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On a Roll in Connecticut, South Carolina and Florida

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Three industry events shared the same successful results and demonstrate in-person shows are back and remain popular.

In Connecticut, the Norwalk Boat Show marked the return of the National Marine Manufacturers Association’s boat and sport shows, and it came back strong. Attendance reached 12,976 – up 1 percent over the big 2019 show, with double-digit increases during the weekend. Of particular note, the show saw an increase in first-time attendees and new-boat buyers, with exhibitors reporting robust interest and demand.

“It was great to be back,” said Jon Pritko, NMMA vice president of Northeast shows. “The atmosphere through the show’s four-day run was positive, with attendees eager to shop boats they haven’t been able to see in-person due to heightened demand for products. We also saw a younger, more diverse crowd, who either entered the market during the pandemic or were simply interested in discovering the boating lifestyle. All signs point to a successful return for the fall shows and the 2022 winter shows.”

“While there was some apprehension to participate this year, we’re so glad we did,” said Dave Dzurilla, of MarineMax Norwalk. “It was a great show. We were selling the products we had on display and really happy with the interest in our lines.”

To engage and retain the returning boaters and the thousands of newcomers in the Northeast who entered the sport last year, the show provided a variety of on-water and educational boating experiences, with more than 1,300 attendees getting on the water and increasing seminar participation.

In South Carolina, it was a unique combination of three of the state’s favorite pastimes: boating, fishing and football.

The South Carolina Boating and Fishing Alliance teamed up with the University of South Carolina to host a first-of-its-kind event. Before the SEC East game between Kentucky and South Carolina, the Gamecock Athletics Department estimates that more than 20,000 fans visited Gamecock Village, where a variety of boats and fishing products were displayed. South Carolina’s boating and fishing industries fill 23,000 jobs and have a $5.1 billion annual economic impact.

“This first-ever boating and fishing showcase at Williams-Brice Stadium was one of the most successful Gamecock Village marketing activations we have ever participated in,” said Eric Nichols, the university’s senior associate athletic director and chief marketing officer. “It added another level of excitement for the fans.”

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“Millions of Americans use South Carolina-made products in the outdoors every day,” said Gettys Brannon, SCBFA chief executive officer. “To showcase some of our 30-plus South Carolina boating and fishing manufacturers on an SEC football Saturday is something we now look forward to repeating.”

Last week marked the return of the in-person International BoatBuilders’ Exhibition and Conference, which celebrated its 30th edition.

“It’s been fantastic to see both our customers and our distribution partners who are here at the show and being able to connect after all this time,” said Shelly Bennion, national sales manager, Hawkeye Industries.

Bennion’s enthusiasm was echoed by Allyson Spease, domestic customer service and marketing, Hawkeye Industries: “My favorite thing about IBEX has been the networking and seeing everyone in person after two years of not being able to.”

IBEX director Anne Dunbar summed it up this way: “I’ve talked with many of our exhibitors, and they are all saying the same thing — that while attendance may have been impacted by Covid concerns, the quality of boatbuilders and industry buyers this year was exceptional.”

Overall, IBEX had more than 560 exhibitors, including 80 new exhibiting companies, and more than 3,200 manufacturer and dealer visitors. The docks were sold out, with 29 boats on display, and the expanded outdoor displays included nine demos and exhibits.

In addition, there were 18 exhibiting international companies representing 12 nations: Australia, China, France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Korea, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Taiwan and the United Kingdom. The IBEX Education Conference had more than 300 registrants, who participated in 40-plus preconference sessions and technical seminars. Additionally, hundreds of visitors took advantage of the free workshops hosted in the Tech Talk Theater on the show floor.

From listening to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis address 800-plus attendees at the opening breakfast, to joining the line of attendees on the docks to see the latest technology, the return of IBEX was clearly a big industry win.

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