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High hopes for many at Hartford show

More visitors with a genuine interest in buying led dealers to believe that a slow recovery may be speeding up

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A sense that the economy is improving was evident at the Hartford Boat Show, as well as winter shows in New York and Providence, R.I. Several dealers spoke of a shift in mood among people who attended. “They’re asking buying questions,” says Ryan Kagy, the Ohio-based regional sales manager for Premier pontoons. “People are not coming up to you and asking a bunch of questions, then walking away.”

Attendance was up 10 percent, with about 12,500 visitors tallied, at the show, which ran Jan. 27-29 at the Connecticut Convention Center.

“This has been our best response from the public in a number of years,” says Amy Lynn Clark, director of programs for the Connecticut Marine Trades Association, the show organizer. Clark came away sensing a “positive change in the economy, small as it might be.” Exhibitor space was sold out going into the show, she says, and the association had a vendor waiting list.

Kagy says one of his dealers, Oxbow Marina in Northampton, Mass., had a “great” show, selling seven Crownlines, from a 185 SS runabout to a 280 Cruiser, with deposits on all sales. Buyers varied from a young couple to a large business owner, he says.

About 50 dealers displayed more than 200 boats, and nearly 25 percent of the boats were pontoons. “A few years ago we were one of the only pontoon dealers at this show,” says Chick Shifrin, who runs Columbia Marine and carries several pontoon lines in northeast Connecticut. This year, several dealers had pontoon boats and they were displayed in all four corners of the show floor.

Shifrin says the show had a different feel than in past years. “An interesting dynamic seemed to be occurring, where I felt there were more seriously interested buyers but less who were willing to take advantage of promotions and pull the trigger at the show,” Shifrin says. “While we sold some boats, the number of actual sales at the show for us was down, but the number of buyers who wanted me to contact them after the show was up significantly.”

Shifrin says 2011 was better than 2010 for his dealership, and he expects overall 2012 sales to at least equal last year’s sales.

Echo Bay Marina on Connecticut’s Candlewood Lake had 16 boats on display — pontoons, ski boats and bowriders. Mark Medrano, who handles sales and marketing, was reluctant to provide a tally on sales at the show. “We did as well as last year overall [unit sales in the 20s], with the exception of our fiberglass selection falling way short of our expectation.”

David Dorrance, a broker at Prestige Yacht Sales in Essex, Conn., says the firm has sold two new Cutwater cruisers since late last year — a 26 at the show and a 28 in December. “It’s a changing market, and people are looking for value and for efficiency,” Dorrance says, referring to the Cutwater 26 that Prestige had on display. He says that boat burns about 6.5 gph at 17 knots and was selling at the show for $149,000. “People are looking for something they can afford to not only buy, but afford to run and keep,” he says.

Ben Wilde, owner of Wilde Yacht Sales, also based in Essex, had several Nordic Tugs and Ranger Tugs on display. “We sold a Nordic 34 in December,” Wilde says. “2011 was better than 2010 for us, not great, but I think we’ll do OK.”

Wilde took delivery of the newest Nordic Tug, the revived 26, just days before the show and had it on display, where it attracted a steady stream of lookers. “I expect that boat to do really well for us,” he says of the fully loaded pocket cruiser with a $199,000 price tag.

Beyond boat sales, Abbie Coderre, marina manager for the high-end Saybrook Point Inn, Spa & Marina in Old Saybrook, Conn., was staffing a booth in hopes of filling more seasonal and transient slips this year. “It’s only January, and we’re already getting more calls for reservations than last year, both seasonal and transients, which tells me they’re planning on using their boats,” she says.

This article originally appeared in the March 2012 issue.

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