Boat shows are seeing more business

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“It was insanity. We are at a record pace,” said Mark Biasco of Munson Ski & Marine, describing the Chicago Boat, Sports & RV Show.

“Existing owners that have been waiting to upgrade came out of the woodwork,” he added. The aisles were packed on Saturday and Sunday.

Mike Helms of Calico Jack’s Marine exhibited in the Nashville Boat & Sportshow. “Our goal was to sell 5 boats,” he said, “and we sold 11.”

“We’re kicking butt. Our numbers are definitely better than last year,” said Greg Surdyke of Surdyke Yamaha Marine, while wrapping up his display in the Kansas City Boat & Sportshow.

Even exhibitors in shows that faced unusual hurdles are reporting good business. The Houston International Boat, Sport & Travel Show, for example, couldn’t even open on its first Saturday (it’s a 10-day show) because of the Houston Texans’ NFL playoff game held adjacent to the boat show’s venue.

Moreover, the show’s attendance took a second hit because of the Texans/Patriots NFL playoff on Sunday, even though the game was not in Houston and the boat show was open.

“Losing an entire day, especially a Saturday, is the pits,” said the always-unflappable show manger Ken Lovell, “but we take things as they come and our exhibitors are still reporting good results – buyers did show up,” he added.

Someone who can identify with Lovell is Atlanta Boat Show manager, Larry Berryman. The Altanta Falcons/Seattle Seahawks playoff game hit his attendance on Sunday. “Despite today’s attendance,” Berryman said, “the show was very good for most of our boat dealers and several exhibitors have reported much better sales than last year. MarineMax, for example, sold the largest boat in the show — a 54-foot Sea Ray on Sunday,” he added.

Special circumstances notwithstanding, it appears the trend is for the industry’s winter boat shows to see an increase in attendance and sales. Those of you who regularly read this blog know I said the disappointing 19 percent decline in attendance at the New York show would not be indicative of our winter shows in general. That’s proving true. Chicago and Nashville were up, while Kansas City was down slightly for no obvious reason.

Up or down, however, there are two undeniable aspects to our boat shows that cannot be duplicated. First, in every boat show dealers will come face to face with thousands of qualified prospects that they could never hope to see in their stores, especially in the winter. In Chicago, dealers saw 31,119, in Atlanta 20,004 and in Kansas City 21,781.

Second, we seldom take note of the fact that a boat show, in any market, will generate a positive focus on boating when it normally wouldn’t happen, such as in winter. Through advertising and media coverage of the show, extra value is being added for dealers.

Bottom line: It’s a good time to be at your local boat show. If you’re not yet, you will be passing up an opportunity to sell now, plant seeds with prospects that will bloom in the future and grow your business.

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