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Good show results from the Northwest and Southeast

Encouraging results continue to come in from major winter boat shows. The latest from opposite corners of the country — Miami and Seattle.
The Miami International Boat Show & Strictly Sail wrapped up last night as I was writing this blog, and even temperatures well below normal for South Florida didn’t cool the big show’s success.

“We had a very solid three-day weekend,” Cathy Rick-Joule, NMMA vice president of Southern shows, told me as she was getting the move-out under way. “I’m still waiting for the final attendance figures, but we’re already certain those numbers will be close to 100,000, only about 5 percent off last year.”

The small drop in attendance puts Miami high on a growing list of winter shows that exceeded expectations by experiencing just single-digit declines. Significantly higher fall-off was projected for all the big winter shows, and the fact that it isn’t happening is another good indicator that we’ve bottomed out and are poised for recovery. What’s more, early reports from Miami indicate boats were being sold, and accessory exhibitors were reporting increases as high as 30 percent over last year.

Seattle is about as far from Miami as you can get. But if Miami finished well, the Seattle Boat Show clearly captured the gold medal. It closed Feb. 6, and despite being one day shorter this year, attendance was up almost 9 percent to nearly 60,000, according to Northwest Marine Trade Association president George Harris. That’s believed to be the biggest increase for any major winter show thus far, and it may have gotten an extra boost from the cancellation of 2010 boat shows in Tacoma, Everett and Vancouver, British Columbia, the latter due to building construction.

Nevertheless, even better than the good attendance figures was the distinct difference in the attitudes of show visitors this year over last, when prospects wouldn’t even talk about buying. Bill Baker, president of Bakes Marine Center, for example, thinks consumers who were riding out the recession last year are now ready.

“There’s been a little pent-up demand for the past couple of years,” he said. “I think people wanted to buy but felt uncomfortable buying. Now, there’s a little more optimism.”

Baker echoed the experiences of exhibitors in all of the industry’s winter shows. It has been dramatically better this time around. Moreover, there are still many shows to go between now and the end of March. Dealers who haven’t signed up for their local show may want to revisit that decision.

As NMTA’s Harris put it: “The turnaround’s got to start sometime. It feels like it has!”

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