Exhibitors at Newport and Norwalk agree the consumer mood has shifted for the better
The two Northeast events in September that kick off the fall boat show season were graced with good weather, improved attendance and a steadier consumer.
Beyond sounding cautiously optimistic, the prevailing sentiment among dealers at the Newport International Boat Show and the Norwalk International Boat Show was that there is a noticeable shift in the mood of potential customers.
“Interest is up and it has expanded across the whole product line. It’s good to see,” Greg Idol, a sales rep for Grady-White Boats, said at the Norwalk show. “We’re starting to see signs that we haven’t seen since ’08.”
From his perspective and that of several other dealers at the show, the “payment buyer” has yet to return and professionals and others who fared well during the recession are the primary buyers in this market.
Overall, dealers say they’re seeing a clear trend among shoppers.
“Realistically, I think people are tired of not giving themselves a present,” says Dick Budka of Petzold’s Marine Center in Portland, Conn., which carries the Sabre and Back Cove lines, among others.
Sabre Yachts has been one of the beneficiaries of the changing buyer attitude.
“We’ve been doing OK for about two years now,” Bentley Collins, Sabre’s vice president of marketing and sales, said at the Norwalk show. “We’re building five or six boats a month, with a backlog into June 2013. The worst is over.”
Steve Arnold of MarineMax in East Warwick, R.I., counted the weather among the best of his 12 Newport shows in a row.
“Saturday was the most enjoyable day, and our team took deposits on new Sea Rays. The energy of the crowd was extremely positive. We are anticipating some more deals to come our way over the next few weeks as a result of the show,” he says.
Dick Cromwell of Maritime Solutions, an inflatables dealer from Annapolis, Md., and Portsmouth, R.I., says he had his best Newport show “in many years — and I have been doing the show since 1995.”
Cromwell says his patrons were qualified and engaged in the buying process.
“It’s great to finally have a buying show again,” he said.
Attendance at the Norwalk show increased by 12 percent this year, according to show manager Jonathan Pritko.
“Beautiful weekend weather and new family attractions drew crowds, and we received positive reports on sales and leads from dealers throughout the show,” says Pritko.
The previous week, organizers for the Newport show estimated that attendance was up 5 percent and exhibition space was at capacity.
“We had a good, strong show with solid attendance and we’re hearing great commentary from our exhibitors along the lines of qualified buyers asking the right questions and spending considerable time with the dealers and brokers,” says Newport Exhibition Group division director Tom Delotto.
Rudy Mutter III, vice president of Twin City Marine in Central Falls, R.I., says he took a large deposit on a Monterey 280 Sport Cruiser in Newport — the first at-show sale he has made since before the recession. “We’ve had a good show,” he said from the deck of the boat, the “sold” sign prominently displayed on the console.
Maritime Solutions, of Portsmouth, R.I., reportedly sold nearly all of the inflatable boats it displayed at Newport.
Dave Nolan, owner of Cape Yachts, a Beneteau dealer in South Dartmouth, Mass., said at the Norwalk show that although “the crowds are not what they used to be in terms of volume, the quality is noticeably better.”
He says he has seen a consistent and gradual improvement in potential buyers’ mood since the “doom and gloom” of 2009 and 2010.
“The key is the lenders, and they seem like they are more ready to lend again,” says Nolan.
Don DiMauro, sales manager at MarineMax of Candlewood Lake in Connecticut, says he is seeing signs of life in the under-$100,000 market, with an average boat length of 26 feet. His buyers have been people coming back to boating and a few repeat buyers, he says.
As a lake dealership, he says, he sells more Bennington pontoon boats than the Sea Rays he carries. “I can’t keep the Benningtons in stock. They’re actually taking market [share] from my V-hull runabout market,” he says.
“I’m having a better year than last year,” DiMauro says. “You wouldn’t know it from watching CNN, but it’s better.”
Another positive sign could be found among small build-to-order shops in New England.
Mitch Sorbera, of Retro Marine, which makes Nova Scotia fishing boat-inspired trailerable trawlers, pilothouse boats and center consoles in a small shop in Salem, Mass., noted one optimistic sign.
A potential customer who backed out at the last minute as the economy collapsed in 2008 recently contacted Sorbera, began seriously talking about buying one of his 21-footers and — after several phone calls — placed an order.
“It took him this long to come back,” Sorbera says. “He said he’s waited long enough.”
Several high-end manufacturers are also seeing signs the recession is in the rear-view mirror for their customers and they are looking forward to success in the “new” economy.
Jim McManus, president and CEO of The Hinckley Company, exhibited the new Talaria 34 and Talaria 48 at Newport. The T34 was introduced three months ago and “we’ve sold one every week since the introduction,” he says.
Hinckley has sold 16 of its T48s since that boat was launched 18 months ago.
“That’s the most successful product launch we’ve ever had in the company,” McManus says.
This article originally appeared in the November 2012 issue.