The boat show season has pulled away from the dock and industry hopes that we’ll see signs 2011 will be a year of improvement are being realized in the early going.
Early shows either wrapped up or opened last weekend in several major markets. Among them: Nashville, Chicago, Kansas City, Atlanta, Houston, Cincinnati and Cleveland. All are reporting notably better consumer enthusiasm over a year ago. What’s hot? For starters, fishing boats, deck boats, pontoons and ski/wakeboard models are reported doing very well.
“It’s not just our pontoons,” said Sonny Lodder, Lodder’s Marine (Cobalt, Bayliner, Bennington, 4-Winns) in Cincinnati. “We were convinced things would be improving this year so we invested in a much larger display space and our sales are up 27 percent for the first weekend." The Cincinnati show, like Cleveland, runs through next weekend.
In Cleveland, show manager Ken Alvey reports it’s been upbeat from last Friday’s opening. “Early attendance is holding with last year, but the dealers are saying the traffic is definitely more fired up,” he said. “Since we’re a 10-day run, most of the show is still ahead for us. The exhibitors are clearly bullish, we have some reported early sales and, bad weather notwithstanding, we’re expecting to finish strong."
Alvey pointed out: “You never want to judge a show’s results too soon.” He shared the story of one exhibitor who came to him Saturday night saying she had not sold anything and was quite disappointed. On Sunday night, she came back and said Sunday was the biggest day she’d ever had! The lesson: Each show day is brand new, and you can never know in advance who will be walking into your display.
Excellent news out of Chicago, too. Attendance was up 12 percent going into Sunday, but the Bears were playing at noon down the street from the show. Attendance on Sunday took a hit, but sales did not. According to Brandon Call, Bennington Marine: “If we keep up this selling pace, we will have sold more at this show than in the past few years combined.” Similarly, Jack Irvin, Great Lakes Yacht Sales, sold a top of the line Harris Kayot pontoon just 30 minutes after the show opened.
While all attendance figures were not in at this writing, shows in addition to Chicago that closed Sunday night included Houston, Kansas City and Atlanta, and all reporting better attendance and genuine improvement in boat sales. In Kansas City, for example, dealers called it the best buying crowd in seven years! In Atlanta, they literally climbed a mountain -- opening late because of the ice/snow storm that shut down the city last week and triggered 2,000 flight cancellations; and the Atlanta Falcons playoff game on Saturday. Still, total attendance is expected to finish up in spite of the fact that it was a four-day show compared to five days last year – another good indication that we are seeing solid signs of industry recovery.
So, we head into week three of the winter schedule with momentum. Major shows opening this week include New York, Minneapolis, Seattle and Milwaukee. Hopefully, they will do even better than the early shows.