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Fall boat-show season looks promising

It was the first major-market fall show out of the box and last weekend’s Progressive Michigan City In-Water Boat Show sent all the right signals going forward.

New show features, increased promotion and settled show dates all combined to ring up a 7 percent attendance increase and markedly improved sales for exhibitors.

“We expected the show would reflect the steady improvement in boat sales,” show manager Ken Alvey said, “and it did. We also got past the confusion we created last year when we changed our dates.” His reference was to moving the show to early August last year that likely confused some boaters who were used to the show being held on the last weekend of August for more than 30 years.

“We increased our promotion this year to make sure our message was clear,” Alvey noted, “and we added the Rail Jam Show as a prime feature attraction. That garnered great publicity and show attendees seemed really into it.”

Exhibitors were also into it. “No question the Rail Jam helped boost interest in our watersports boats,” said the sales team at Pine Crest Mastercraft (Cedar Lake, Ind.). “It got us great leads and very positive feedback on our boats.”

Kyle Stenzel at Spring Brook Marina (Seneca, Ill.) observed: “There is a lot of interest in bigger boats this year, not so much in the smaller pre-owned boats we were showing. The show traffic was good and we have booked a lot of sea trials that began at show closing.” Spring Brook displayed Prestige and Jeanneau powerboats and has been an exhibitor every year since the show started in 1980.

“Loved this year,” said Tom Armon of Freedom Boat Club (St. Joseph, Mich.). “I have over 100 serious membership prospects and I even sold off one boat. Excellent show!” Similar praise came from Jack Ervin of Great Lakes Yachts (Kenosha, Wis.). “We always sell from this show. It’s a winner and we enjoy coming every year.”

The results for the hometown dealership of B&E Marine (Michigan City, Ind.) are expected to be good and they didn’t disappoint, according to Rod Bensz: “We have contracts for 10 boats with a combined value of over $2 million and we expect to reach $3 million with the sea trials we have scheduled after the show.”

It’s notable Bensz also reported more than 300 owners attended their owners club party at the show and it included a lot of previous buyers who appear to be coming back for a new boat. It was Ron Bensz, founder of B&E, that is credited with being the prime local mover and shaker in attracting this show to Michigan City in 1980.

Like most in-water boat shows, this one is smaller than it was before the recession. But it’s seeing some growth again and it remains an important venue for dealers in the large tri-state market that surrounds southern Lake Michigan. That’s why exhibiting dealers come from Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan to this show.

Looking ahead, that same message of importance for dealers can be cast on literally every industry fall show from Michigan City in the Great Lakes to the last major show in St. Petersburg, Fla., in December. (Next major show is Cedar Point in Ohio from Aug. 27-30).

Accordingly, dealers who have not yet signed up for space in their area’s fall show should get it done now. Rod Bensz might have put it best when he said of shows: “The environment may be smaller, but the outcome can still be huge.”



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