The 34th annual Suncoast Boat Show had its largest number of boats and exhibitors in 15 years, and this year’s gate attendance was up 9.1 percent from 2015.
The number of boats in the water at the April 15-17 event at Marina Jack in Sarasota, Fla., including new and previously owned boats, was up 5 percent from last year. The number of new boats in the water this year jumped 15 percent.
“These regional shows give you a lot of leads,” says Tom George, president of the Tom George Yacht Group of Dunedin, Fla. “They’re lead generators. The sale of larger boats is a longer process than smaller boats. It takes time.”
Sarasota, which is about 70 miles south of Tampa, has proved to be a healthy market for new-boat sales, says Chris Fleming, who manages exhibitor sales development with Show Management, the company that owns and produces the show.
“Shows like this are the best place for buyers to educate themselves and experience what is new on the market and then make knowledgeable purchases,” he says.
Florida boat dealers and marine retailers reported a high level of foot traffic and robust business activity with qualified consumers.
“We had a Galeon 420 Fly here that sold within the first two hours of the show,” says MarineMax Sarasota general manager Jason LeFevre. “Our overall revenue is up substantially. We’re selling the same amount of units, but bigger, more expensive boats.”
The three-day weekend event had all the essential elements of a successful boat show — good weather, a rebounding economy and a picturesque on-the-water setting — Sarasota Bay — in a relatively affluent demographic area. Boats from about 27 to 55 feet are selling at the pace that smaller boats — 23 to 30 feet — were a few years ago, says LeFevre.
MarineMax presented 17 boats from 25 to 59 feet, from Boston Whaler, Galeon, Sea Ray, Azimut and Harris FloteBote.
The Tom George Yacht Group displayed eight vessels — three new ones from Hatteras, two new ones from Carver and three brokerage boats (plus smaller boats from Cobalt and EdgeWater). George says he saw upbeat and strong crowds with “good sentiment.”
Benny Parrish, general manager of Cannons Marina, just across the bay on Longboat Key, agrees with George. “We have some good prospects, some good deals on the table. Sales activity has been good,” Parrish said on the final day of the show. “This show has grown a lot the last few years.”
Cannons carries Grady-White boats and SouthWind deckboats.
Mark Castlow, owner of Dragonfly Boatworks in Vero Beach, Fla., says customers at the Suncoast show are passionate about boats and the water. “This is my kind of show,” says Castlow, who had sold five of his paddleboards and was showing a DragonFly 17 Classic with a Yamaha F70. “If you can get the right people in the right setting, you can have a good show. Here you are outside in the sun, with a nice breeze, not in some convention center under fluorescent lights.”
Phil Bourque, vice president of sales and marketing at Mag Bay Yachts, traveled from Adelanto, Calif., to show the company’s 33-foot, 6-inch center console with a twin-stepped hull designed by Sarasota-based Michael Peters Yacht Design.
Mag Bay was founded by Mike Howarth and his son, Barrett, says Bourque. (Mike Howarth and Henry Mohrschladt co-founded Cabo Yachts.)
This article originally appeared in the June 2016 issue.