Neither snow, nor rain, nor an Atlanta tsunami!

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If it wasn’t so annoying, it would be funny. Football in Houston, snow in Chicago, bad roads (schools closed early) in Nashville, winter storm in Cleveland and a tsunami in Atlanta all disrupted many boat shows last week . . . but the shows still rolled on.

It was truly “the week that was” and it wasn’t all good. In spite of that, sales were being reported and attendees were still showing up, even if in fewer numbers than expected.

In the nation’s heartland, it’s been an unusually mild winter with virtually no ice and snow for divers to face – good boat show weather. Good, that is, until the first big blast of winter slammed into Nashville, Chicago and Cleveland, impacting attendance.

“We should have seen it coming,” says Ken Alvey, manager of the Cleveland show. “It’s been such a quiet winter, not even a white Christmas. It’s like Mother Nature was just waiting for boat show time to remind us it’s still January around here,” he chuckled. While attendance was down more than 20 percent for Cleveland’s opening weekend, the show runs through next Sunday and Alvey is optimistic there’s still time to gain a lot of that back. In the mean time, reports from dealers indicate good early sales and very upbeat consumers, he noted.

Not to be outdone, shows in the warmer South faced their own challenges. In Houston, for example, football caused show manager Ken Lovell to keep the lights off on the show’s first Saturday because the NFL Houston Texans first-ever playoff game was slated for Reliant Stadium, which occupies the same property (parking) as the Reliant Center. Then, on Monday, in keeping with everything’s bigger in Texas, Houston was hit by some eight inches of rain in a short time flooding roads everywhere and making it virtually impossible for exhibitors, never mind the public, to reach the show.

“Obviously, we had a mountain to climb,” Lovell said on the phone yesterday morning, noting staff was still auditing all their various admissions for a final count, albeit he knows attendance will be down. “It’s really tough to give up any Saturday (traditionally the biggest attended days) and expect to make it all up. Still, we thought we might until the monsoons hit."

But nobody can trump Larry Berryman at last weekend’s Atlanta Boat Show. For him, a monsoon would not have been big enough news. So, it was a tsunami that made national headlines and kicked off his opening day with . . . well, a flood of TV and Internet coverage. FOX-TV crews had just finished taping at a giant wakeboarding demo pool when something ruptured (still being determined) and a wave of 200,000 gallons of water rushed out into the boat show. That brought in every other network and cable news outlet and the national coverage was huge!

Was it a show manager’s dream or nightmare? “Depends on how you look at it,” Berryman told me yesterday. “I guess everyone in the nation knows there’s an Atlanta Boat Show. Amazingly, I estimate we had 400 or more people turn out to mop and clean and put things back together and we opened the show only three hours late. What’s more we had really good attendance that evening."

In the end, it appears the Atlanta show produced some strong sales, too. One example: sales for MarineMax were up 80 percent over a year ago, according to manager Joey Jones, including a 45-foot Sea Ray.

I suppose a tsunami just before opening might freak out the best of show managers. But not Berryman. His response to all the media should go down as a classic. He reportedly said: “There’s really no damage. After all, it is a boat show – everything here floats!”

Running boat shows is never easy. I know. So, a tip of the hat to all show managers, especially Berryman today.


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