Some exhibitors at the annual boat show in Norwalk, Conn., preferred to talk about how the 38-year-old show draws noticeably fewer people these days, but others focused on how the buyers are gradually but clearly returning.
Organizers say that about 20,000 attended the show, held Sept. 12-15 at the Norwalk Cove Marina. The turnout was in line with expectations, they say, and on par with last year’s showing.
Bill Gardella Jr., general manager of the Rex Marine Center, which has hosted the show along with the marina since the mid-1970s, says a decent stretch of fall-like weather made for a successful event.
“From what I saw and heard from exhibitors, Thursday was slow, and the [ominous] weather scared some people off Saturday, but Sunday was really good,” Gardella says. “It seemed to me to be a lot of the potential entry-level boaters that the exhibitors like.”
Tom Pilkington, of the local Prestige Yacht Sales, says the Norwalk show is the preferred regional show for his brokerage.
“It’s such a great show for local people that don’t make the trip to Newport or Annapolis,” he says.
Prestige displayed three Hunt yachts and four Beneteau sailboats. It was the only sailboat exhibitor at the power-heavy show.
“We definitely saw two sales from the show and are optimistic for a third,” Pilkington says. “Of those three, one customer had never been on a Hunt before. He’d seen them on our website and done some research. That was his motivation to come to the show, to see the Hunts.”
Both of the sales that closed were for Hunt Yachts — a Harrier 29 and an outboard-powered Surfhunter 25. “We definitely seem to have turned the corner in the last two seasons,” Pilkington says. “Last year’s and this year’s shows seem to have people looking forward.”
Jim McManus, CEO of Hinckley Yachts, attended on the second day to support Ted Gersen, the builder’s regional director of sales.
“We generally sell three boats here every year due to the proximity of our clientele,” McManus says.
“Norwalk is a good show for The Hinckley Company,” Gersen says. “The Talaria 48 we sold resulted from several prior meetings we had with the buyer. We also have several other people we are still discussing purchases with.”
SeaSide3 Yacht Sales, based in Lindenhurst, N.Y., was showing the new Carver C34 Fly from its line, which also includes Marquis, Monterey, Jupiter and Cobia.
Sales manager Phil Marsala says his dealership is willing to trade heavier traffic for a higher content of serious shoppers.
“We’re seeing very interested people; there are buyers,” Marsala says, noting that he signed a purchase order for a Carver C34.
“That particular boat really got a ton of interest, and the price point is a key attraction,” he says of the boat, which sells for about $350,000. “People are attracted … because they get a lot of boat for that price.”
Kelly Kraning, sales support manager for Carver and Marquis yachts, who attended in support of SeaSide3, says the positive signs are clear, but expectations remain muted.
“We’re going to keep working hard for everything we get,” Kraning says. “That’s how you have to do business today.”
Fran Morey, director of training and service at Grand Banks Yachts, says coming off a successful Newport (R.I.) International Boat Show in Rhode Island the previous weekend, the smaller Norwalk show has its own incentives.
“We’re meeting with fewer people, but they’re asking all the right questions,” he says.
This article originally appeared in the November 2013 issue.