Turnout was down, but organizers say optimism for 2012 was running high and exhibitors made sales
More than at any time in recent memory, each boat show is becoming a window through which industry players peer, searching for clear signs of recovery.
At the Progressive Insurance New York Boat Show, which ran Jan. 4-8 at the Javits Center in Manhattan, attendance was down, but optimism was noticeably up. “New York is often a sound barometer of things to come,” NMMA president Thom Dammrich said after a walk on the show floor shortly before the doors opened on the third day. “I’d say there’s probably more optimism for 2012 than in the past four or five years.”
When the show closed two days later, overall attendance was 40,702, 10 percent lower than a year earlier, but the big picture appeared much brighter to Dammrich and exhibitors. “Attendance was off a little for the entire show, likely due to unseasonably warm weather and the Giants [NFL playoff] game,” Dammrich says. “But traffic was very strong, reports of sales were strong, exhibitor feedback was very positive, and we began to see more sales in the 30-plus-foot range, including the sale of the queen of the show, a 54-foot Sea Ray. … The buyers came out.”
Dave Dzurilla, general manager for MarineMax in New York’s Westchester County and Connecticut’s Fairfield County, says his crew met with numerous “good, qualified” prospects. “We’re not seeing the daydreamer,” he says.
Dzurilla reported 68 boats sold at the show among MarineMax’s Sea Ray, Boston Whaler and Meridian displays, compared with 42 at the 2011 show, and he offered an example of the signs he is seeing. A visitor told Dzurilla he didn’t come to the show looking to buy but nonetheless signed off on a 26-foot Sea Ray Sundeck for about $75,000. “He called me the next day just to thank me for the great service and experience,” Dzurilla says. “He said he felt like a kid in a candy store about his new boat.
“Buyers want to feel comfortable with the people they’re dealing with, and we try to hire staff that are true professionals and boaters themselves,” he adds.
Steve DeFeo, general manager of DeFeo’s Marina, a Bennington, Larson and Regal dealer on Greenwood Lake in New York state, has displayed at every New York show since 1981. He says he’s well aware that sales of pontoon boats have held up better than other types of boats during the recession, and notes that the price point — $80,000 for a high-end model, $20,000 for an entry-level 20-footer — is a big selling point in these times. “We’re seeing more entry-level, first-time buyers, but it’s older couples with grandkids,” he says.
DeFeo says his dealership delivered 140 boats in 2009, dipped to 60 in 2010 and rebounded to 91 last year. He expects to top that figure in 2012. “I feel we’re slowly moving up the hill,” he says. “As far as the pontoon industry, I only see it going up.”
Nate Anderson, Northeast regional sales manager for Scout Boats, says one obvious change he’s sensing — repeated by several dealers at the show — is that “people are sitting down and talking real numbers, which is a night-and-day difference from ’09, when all anybody wanted to talk about was how bad the recession was.”
Another reason for optimism, he says, is that used inventory has mostly dried up. There are only a dozen or so Scouts still in the field in his region. Scout recently signed five new dealers there, plus others in the South and internationally. Anderson says he expects sales growth of 20 percent in his region this year, compared with modest sales during the last two years.
He says he sees a “big trend toward the $40,000 or less” boats — the Scout 210 XSF center console was the builder’s best-selling model in 2011 — and he expects it to continue this year. One reason could be the price: about $40,000 (with incentives) with a trailer.
Mark Yarussi, a regional sales manager for Bayliner who oversees 80 dealers from Michigan to Maine to Washington, D.C., summed up the market this way: “Compared to this time last year, we’re picking up steam and the enthusiasm is up, and we feel good about 2012.”
This article originally appeared in the February 2012 issue.