A year after Hurricane Sandy dealt the East Coast marine industry a heavy blow, organizers and exhibitors at the Kellogg Marine Dealer Trade Show in Connecticut were pleased to see a strong turnout and familiar faces.
“It’s been a very good show for this market,” Mercury Marine Propellers brand director Dirk Bjornstad said Friday afternoon on the showroom floor as the annual two-day event at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket wound down. “We’re dealing with the aftereffects of Sandy. Last year, some [dealers] were wondering how they’d be able to stay in business. We see that most people have recovered and they’re back in business, which is great.”
Mike Conners, vice president of national sales at organizer Brunswick Marine Parts and Accessories, said about 175 companies were exhibiting, about 5 percent more than last year.
“They feel it’s been very successful for them,” Conners said. “They’re excited to see this many customers in one location.”
Tom Schuessler, distribution president for the Brunswick unit, said dealer attendance was up an estimated 5 to 10 percent.
Exhibitors, many of whom were still busy talking to customers a couple of hours before the show closed, said they did a significant amount of business.
“It’s been a strong show,” said Joseph Carney, vice president of the Derema Group and a manufacturer’s representative for exhibitors that included Taylor Made Systems, Star brite and SeaStar Solutions. “All of the dealers are reporting an up year from last year. There’s some good Sandy recovery business going on.”
“They’re still very service-oriented,” Carney added. “I think they’ve adjusted to the changing marketplace and they have a good investment in their service department and the accessories they sell related to that.”
Mike Taber, who covers New England from Marblehead, Mass., for Sea Hawk Paints, said at midafternoon Friday that his company had exceeded its show business from 2012 by 50 percent and has been increasing its sales by stealing market share.
“Our numbers are off the charts,” he said. “We’re relatively new to the Northeast. We’re still introducing boatyards and retailers to our product line.”
Jason Kohm, New England regional sales manager for Kidde, a United Technologies Corp. division that makes fire safety products, said he was busy on both days of the show.
“I’ve been writing quite a lot of orders, so I’m very happy,” he said, adding, “We should see a nice bump from this show. We’ll definitely beat last year.”
Attwood Marine national accounts manager Dallas Hodges was displaying the company’s two new MotorGuide brand trolling motors, the X3 and the Xi5, a wireless motor.
“It’s been extremely successful,” he said of the show. “We’ve made presentations to 200 dealers.”
Exhibitors were optimistic that the industry’s recovery from the Great Recession will continue into next year.
Mercury’s Bjornstad said his company is expecting continued growth in what he called a “stair-step” economy. “Housing gets a little bit better. Unemployment goes down a little bit.”
He believes outboards will continue to sell well while the sterndrive market remains slow. “And I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon,” he added. “I think that’s the new reality.”
Mark Sullivan, a key account manager for wholesale distribution at Lowrance, said the show was “average to a bit above average” for the electronics brand.
In his business, growth is tied to new product development, and Sullivan said Lowrance has new multifunction devices on the market for 2014. “What we’re doing is making things more intuitive,” he said.
Seeing the bustling show around him, Sullivan was upbeat about 2014, but he sounded a note of caution that suggests the industry will continue to recover as long as it gives savvy customers the value they expect.
“We’ve got a good recovery going, but people are wise about how they spend their money,” he said.