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Tampa show continues on a roll

After an amazing breakthrough show last year with a 44 percent attendance increase, the Tampa Boat Show continued to set a good pace, albeit with an attendance increase last weekend that’s back down to more earthly growth.

Show manager Larry Berryman reports attendance rose 4 percent to 18,858 with all three days experiencing steady crowds and exhibitors citing better prospects and increased sales.

“It’s been our best show since 2007, the Convention Center floor space was sold out and we continue to see more large boats in our in-water section,” Berryman said.

For the fourth year, Berryman invited me to spend time in the Discover Boating Center, an exhibit focused on educating prospective boaters about affordability and illustrated with eight different boat brands and models available for about $250 per month or less. Here are some takeaways from the experience:

• This year I talked with a marked increase of young couples (definitely millennials) with small children in tow (some in strollers) who were clearly drawn to what they could buy for the low payments. Research shows millennials are very price-sensitive and those spending time in the exhibit clearly reflected that. Moreover, it supports our industry premise that low price and perceived good value is how we’re going to attract millennials.

• There were lots of Gen Xers and boomers coming into the display, some newbies and some previously in boating. Their questions didn’t revolve so much around acquisition cost, but rather operating and maintenance costs. Surprisingly, many brought up the cost of gas. I wasn’t expecting that. But it tells me we must continue to preach the message that today’s engines and hull designs have dramatically improved fuel consumption. These aren’t your grandfather’s engines anymore. Moreover, our industry engineers must continue to work on reducing operating costs.

• While not intended to be a selling display, five of the eight Discover Boating boats were sold during the show including: Key West 176CC (Outcast Marine); Ranger IFA1862CC (Family Boating Centers); two Bayliner 215DB’s (Antoniette Marine); and a Nautic Star 1810 Bay (Thunder Marine). It was indicative of the improving sales on the Tampa Convention Center floor and out on the adjacent in-water docks.

“It’s been our best boat show since 2006,” said Greg Knop, sales manager for Family Boating & Marine Centers of Tampa (Sportsman, Pathfinder, Maverick, Hewes, Crest and Ranger.) In addition to that Ranger in the Discover Boating exhibit, Knop reported 18 more contracts to a mixture of first-time buyers and third-time purchasers.

Adam Heckaman of Splendor Boats, a small Indiana manufacturer of 22- to 26-foot power catamaran deck boats, noted he closed the first of two boats just a couple of hours after show opening on Friday. Further, he had no previous contact with the customer who, after taking a demo ride, signed the contract. “We noticed two changes this year,” Heckaman said. “First, many more people were asking us for a written quote. In the past we’d have to convince them to take one. Second, we virtually doubled the number of those prospects willing to take a demo ride. I honestly believe we’ll have six more sales with our follow-up and that will be a record Tampa show for us.”

Newcoast Financial Services’ Joey Gottfried had a different perspective. “We talked financing to a lot of first-time prospects and a lot of people who were coming back into boating after having gotten out in the past,” he said. “That’s a good trend, as is the fact that I also talked with more young families looking at smaller boats than I have in the past. It’s all been good.”

Velocity isn’t a household name in boating. Long known for offshore high performance championships, the Sanford, Fla., builder has launched into the booming center console fishing market. “People don’t know us, yet, for performance fishing boats,” vice president for sales Scott Tubbs said, “but we’re committed to building that bridge and this show has been excellent for us.” According to Velocity’s Nick Miller, they sold two of the three boats on display, the original 22-foot model and the newest 26 footer. They hope to have a new 39-footer ready to meet the public at the Miami show.

Overall, last weekend’s Tampa show, along with the Central New York Fall Boat Show (attendance up 10 percent, sales good) are strong indicators of a successful fall show season for the industry.

Accordingly, I predict, a weather-related issue notwithstanding, that all our industry fall shows will see increased attendance and sales. Next weekend some big ones: Michigan’s Boating & Outdoor Festival (Detroit area) and the Newport (R.I.) International Boat Show.


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