Postcard from Lauderdale: the new norm

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What a difference a year makes. Business is still way off, but the surprise and fear that permeated last year’s Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show as the economy tumbled a bit further each day was mostly gone.

The consumers walking the docks at FLIBS seemed to have found their collective sea legs. They were back testing the waters and looking for deals. Builders and dealers were talking about either making — or having made — a bottom. And their attention was now trained on the slow climb out. The survivors of the tumult of the last 12 months were at Lauderdale.

The number of big boats was up, small boats down. Attendance was flat or up a smidgen. The convention center exhibitors fit on one floor rather than three. And some who had been in the convention center got in-water space for the first time.

Smaller is to be expected. Smaller will be the new norm. As one builder told me: “Normal is not going to be back to where it was, not for a long, long time.”

There were a number of new boat and product introductions at FLIBS, although the volume was down. New product eventually will help jumpstart those consumers who are still just nibbling on the idea of a new boat. And innovations such as pod drives and joystick steering will give early adapters a reason to come back in.

Longer term, whatever changes builders can make to pull costs out of boats — fewer options, more modest power, perhaps — also will help as we move forward.

Bill Sisson
Trade Only Editor

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