Turnout falls more than expected, as the NMMA awaits word on better dates for next year’s exhibition
The economy, pre-Christmas dates and a snowstorm combined to hold down the turnout at the 104th New York National Boat Show Dec. 13-21 at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.
The show took place nearly two weeks earlier than it has in the last five years, when the dates straddled the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. Many exhibitors say attendance was significantly down from last year’s figure of 61,464.
The National Marine Manufacturers Association, which produces the show, said in early January it did not yet have final attendance figures. But NMMA president Thom Dammrich acknowledges the turnout will fall short of last year’s number.
“(Attendance) was down more than we expected,” says Dammrich. “The first weekend, attendance was off, but it was good and especially the Saturday afternoon was really strong. There were a lot of boats sold — not as many as normal, but for this environment a lot. People were feeling very good.
“Of course we got to the second weekend and got hit by a snowstorm, which hurt a lot,” he says.
Show manager Michael Duffy says there were 255 contracted companies exhibiting, and about 100 dealers. That compares with about 275 to 280 companies and 120 dealers in recent years.
Ideally, says Duffy, the show would take place in mid-January, and he hopes that will be the case next time around. The Javits Center, however, won’t contract for shows more than 12 months in advance, so the dates remain uncertain, Duffy says.
The show historically was held in mid-January, and Dammrich says it’s weakened since it was moved back to December.
Exhibitors, for the most part, tried to stay upbeat, despite the sluggish attendance. Many interviewed at the show say they were still getting quality leads they hoped would translate to sales.
Mark Houdun of Spellman’s Marine, who was in a Yamaha booth, called the show the slowest he’d seen in his nine years of participation. He and others in the booth say people generally look on the first weekend and buy on the second weekend, which may not have been the case this year because of weather.
Matthew Barbara, president of the New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island region for MarineMax, says his company sold as many boats the first weekend of the show as in 2007, despite the lower turnout. He said he had sold 20 units as of the middle of the show.
Dammrich says he’s heard from other dealers and manufacturers who also had good shows.
“There were a lot of people that were glad they were there,” he says.
‘Too many distractions’
Some exhibitors, however, disagree with that assessment.
“It’s like throwing a party and nobody came,” is how one described the show. The exhibitor, who asked not to be identified, says holding the show two weeks before Christmas, when everyone is busy getting ready for the holidays, is a bad idea, and compared attendance the first weekend to a typical weekday in previous years.
Houdun agreed, contending that many dealers are still busy winterizing boats and putting them into storage before Christmas.
“There’s too many things going on this time of year,” says Gary Kloepfer of Great Bay Marine. “There’s too many distractions.” Kloepfer, who says traffic was “way, way down,” suggested the show be held three to four weeks after the holidays.
But if someone has the means and desire to boat, there’s no better time than now to buy, he says.
Despite the disappointing attendance, some exhibitors says boat shows are still the best place for comparison shopping.
People won’t go to five or six dealerships to buy a boat, says Adam Wensink, a manufacturer’s representative for Nautiques by Correct Craft.
Shoppers “want to compare apples to apples,” he says. “You’ve got to be here for that.”
A new feature was an “Affordability Pavilion,” spotlighting eight boats from different builders, each of which can be financed for $250 or less per month.
Show-goers visiting the pavilion, set up at the back of the show floor, were given pamphlets detailing how financing works, the best way to finance a boat and boat-show shopping tips. At the Discover Boating Center, situated in the pavilion, staff was available to discuss different boat types and help customers decide which best fit their lifestyles.
This was the first show to feature the Affordability Pavilion, says Ellen Hopkins, NMMA’s director of marketing communications. The concept is being incorporated into other NMMA shows, she says.
One of the boats on display in New York was the Mako 171 center console, with a 90-hp ELPTO Mercury for $18,995, a discount price. That boat can be financed for as low as $140 a month. And Bentley Pontoon Boats displayed several models, including a 20-footer with a 50-hp Mercury 2-stroke, that could be financed for less than $190 a month.
Leslie Heins, the Discover Boating representative on hand during portions of the show, says many people are surprised to learn they don’t need tons of money to buy a boat.
“There is this concept that only the wealthy and affluent can own boats, and we’re trying to change that point of view,” says Heins. “People come by and see what we have, and then we direct them to the dealership that is giving the offer.”
According to NMMA statistics, about 75 percent of boat owners have household incomes of less than $100,000, and about 95 percent of boats on the water today are 26 feet or smaller.
In addition to on-site staff, the pavilion offers literature to help potential buyers find the right boat.
A detailed worksheet can be used to calculate monthly payments, and pamphlets talk about how longer financing terms often are available because boats hold value longer, and why paying cash may not be the best option.
“[The Affordability Pavilion] was a great hook for the media in terms of the PR we got for the show,” says Dammrich.
“Everyone financially is in the same boat, so to speak, and we’re all trying to get through this together,” says Discover Boating’s Heins. “When times are tough, people look for something fun; something entertaining to do. We’re trying to make that possible by offering great deals.”
This article originally appeared in the February 2009 issue.