The industry put its best foot forward into 2013 with the New York Boat Show — the oldest in the country at 108 years and the first of the new year.
The longest line in recent memory waited for the doors of the Jacob K. Javits Center in Manhattan to open Jan. 3, and for the first time in recent years organizers had to turn down requests for exhibit space.
Yes, overall attendance was down 19 percent from the 2012 show (32,691 vs. 40,120 a year earlier), but organizers point to a shorter run (four days, rather than five) and a shift to dates earlier in the month, just days into the week after the holidays.
The message that came through, organizers and exhibitors say, is that people are increasingly serious about buying boats.
“We had an excellent show,” says Steve DeFeo, co-owner of DeFeo’s Marina in Greenwood Lake, N.Y, which sells only Bennington pontoon boats. “We sold quite a few,” he says, reporting “seven good deposits, another five or six” strong potential buyers and nearly 80 leads.
In addition to the $30,000 to $40,000 vessels the pontoon niche is known for, the New York show draws customers to high-end models — upwards of $100,000, DeFeo says. In fact, he’s optimistic that the show will lead to two sales of Bennington’s new 28-foot 2874 QCW Sport Tower model.
An array of new boats greeted visitors to the Jan. 3-6 show, and most of the vessels were models introduced to the market for 2013, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association, starting with a rotating display of Sea Ray’s new 21 Jet, a sportboat with twin 120-hp jet drives.
The eye-catching display at the entrance was a gateway to a noticeably brighter and open display floor (as the multiyear, multibillion-dollar renovation of the 26-year-old Javits Center nears completion) that featured some 260 upbeat exhibitors.
Christian Brabender, a “yacht specialist” with MarineMax in Lindenhurst, N.Y., was among the dealers working the heavily visited exhibit of Sea Ray yachts that ranged from 37 to 51 feet. He says he “picked up quite a few very productive leads” at the show, with “the potential to do some things on the 40-plus-foot range,” including closing on the sale of a 510 Sundancer by the spring.
Brabender says the overall mood he’s hearing from potential buyers is significantly improved from recent years and the serious buyer is finally making a comeback, noting that he sold three boats at last fall’s Norwalk International Boat Show.
“I’m very positive coming into this year,” he says. “It used to be more difficult to get people to sit down and grind the numbers.”
“New for 2013” stickers on boats throughout the show were another positive sign.
Bayliner showed two new entry-level sportboats — the 190 Deck Boat and the 16-foot Element.
The Element, which made its international debut at the show, is an intriguing entry — a rethinking of the runabout with a simplified helm station and ergonomically designed seating, geared entirely to the industry’s Grow Boating campaign.
“We solicited extensive customer feedback and — thanks to some very creative innovations — developed a product that’s pitch-perfect for someone looking for an approachable way into the boating lifestyle,” Matt Guilford, Bayliner’s vice president of marketing, said in a press release announcing the Element.
Bayliner is touting affordability with a “$150 per month with zero down” payment and the boat’s estimated $13,500 price tag.
One day after the New York show opened, another of six pre-production boats (set to appear at 18 shows this season) debuted at the Houston International Boat, Sport & Travel Show.
“We sold a few” was the most detail that Mike Yobe, Bayliner’s brand manager, would offer about initial sales of the Element.
The Sandy effect
Beyond the apparent return of the buyer, a recurring theme at the show was surviving Hurricane Sandy.
The late-October storm caused an estimated $50 billion damage in the Northeast and the Great Lakes — particularly devastating the Tri-State Area — and damaged more than 65,000 recreational boats, according to BoatUS, which estimates the dollar damage to recreational boats at $650 million.
The New York show draws vendors from the epicenter of the damage and numerous dealers spoke with pride about their crews’ performance in the face of adversity.
“Our showroom was under four feet of water,” says Gregg Miraglia, a sales consultant at MarineMax in Brick, N.J. “We lost the whole showroom and had to gut everything.”
Two days after Sandy, the full-service dealership was fully operational. The sales department moved to the building’s second floor and the parts and service departments were up and running.
The silver lining, dealers say, is that boat owners are making quick turnarounds with their insurance claim checks and already inquiring — in some cases, pulling the trigger — on replacing destroyed boats.
“We’re getting calls already with people saying, ‘I lost my boat. I know what I’m getting for my [insurance] check, and I’m looking to replace it with something a little newer or a little bigger,’ ” Miraglia says.
“I was shocked at how many people I spoke with at the show said something along the lines of ‘I have my check’ or ‘I know what my check is going to be and I’m ready to talk,’ ” says Brabender, of MarineMax Lindenhurst.
Broker Matthew Begovich, owner of Global One Yacht Sales, says he already has sold five or six of his brokerage boats to “hardcore guys” who didn’t want to wait through the winter to replace their insurance write-offs.
Paul Aversano, a yacht specialist with Staten Island Yacht Sales, says his dealership, brokerage and marina in the particularly hard-hit New York City borough weathered the storm (it was under generator power for days) and he was working with some owners who were looking to replace damaged vessels and others who were seeking slip space for the 2013 season because marina damage on the island was overwhelming.
“We have a waiting list of 50 displaced boaters looking for slips,” Aversano says.
“I think there are definitely some bright spots from Sandy,” says Chris Squeri, president of the New York Marine Trades Association. “There’s a lot of activity, a lot of movement. I think there’s a lot of positive that came out of it. There might be a silver lining for the industry there.”
This article originally appeared in the February 2013 issue.