New boaters turn out at Tampa Show

If the Tampa Boat Show was struggling after the 2008 financial collapse, you’d never know it after last weekend’s robust show. Show manager Larry Berryman has succeeded in rebuilding the event into the market’s top show and the public responded accordingly.

Overall attendance rose to 18,075, a whopping 44 percent increase and the best since 2008. Saturday’s crowd looked like a page torn out of a1980s show playbook. But attendance isn’t my story. Who was in attendance is, specifically new boaters.

For the third year, I was invited to man Discover Boating’s “Welcome To The Water” exhibit. This year, the display featured 12 different boat brands and models ranging in payments from $149 per month to $240 per month. Aimed squarely at prospective new boaters, the exhibit was intended to dramatically illustrate that families can get into boating for less than today’s average car payment. And the message resonated.

There is no doubt I talked with far more people this year than in previous years and I can even put them into two groups. First, there were the true first-time boaters who frequently said things like “we’ve been thinking about a boat for a while and now we’re ready to do it.”

The second group wasn’t even on my radar going into the show. This group consisted of people who had gotten out of boating but now were ready to get back in. A surprisingly large number hated that they had been boaters, but had to sell their boat after the 2008 crash or because they lost jobs and income, etc. However, they were back on their feet now and were at the show to buy again.

Both groups were drawn into the display by the “$250 or less” theme, which was displayed all around the exhibit. The first-time boaters wanted to talk about a wide range of things from what type of boat they should buy to the cost of insurance, where to keep the boat (i.e. a boat lift, trailering, etc.) and similar practical concerns.

For the group coming back into boating, their concerns mostly centered on financials issues beginning with price and including things like loan amortization, credit scores, the going interest rates, who’s lending, etc. Perhaps Darren Plymale of Galati Yacht Sales put it best when he said: “We’ve had a good year because we have aggressively priced our boats. It’s all about convincing the customer that the boat is value-priced. When that happens, they buy.”

Finally, I have two observations from last weekend’s show. First, the fact that there was a substantial increase in the number of first-time prospects and previous boat owners coming back is a harbinger of good things ahead . . . another solid indication we should be expecting continued improvement in boat sales.

Second, if you’re given an opportunity by your local show manager to provide a boat for a display like the “Welcome To The Water” exhibit in Tampa, do it. Though intended to be an educational display, the fact is three (perhaps others) of the 12 boats were sold during the show. Two were Premiere Pontoons sold by Central Marine and one Key Largo by Sunray Boats. Two of those buyers were first timers and the other previous boaters. I met all those couples/families before they went to the dealer’s exhibit and I saw them when they came back to “visit” their new boats. Enough said?


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