, N.Y., exhibited for the first time, and sales manager Dan Gilman said it was a good decision.

"We have several potential clients very interested in buying a boat, which is exceptional, especially considering that Hacker-Crafts are the premier wooden motorboat and sell for $150,000 to $180,000," he said. "We will be back next year."

Kevin Callahan, sales and construction manager of Moran Yacht & Ship, which specializes in megayachts and displayed five 100-plus-footers, said the company came away with several strong leads.

"The buyers are coming out of their shell again. ... We've definitely turned the corner," Callahan said.

— Elizabeth Ellis

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