Vendors at Kellogg Marine Supply's annual trade show found dealers ready to buy, but customers were cautious as the industry continues to search for signs that the economy is on its way to a durable recovery.
"I think everyone's guardedly optimistic," Mike Aguiar, of Riverview Marine Services in Catskill, N.Y., said Friday on the show floor at the MGM Grand at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Conn. "Recessions don't last forever."
Aguiar, who has been in business for 34 years, said he was "placing [the orders] I normally place." He said business at Riverview Marine this year has been about the same as it was in 2009.
"I had expected it to be better because of the good weather," he said, but he thinks the weak economy limited boat use. "People use their boats differently when they're watching their finances."
More manufacturers attended the two-day show this year than in 2009. Bob Staehle, vice president of Kellogg, which is owned by Brunswick Corp., said 280 companies exhibited, up from 265 last year. He said 2,800 people, including 800 from dealers, attended the two-day show, which concluded Friday.
"I think everybody's happy with the products they're seeing," said Jeff Law, service manager at Boat Works of South Windsor, Conn.
Law, who was buying cautiously, said vendors weren't using high-pressure sales tactics. "They know what's going on with the economy."
Staehle, like others at the show, reached quickly for the word "upbeat" to describe the mood. He said Saturday that all of the vendors reported sales increases and that some said they had gains of 30 to 40 percent.
"The dealers have had a pretty good year," he said. "Service work is very good at the dealers."
Kevin Packard, store manager at Long Point Marine in Duxbury, Mass., said the full-service boatyard and Yanmar dealer had a productive season, but with enough areas of concern to remain a cautious supply purchaser heading into next spring.
"The big jobs are down. The little jobs are up," he said.
Jason Pajonk-Taylor, president of Taylor Made Products, agreed that dealers are "doing an average amount of buying. But average feels good after 2009."
Like Taylor, Chris Brondell, North Central/Northeast regional sales manager at Johnson Outdoors, saw more enthusiasm at the Kellogg show this year and he interpreted it to mean dealers are a "little more optimistic about committing to inventory."
Sales are up at the Wisconsin manufacturer of equipment and watercraft, and Brondell said the company is confident about the growth it is seeing.
"It seems that [the industry] may have hit the bottom and we're beginning a slow, steady turn upward," he said. "Slow, sustainable growth is probably what the industry needs."
A complete report about the Kellogg show will appear in the January issue of Soundings Trade Only.
— Jack Atzinger