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Tampa confirms draw of boat shows still strong

The Tampa Boat Show finished an excellent run Sunday night, confirming once again that boat shows still have drawing power that will put dealers face-to-face with big numbers of prospects. As my wife and I walked the aisles on Saturday afternoon, I observed those sure signs every exhibitor hopes to see -- crowded aisles and lines to board the large boats. “I have been working this show for over 20 years and today’s attendance is stronger than I can ever remember,” said Hydra Sports Alex Leva.

Sorry, Alex, it wasn’t a record breaker. Overall, attendance dropped just 5 pecent from last year but, put in perspective, that’s just as assuring as breaking records. After all, this show did well last year because it was held prior to the stock market’s big dive. To lose only 5 percent from a good year shouts loudly that consumers are still drawn to our boat shows in spite of poor economic times.

According to Cathy Rick-Joule, NMMA’s vice president for Southern Shows, more than 17,500 show goers attended the three-day show.

“We’re extremely pleased by the turnout,” she said. “It demonstrates that boating may be down, but it’s sure not out! Dealers I’ve spoken with say they are selling boats and they’re very impressed with the quality of the visitors, too. We’ve even been told our new NMMA Advantage Program has delivered some leads to some exhibitors."

(The Advantage Program puts the exhibitor’s products on the show’s Web site and delivers any resulting leads directly to the exhibitor for a year.)

Galati Yacht Sales General Manager Darren Plymale agreed. “We’ve brought a broad selection of our brands to the show (Tiara, Viking, Cruisers). Our philosophy is that we need to demonstrate our strong position and be where the people are. That’s very important. So we have a large show presence here. We’re also able to offer some excellent incentives from our manufacturers, for example, on the Tiaras and Cruisers. We see people definitely responding to that,” he said.

Are good reports from a couple of early fall boat shows (Michigan City, Tampa, for example) signs that things may be turning for the better? Standing in his large exhibit (Pursuit, Regal, Grady-White) in the Tampa show, Joe Petersen at Quality Boats, Clearwater, said he thinks so. “We sold more boats in August this year than last year,” he noted. “But the sales are so price driven that our margins are the worst ever. But, look around – the people are here talking to us, we’re clearing out inventory and we’re looking ahead."

Could there be some momentum building these days? As word of much better-than-expected results from the earliest shows spreads in the industry and to consumers, the shows still ahead this fall could see steadily improving results. We’ve learned one thing so far: We can still count on the boaters showing up by the thousands at the shows. And, as in Tampa, what dealer wouldn’t like to be in front of 17,000-plus people in three days?

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