Are boat shows kick-starting fall sales?

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Concerned that July’s disappointing sales are a harbinger of things to come? It appears the drop will be more of a blip than a trend if the early successes at the August boat shows on the Great Lakes are indicators.

The industry’s first major fall shows, the Progressive Chicagoland In-Water Boat Show (Aug. 11-14) and the Progressive North American In-Water Boat Show (Aug. 25-28) bucked rain and storms to draw boaters willing to spend. (See Aug. 16 Dealer Outlook for Chicagoland report).

 Weather challenged dealers at Ohio's North American In-Water Show but buyers still showed up and dealers reported good sales.

Weather challenged dealers at Ohio's North American In-Water Show but buyers still showed up and dealers reported good sales.

The weather wasn’t the dealers’ best friend for last weekend’s North American show at Cedar Point. But “the show got busier as we went through the weekend,” MarineMax manager Keith Teynor said. “Lots of good customers, boat buyers. We have three deals completed at the show for about $1.2 million in business so far. In four days to pick up that kind of business — we’re very happy with it.”

“There are people here — serious buyers without question,” Formula Boats’ Tim Hogan said. “In this day and age, you still must bring product to a show. Buyers want to touch and feel it. They may do a lot of advance research, but at the end of the day most aren’t going to buy if they can’t see it. You have to have a presence at the boat show.”

Following this weekend’s break for the Labor Day holiday, the schedule of major in-water shows will pick up around the country. It will begin with the Tampa (Fla.) Boat Show (Sept. 9-11) that incorporates both the waterfront Tampa Convention Center and a large in-water show out front.

The next weekend, three big ones will open: the 38th annual Seattle’s Boats Afloat on Lake Union for five days (Sept. 14-18); Rhode Island’s largest Newport International Boat Show; and the Detroit area’s Metro Boat Show in the water at Lake St. Clair Metropark, both of which run Sept. 15-18.

What is a good sign that the industry is growing again is that two new shows on opposite coasts will also be opening. First, the new multivenue land and water Wilmington (N.C.) Boat Show is slated for Sept. 9-11 at the Wilmington Convention Center, the adjacent Port City Marina and Pier 33 and the Battleship North Carolina Park just across the river by water taxi.

Meanwhile, another new show, the Southern California In-Water Boat Show, produced by the Duncan McIntosh Group, will tie up in the Cabrillo Way Marina from Sept. 22-25 in San Pedro, which is south of Los Angeles. The marina recently underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation and it will host the new event celebrating the boating lifestyle with some 200-plus boats and 80 or more accessory displays.

Boat shows remain the No. 1 way dealers can reach thousands of prospects in just three or four days.

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