Let’s not kid ourselves: A slowing economy, rising interest rates, stubborn inflation, declining major purchases — they are all signs that boat-sales face strong headwinds. In fact, that’s exactly the domino effect the Federal Reserve plans as it raises interest rates to combat inflation and restrain spending. Will it hurt? Ask any marine dealer who went through the last recession.
So it’s become paramount that dealers take advantage of the crowds that boat shows are generating this fall. There is no other promotion, at any price, that can guarantee your sales team will stand face-to face with thousands of potential buyers. Shows have always moved product, filled critical sales-lead funnels, and given a boost to all team members.
When it comes to shows — from Michigan and Rhode Island last weekend to New Jersey and Connecticut this weekend — the industry’s fall circuit continues to return to action, boasting good displays and solid crowds of qualified buyers.
Michigan: The Progressive Metro Boat Show at the Detroit area’s Lake St. Clair Metropark last weekend drew more than 11,000 attendees who packed the two marinas and adjacent land exhibits spanning a nearly mile-long waterfront.
“While attendance hit an all-time high last year, the numbers normalized this year but were still higher than our prepandemic attendance in 2019,” said Nicki Polan, executive director of the Michigan Boating Industries Association. “Summer-like weather, hundreds of boats and accessory displays, and boating enthusiasts coming together made for four fantastic days.”
Added Tom Dunigan of Dunigan Marine: “It was an absolutely wonderful weekend for Dunigan Marine’s debut in the Metro Boat Show. “It turned out better than I could have ever imagined. We ended up selling three boats out of the show and have a ton of great listings coming in soon.”
Rhode Island: Similar reports of success came from one of the industry’s oldest in-water events, the Newport International Boat Show.
Held in the Newport Yachting Center Marina and encompassing more than 14 acres of Newport’s famed waterfront, the show is a tradition for boaters from all over New England.
“Four sunny days and our preshow promotion that attendees would see many premiere showings of 2023 models is all it took to keep them coming and our exhibitors busy,” said show manager Lisa Knowles. “Our early reports from some exhibitors indicate boats were sold, and the prospects for post-show sales look very good.”
Among many other features, the show celebrated members of the National Sailing Hall of Fame and America's Cup Hall of Fame, while Freedom Boat Club and Narragansett Sailing School offered in-water training sessions for both powerboaters and sailors, including courses for women only. In addition, the appearances of YouTube influencers such as Colin MacRae from Below Deck Sailing Yacht, Andy Miller of Boatworks Today, and Louis Sauzedde from Tips from a Shipwright were crowd pleasers.
New Jersey: The site of this show may sport a new name, but the popular Jersey Shore Boat Sale & Expo is headed back to Lakewood for its annual weekend run beginning tomorrow. Produced by the Marine Trades Association of New Jersey, the show is held at a minor-league baseball stadium, now named ShoreTown Ballpark, that better reflects its location.
“This show has been a consistent winner, regardless of national news or surrounding events, so we expect good things again,” said Melissa Danko, executive director of the Marine Trades Association of New Jersey. “It’s an easy reach for all our dealers and attendees, has a solid reputation with the boaters, and delivers good end-of-season sales for exhibitors. So there’s never been any question about doing this show every year.”
Among the features Danko has built into the show are special promotions and a wide variety of giveaways. Many have been such high-end items as electronics, gear, accessories and charter excursions.
Connecticut The Progressive Norwalk Boat Show, presented by Discover Boating, is set to drop anchor at Norwalk Cove Marina for four days beginning today. This year’s show boasts a variety of new activities intended to attract both novices and seasoned boaters.
Among the features are the first-ever Norwalk appearance of Twiggy the waterskiing squirrel, “Fish with the Pros” featuring saltwater fishing demos, free paddle sports demos and boat rides, and boating instruction and hands-on education at “Try It Cove.” “Kids’ Fun” includes touch-tank creatures and toy boatbuilding workshops.
Many shows remain on the fall schedule. If there’s one near you, I hope you’ve reserved space.