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Winter boat shows have been a hot ticket

We’ve been waiting more than a few years to see our industry’s major boat shows draw big numbers and chalk up correspondingly large retail sales. There’s no longer any doubt that this is the year.

So if your local show has not yet been held, check out these reports. They will surely fire you and your team up.

The trend was set by the Houston Boat, Sport & Travel Show, which led off the industry’s winter show season with an 18 percent boost in attendance from last year.

“Both boat and RV dealers report a boost in sales with enthusiastic buyers,” show president Ken Lovell said. “We were also helped when we didn’t lose one of our opening weekend days to a Houston Texans playoff game.”

For the past four years the Houston show had been forced to close for a day to accommodate an NFL playoff game in the adjacent NRG Stadium. With no game this year, the show resumed its traditional 10-day run.

Next up was a pair of shows produced by the National Marine Manufacturers Association and sponsored by Progressive Insurance — the Minneapolis Boat Show and the Chicago Boat, RV & Sail Show.

The Progressive Minneapolis Boat Show, a four-day event, saw its attendance drop 5.5 percent, which was attributed to the Minnesota Vikings’ home NFL playoff game on Jan. 14. Getting hit by a big event such as the Vikings game is tough for any show to take on. Still, more than 34,400 visitors came through the gates and dealers reported excellent sales.

Meanwhile, in Chicago more than 48,000 visitors, up 4 percent from the previous year, attended the five-day show. Exhibitor feedback was very positive, with strong sales coming out of the big crowds, which included more than 20,000 visitors on Jan. 13.

This past weekend, four more major shows — NMMA shows in Atlanta, Nashville and Kansas City, and the Cleveland show, produced by the Lake Erie Marine Trades Association — reported excellent results.

The Progressive Mid-America Boat Show in Cleveland’s I-X Center completed a four-day run, with comparable attendance up 7.9 percent. “We normally run five days,” LEMTA president Bryan Ralston said, “but a scheduling problem at the I-X Center caused us to give up one day. Frankly, if we’d been able to run the fifth day, I think our attendance would have been up double digits.”

Still, more than 40,000 visitors poured into the Cleveland show, which will return to its normal five-day schedule next year, causing many dealers to report solid increases in sales.

Lastly, the NMMA hit the trifecta last weekend with shows in Atlanta, Kansas City and Nashville. Topping this list was the Atlanta Boat Show, with a whopping 41 percent attendance boost.

Show manager Kevin Murphy is an excellent veteran showman, but it did help that, unlike last year, the Atlanta Falcons did not have a playoff game next door on Saturday that consumed all available parking. That aside, Atlanta still saw a real boost of 33 percent from the event’s three-year average.

In the Midwest, everything from size to attendance was up at the rebuilt Kansas City Boat & Sportshow. More than 20,300 visitors packed into three exhibit halls during the event’s four-day run — a 13 percent attendance increase. Exhibitor Nick Franklin of Big Thunder Marine put it this way: “Going into Sunday we’d already bypassed our goal from last year. We are excited for St. Louis!”

Lastly, the Nashville Boat Show was also up all around. It was 23 percent bigger in space this year and attendance touched 16,000 visitors, up a healthy 18 percent from a year earlier. “We knocked it out of the park,” said exhibitor Eric Fitzgerald of TNT Watersports. “We sold almost everything we had on the floor.”

This week, eyes will turn to the NMMA’s shows in New York (five days, starting Wednesday) and Baltimore (four days) and, particular focus will be on the Pacific Northwest’s iconic Seattle Boat Show (nine days), which consumes the indoor CenturyLink Field Event Center, as well as two in-water locations.

We have not been on this kind of roll in a long time, and our boat shows continue to demonstrate why they are the most efficient, cost-effective medium to come face to face with thousands of prospects.


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