Organizers and exhibitors saw the 2011 edition of the bellwether show as a sizable step forward
If builders and dealers were looking for a boost heading into the important spring selling season, they generally got it from the Miami International Boat Show.
Not only was attendance up 14 percent, but many agree that show-goers seemed ready to pull the trigger on purchases, there were more international visitors than at past shows and a number of builders say they came away with strong dealer leads.
"There was attitude improvement all around. Sales results improved all the way around. It was just a really positive, really upbeat show," show manager Cathy Rick-Joule says. "Everybody was busy, and the floor was busy, and it was great. It was a little euphoric after what we've been going through the last couple of years."
Though attendance was down 8 percent at Strictly Sail Miami, show manager Kevin Murphy says he also heard positive reviews from exhibitors and attendees. They were happy that the show returned to its home at Miamarina at Bayside. It was with the in-water powerboat portion of the show last year.
"There were many boats sold and there were a lot of exhibitors that stated that it was the best show they've had in many years," Murphy says. "There were very good, high-quality buyers and they were buying. Exhibitors just boasted every day about how good the traffic was and how the mood was. The buzz was just phenomenal."
More than 104,000 people attended the five-day Miami show, and about 18,000 attended Strictly Sail Miami. Held Feb. 17-21, both shows are produced by the National Marine Manufacturers Association.
Bigger boats seemed to be more in demand than smaller models, according to organizers and some exhibitors. "I talked to a lot of builders that are building 45-feet-plus that sold everything they had in their booth, plus more, so the big boats seemed to be moving really well," Rick-Joule says.
Murphy had the same observations on the sailboat side. "A lot of companies sold boats ... but what we saw the most was the catamarans, the big cats that were being sold," he says.
Rec Boat Holdings announced "better than projected" retail success for its Four Winns and Wellcraft brands at the show, saying the majority of boats retailed this year were in the larger segment - 26 feet and bigger. Both brands collected solid leads from the show and secured additional sales beyond the close of the show, the company says.
"We are by no means declaring the war is over with these results," says Roch Lambert, group president of Rec Boat Holdings. "It is, however, the direction we want it to go and it is our job as a manufacturer to provide dealers the right product and programs to move retail."
Exhibitors at both shows generally were enthusiastic about sales and leads.
- Sailboat builder Hunter Marine recorded the sale of six keelboats, about half of those to overseas visitors, and attendance was up about 30 percent at its booth, compared with last year's show, according to company president John Peterson.
- Fred Renken, CEO and president of the Azure, Mariah and Sea Fox boat companies, reported 30 retail sales and eight wholesale sales at the show, as well as 10 new dealer prospects.
- Les Stewart Jr., director of marketing at Contender Boats, says his company had seven closings in the first couple of days and a lot of sea trials that resulted in closings after the show.
- Show newcomer Manitou Pontoons, one of the only pontoon builders at the show, closed one deal and expects to see a total of four to six sales from the show. That's in addition to three quality dealer leads, national sales manager Russ Hafner says.
"We've seen a large improvement this year, compared to last year and the year before," Stewart says. "A lot more people seemed to be interested in actually purchasing, rather than just looking at everything. Our best guess was that either all the used inventory has been eaten up or people finally sold their boats and are looking to buy a new one."
And it wasn't only boatbuilders that reported a positive show. "There was strong dealer participation for us this year and we are delighted that many of our dealers have reported significant sales booked at the show, as well as firm commitments for orders in the coming weeks," says Ken Taranto, vice president of aftermarket sales for Dometic Marine, a supplier of air conditioning and sanitation equipment. "Overall, a very successful show for Dometic. We leave feeling optimistic about the year ahead."
Kathy Latham, of Latham Marine, best known for its hydraulic steeling and tie-bar systems, says it was a strong show, attributing some of that to a more visible booth space and live entertainment, which drew crowds. "I think we have a lot of future business coming down the pike. I was very happy with the show," she says, adding that international traffic, in particular, seemed up from past years. "I think you saw genuine people with a real interest to get back into boating."
Most people who spoke with Soundings Trade Only agree that the mood among consumers was much better than last year. "Consumers were engaging in conversation, where last year they were walking away," Renken notes.
Peterson says that although consumers are still looking for deals, they are "readily moving monetary offers up, realizing that older product is no longer available and good-condition used boats are gone."
Parker Stair, vice president of sales for MasterCraft and Hydra-Sports, says the show marked the first time that Hydra-Sports boats built by MasterCraft were exhibited. MasterCraft bought Hydra-Sports in the Genmar bankruptcy proceedings about a month before the 2010 Miami show. The response, he says, was encouraging.
"Hydra-Sports had their best show since 2006. The response exceeded our expectations," he says. "The mood was definitely more upbeat. There were more people truly looking to buy. They weren't just casual observers."
Stair continues: "There's no urgency to buy a boat right now, but when you asked about their time frame they were definitely going to buy a boat so they would have it by summer."
Bentley Collins, vice president of marketing and sales for Sabre and Back Cove yachts, also sensed no urgency among consumers at the show, although the boatbuilder came away with "plenty of very good leads."
"Miami was good - not great and not bad. Interest is strong, but there are still psychological hurdles with many buyers not willing to jump yet," he says. "The hesitancy that has plagued the boating market for a couple of years now still persists."
David Sexton, director of sales and dealer development for Larson Boats, was happy with this year's show from the retail side and reported "great numbers" of international dealers with interest in his product. "No question, this year's show was better than the last couple of years. Not only were retail sales up for us, but we had great numbers of international dealers that we were able to meet with to show our new product," he says. "While it's no easier, it certainly is better."
Nautic Global Group, builder of Rinker, Hurricane, Godfrey and Polar Kraft boats, also noted increased dealer traffic. "Nautic Global Group was very encouraged by the overall sentiment of not only the consumers at the show, but also the dealers who made the trip to evaluate new lines, both domestically and especially internationally. [It] showed us how the mood has improved within our industry," notes marketing director Steve Tadd. "Based on the attitudes at Miami, the outlook for 2011 is very positive."
About a month before the show, the National Marine Manufacturers Association launched a Dealer Connections VIP program designed to bring dealers from around the country to the show and give them an opportunity to meet with manufacturers. Rick-Joule says 157 dealers registered, as did 72 boat brands. There are plans to bring the program back next year, as well as the Discover Boating Resource Center, which offered hands-on educational and boating experiences for those who attended the boat show and Strictly Sail. "People just love the free opportunity to get some hands-on training," Rick-Joule says. "We had great results."
The 2012 Miami International Boat Show and Strictly Sail Miami are set for Feb. 16-20.
This article originally appeared in the April 2011 issue.