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Cleveland Boat Show Hosts Enthusiastic Crowds


Any doubts about whether boaters would respond to the date change of this year’s Progressive Cleveland Boat Show were wiped out when crowds, including Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, cruised the I-X Center aisles last weekend.

The visit by DeWine gave many dealers and other industry exhibitors an opportunity to thank him for his critical decisions to support the marine industry during the pandemic. While the marine industry experienced shutdowns in many other states, DeWine classified Ohio’s boating industry as essential, and it continued to operate during the pandemic.

“We had a face-to-face chance to share with Gov. DeWine how his decision positively impacted our marine businesses, all employees and our customers,” said Tom Mack, chairman of the Lake Erie Marine Trades Association and founder of South Shore Marine. “It was marvelous to see him enjoying our show.”

Traditionally held in January and last produced in 2020 just before the pandemic, the show was not held in 2021. Moreover, its in-person return this year for its 65th anniversary was postponed until March to avoid the spread of the Omicron variant earlier this winter.

“The lines of traffic just to get into the parking lots was reminiscent of many great shows in the past,” said Jim Armington of Buckeye Sports Center. “Clearly the crowds were very happy to have an in-person show return and, best of all, our boat sales already confirm it. It was a great weekend.”

Despite some inventory and supply-chain shortages, exhibiting dealers from across Northern Ohio still effectively found ways to stage good displays of many new boat models and accessories. In addition, the show was promoted with a record ad campaign that reached out to the tri-state area. “It’s now clear to me that any dealer that wasn’t in the show missed a genuine opportunity. We’re delighted we exhibited,” said Armington.

“I must admit our team had real concerns when the show date was changed to March,” revealed Mack. “But as the show approached, you could feel an energy building, especially at the consumer level. Our customers were motivated regardless of whether the date change was tougher on us as dealers. It proved to be a show not to miss. I know several dealers had record sales even with less available product, and the buyers seemed to understand why there was less product.”

Contributing to the success was the show’s variety of new and/or popular experiential activities and entertainment aimed at boating families. “Boating is family fun,” said Michelle Burke, LEMTA president. “We designed this show reflect that, and it’s why people responded so well to the date change.”

Essentially, Burke expanded a reimagined show plan she first unveiled in 2020 that resulted in a 12-year record attendance. A few of the newest ideas employed this year included: Creation of a Paddling Sports Center complete with demo/try-it pool; hourly magic shows in an expanded “Kids Zone”; a Pirate Treasure Hunt on Sunday; an expanded Great Lawn area with games adjacent to the Put-in-Bay refreshment center; a first-ever Food Truck Rally; musical entertainers daily on the Progressive Main Stage; new dueling sailing simulators in the Sailing Center; the Toyota Tundra Fishing Stage with expanded sessions; the Berkley Bass Aquarium with hourly sessions including kids-only clinics; and the return of the ever-popular Twiggy the Water Skiing Squirrel, among others features.

If Cleveland is any indicator, two more major shows should be anticipating good crowds this weekend. The Palm Beach Boat Show, an in-water event, opens Thursday in Palm Beach, Fla., and the Orlando Boat Show in Orlando, Fla. runs Friday through Sunday. 



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