Sense among dealers was that the days of ‘pinching pennies’ are over for potential boat buyers
Exhibitors at the Providence Boat Show at the Rhode Island Convention Center in January spoke with guarded optimism about the show and the coming year.
Attendance was up 3 percent at the Jan. 12-15 event, according to show spokeswoman Carol Dietz, and the mood among visitors was much brighter than it has been in recent years. “We heard very positive feedback,” Dietz says. “It seems like a number of people have been holding back and are starting to seriously think about pulling the trigger.”
The difference that dealers note again and again is the way potential customers approached them. “It was definitely better than last year, both in attendance and sales,” says Rudy Mutter, vice president of Twin City Marine, a Four Winns dealership in Central Falls, R.I. “We were taking orders right up to 5 p.m. on Sunday, the last day of the show, but every day showed a positive attitude from buyers and real interest in getting back into the market.”
Jack Barber, in the parts and sales departments at Ocean House Marina, a Regulator, Godfrey, Scout and Maritime Marine dealer in Charleston, R.I., says he was getting a sense of optimism from visitors. “Something’s going to turn. I think people are tired of pinching pennies,” he says.
Like other vendors at the show, Barber says consumers were coming to him with questions and requests about what they want in a boat, an encouraging change from recent years.
Although dealers look to any sign of an improved market with excitement, many acknowledge that the sales world they remember is not returning anytime soon. “I don’t think it will be like years past, but the people we’re seeing seem like serious buyers,” says Ross Lemieux, a co-owner of family-run Inland Marine, a Sea Hunt, Tahoe and G3 dealer in Chepachet, R.I. “Service is the key these days.”
He notes a father and son in their 70s and 40s who stopped by his display three times on opening night before the son committed to a Sea Hunt 20. The son mentioned that the center console is a move up from a smaller boat. “He put a deposit down at the show, then followed through the next week and finished the deal,” says Lemieux, who estimates at least seven deals from the show.
“We got some very strong prospects on the Harbor 20 sailboat,” says Jim Torinese, a broker at Eastern Yacht Sales, which has several locations in New England. “I also got some very good brokerage prospects as well, even one for a 2008 Mainship 40 trawler for $300,000, which is a new leftover boat.” The potential buyer had recently sold his home and wanted to try the liveaboard life with his wife aboard a “newer boat,” Torinese says.
He was hoping to pick up a few deposits, pending financing for the buyers. “Overall, I would say the show was better than last year, with more serious buyers,” he says.
Matt Leduc, of Fleet Yacht Sales, the southeastern New England Hunter sailboat dealer and brokerage house, says the dealership had more traffic than last year, both for sailboats as well as power.
With the National Football League playoffs in high gear and the hometown New England Patriots playing on the final day of the show, Leduc paid to have a cable run to his display and showed the games, which he says drew a big crowd. “We had all of the football games on that weekend and had a great vendor party during the first half of the Pats game. Our booth was packed,” he says. “It was a great way to meet some vendors that don’t know me or Fleet Yacht Sales. We will definitely do that again next year.”
Another positive sign organizers note was rising exhibitor enthusiasm. “The number of boats being shown, both in sail and power, increased slightly over 2011, and all available booths for equipment and accessories were filled,” says Tom Delotto, director of the Newport Exhibition Group, which organizes the show. “The Marine Bargain Basement on the street level of the convention center added to the total amount of space in the show, and there was a lot of positive feedback among attendees and exhibitors alike.”
Before the show opened, the Rhode Island Marine Trades Association held a roundtable discussion. The topic was the recently formed U.S. Senate Oceans Caucus and its potential effect on the industry and the Ocean State. The speakers were U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.; Jim Currie, legislative director of the National Marine Manufacturers Association; Susan Swanton, executive director of the Maine Marine Trades Association; and Dan Pingaro, chief executive of Sailors for the Sea, a non-profit organization focused on protecting the world’s oceans.
Formed last September by Whitehouse and U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, the bipartisan caucus aims to increase awareness and find common ground in responding to problems facing our oceans and coastlines. “We are a maritime state, the Ocean State,” Whitehouse says, noting that ocean health is important to representatives of all coastal states, from which the caucus has recruited members. “And this caucus is providing a vehicle for those of us in the Senate who care about oceans and maritime issues to get things done.”
Whitehouse urged members of the industry to contact him at email@example.com with their ideas and priorities.
Currie spoke of the challenges he faces as chief lobbyist for the industry during a federal election year with a partisan stalemate in Congress. “We have 12 million boaters who generate $14 billion in revenue and support 363,000 jobs,” Currie says. “When the White House is making policy, it’s critical we keep their feet to the fire and make sure they understand that recreational boating and all things that go into it are a powerful driver of our economy.”
This article originally appeared in the March 2012 issue.