Used Boats To Appear In Winter Shows?

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For more than 50 years now, major market winter boat shows have featured strictly new boats. In fact, until the early 1990’s, the rules at most big shows barred even new non-current models from the floor. To talk about displaying some used boats would have been called sacrilege! Apparently, no longer.

The Cleveland Boat & Waterfront Lifestyles Expo, in what is believed to be a first for a major-market winter indoor show, has decided to break with tradition and add a Pre-Enjoyed Boat Pavilion to its 2009 event in January. The show is produced by the Lake Erie Marine Trades Association (LEMTA) and President Ken Alvey described the decision this way:

“We are in extraordinary economic times,” he explained. “Our dealers are fighting to keep their doors open. Against such a background, we find it foolish to stand on tradition when we could possibly develop much-needed additional sales for our dealers by changing our policies. The attitude of the LEMTA Board and the Show Committee is ‘we can come back to tradition in better times, but for now we’ll do whatever may help dealers sell and raise cash.’ Used boats will help,” he predicted.

The idea of showing only new boats goes back to the very early boat shows of more than 50 years ago (shows such as New York, LA, Detroit, Cleveland) when the clear purpose for those shows was to introduce the new models for that year. The new-boats-only concept simply stuck as a tradition.

There was also an underlying concern that having used boats in the same arena with new boats would hurt the sales prospects for the new boats. However, the industry’s in-water boat shows have debunked that argument since they’ve included used boats virtually from their inception without controversy and with no evidence new boats sales have seen any negative impact from it.

The plan in Cleveland calls for the pre-owned boats to be grouped together as a special Pavilion on the main show floor. Though each boat in the Pavilion will be signed with detailed information, the boats will not be manned so prospects will have to go to the exhibitor’s main display to make further inquiries. According to Alvey, other conditions also apply regarding age, condition and an inspection. However, since LEMTA announced the plan to its members last week, 11 dealers have reserved space for 21 boats in the Pavilion.

I can’t help thinking this idea may be way overdue but time gets us so set in our ways that it takes a shock like the brutal times were in to change our view. And, after all, recent studies revealed the overwhelming majority of boat sales annually are used. Moreover, I’m thinking the boating public will embrace this idea, too. On balance, the new models will be there as usual, but now there will be an added dimension that will likely appeal to a wider audience.

A tip of the hat to LEMTA for being aggressive and bold moves. 

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