Show attendance and sales are on a roll

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On the heels of Monday’s report confirming that boat sales hit double-digit gains in December for the second consecutive month based on early reports from 26 states, it’s no surprise that the key early boat shows around the country are off to a good start.

Six key association-produced shows — Houston, Nashville, Chicago, Cleveland, Atlanta and Port Charlotte — have now ended and all have good reports.

Houston, the first industry show this year, set the pace with an attendance increase of 14 percent. Sales were reportedly much stronger than a year ago, according to Boating Trades Association of Metropolitan Houston president Ken Lovell.

Meanwhile, three NMMA-produced shows also reported good signs. According to NMMA president Thom Dammrich: “Our space sales are up 12 percent across all our shows compared to last year because dealers are much more confident this year. And the reports we’re now getting confirm the buyers are out in force.”

In Chicago, the NMMA combined the Chicago Boat, Sport and RV Show with Strictly Sail Chicago to introduce the new Progressive Chicago Boat, RV & Strictly Sail Show. It proved to be a great move. Attendance at the new show was up 8 percent over the combined attendance of the two separate shows last year. “This show is fast becoming one of the strongest shows in the northern markets,” Dammrich said, “and the dealers really stepped up their presentation of product this year. The show was beautiful.”

Beautiful also describes Georgia’s biggest show, the NMMA Progressive Atlanta Boat Show. “The dealers in Atlanta do the absolute best job displaying their product of any show I have seen in the US outside of Miami or Ft. Lauderdale,” Dammrich said. Atlanta’s attendance ended essentially even with last year’s healthy 15 percent increase.

The Progressive Mid-America Boat Show in Cleveland delivered similar good results, according to Lake Erie Marine Trades Association president Ken Alvey said. “The show was 20 percent larger because our dealers are much more aggressive this year. Most days saw bigger attendance, we are up 5 percent overall and sales are definitely up. The crowds we as big as we could handle over the weekend.”

“We had a great show, too,” said John Good from the Southwest Florida Marine Industries Association’s Charlotte Boat Show. “Perfect weather pushed our attendance up nearly 20 percent and virtually every dealer is saying the same thing — a lot more sales than a year ago. We’re very happy.”

Finally, attendance at the sold-out Progressive Nashville Boat & Sportshow dropped 16 percent. But that’s very misleading. Last year, Nashville’s attendance skyrocketed an unprecedented 47 percent, undoubtedly helped by a move to the new Music City Center. With attendees who just came to see the new center now out of the picture, Nashville still kept the overwhelming majority of its attendance gain coming back. “Nashville is really a solid success story for us,” Dammrich said.

Bottom line: When we sample early shows from Texas to Florida to Illinois, it’s clear our expectations that our boat shows will see improved attendance and better sales are firmly grounded. That should encourage all dealers to take advantage of their local boat shows.

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