Good signals from Michigan City show

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If you’re looking for clear signals of what’s ahead for the industry’s fall in-water show circuit, the Michigan City In-Water Boat Show that closed Sunday may give you a clue.

As the industry’s first major market (Chicago region) show of the fall season, Michigan City saw attendance unchanged from last year, surprising Ken Alvey, president of the Lake Erie Marie Trades Association, which produces the show.

“Frankly, we really expected to build at least a little on last year’s increased attendance, but it didn’t happen. Our weather was good so we suspect we were just bucking headwinds from all the lousy economic and stock market news of the last couple of weeks. That said, the show was still big and successful and demonstrates, once again, that we know where thousands of boaters will always be when it’s show time,” Alvey said.

Skipper Bud’s Tom Ervin reflected Alvey’s view. “The crowds were good and we’re working to close some very solid prospects. Absolutely, there is business out there, but it’s a struggle and we must work harder. In this kind of tough market, attitude is everything and the crowds of good people we saw pumped enthusiasm into the show and, especially, into our sales team, and we’ll be exhibiting again in a big way next month at the Cedar Point (Ohio) show.”

Ervin’s comments touch on something we may often fail to recognize when it comes to boat shows. That is, shows generate excitement and positive “buzz” about boats and boating during times that would otherwise be pretty slow for dealers. The show atmosphere is infectious on both the market area and a dealer’s sales staff. Put another way, besides closing sales and beginning work with new prospects, a good show imparts added value for the dealers in it by creating explicit “buzz” about boats with the thousands of people that come through the gate.

Rod Bensz, director of sales for B & E Marine, reported three new and four pre-owned boats sold. “We also have more than 40 good prospects we’re following up this week and we already have 15 demo rides scheduled by next weekend, several on our 45’ and 47’ Sea Rays,” he said. “It was also the first showing of our 44’ and 39’ Meridians, our newest line. The show was just what we needed."

One of the unique things Bensz does is host a party on the docks after hours for members of his B & E Owners Club. This year, 340 customers attended. “The party serves a duel purpose,” explains Bensz. “It allows us to spend time with our regular customer base in a private festive setting, and that lets us spend more time during show hours finding and talking to new prospects. We’ve done this for more than five years and it’s been a key part of our success at the show."

Alvey noted the show put emphasis on a solid lineup of features this year to assure good attendance. These included the Capt’n Willie pirate show, Twiggy the Water Skiing Squirrel, the tall ship Appledore V and special weekend appearances by Abby Sunderland, the teen sailor who attempted last year to become the youngest person to solo-circumnavigate the globe. Her journey ended after five months and mroe than 12,000 miles when a rogue wave demisted and capsized her boat in the Indian Ocean.

So, the outlook for shows coming up is positive, albeit still problematical. Next up – the major shows at Cedar Point (Ohio), Newport (R.I.) and Norwalk (Conn.).

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