From Miami Herald
Boat dealers always say they're optimistic before a big boat show.
And after two years of the worst new boat sales in recent history, this year that eternal optimism may be better founded.
The 69th Annual Miami International Boat Show & Strictly Sail Miami, which offers a dizzying range of power boats, sailboats, motors, electronic equipment and accessories, runs Feb. 11-15. Show organizers and dealers alike believe that, despite the weak economy, buyers are ready to come back to the market thanks to pent-up demand for new watercraft, heavy discounts on boats and equipment and an uptick in sales at boat shows held in recent months.
"People were waiting in line to look at boats at the New York show," said Rick Levy, general sales manager for SunDance Marine, a South Florida dealership that sells Regal, Silverton and Formula boats as well as other lines, and plans to have more than 25 boats at the Miami show.
The New York City show, which was held Jan. 20-24, is viewed as a kickoff to the larger Miami event.
"People in South Florida live here for outside activities and sun and fun, and there will be buyers," Levy said. "Pricing is never going to be better than now."
Retail sales of new boats were off about 30 percent nationwide last year, said Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association, the Chicago-based trade group that organizes the Miami event and other boat shows throughout the United States and Canada.
"It was a really bad year for retailers and manufacturers of new boats," said Dammrich. But he added, customers who "almost disappeared in the first half of the year," began appearing in showrooms again in the fourth quarter.
Sales at several NMMA shows over the last few months have improved, which also bodes well for the Miami show.
For some marine businesses in Florida, one of the country's biggest markets for recreational boating, sales fell by more than 30 percent.
"The boating industry is probably down 80 percent over the last couple of years," said Mike Brown, one of the owners of Dusky Marine in Dania Beach, a family-held boat manufacturer and dealer that has weathered the crisis.
But Brown points out: "I'm the only boat dealer left on my street. There used to be two others but they left."
Dusky, which gained new revenue from sales to overseas customers and the U.S. military, plans to have at least 10 new sport fishing boats in Miami.
The 2010 Miami Show, held at the Miami Beach Convention Center and Sea Isle Marina & Yachting Center, will be smaller than last year, reflecting consolidation in the recreational boating sector.
Several boat manufacturers, including Genmar, one of the world's largest boat makers, and Fountain Powerboats, filed for bankruptcy last year. Dealers and manufacturers laid off personnel in the face of weak demand and dealers were often forced to offer steep discounts for new boats while simultaneously trying to unload repos and used watercraft.
The only positive note for some marine businesses last year was revenue from maintenance and repairs.
Here are the biggest changes in this year's show:
- Exhibition space is around 2 million square feet, 20 percent lower than 2.5 million square feet in 2009.
- The number of watercraft on display is approximately 2,500, compared to more than 3,000 last year.
- The overall exhibitor count is down from about 2,175 to 2,000. Some space in front of the convention center previously used for exhibits will be allotted to parking.
- There are about 900 smaller exhibitors selling marine accessories, a loss of some 60 vendors.
- Strictly Sail Miami has moved from its traditional base, Miamarina at Bayside, to the Sea Isle Marina & Yachting Center, where it will share space with in-water powerboats.
"The show feels a lot smaller this year," said Dusky Marine's Brown.
Still, the Miami show remains one of the largest marine events in the world, attracting visitors and exhibitors from other parts of the United States and overseas, said Cathy Rick-Joule, vice president of NMMA's southern show division and the person responsible for managing the Miami event.
This year, she said, the Miami show expects to draw more visitors due to deferred demand for boats and other equipment. "We estimate that we'll have more than 100,000 visitors this year. In 2009, we had 96,736."
The Miami show is repeating a feature it first offered last year aimed at people who want to buy a new boat but don't think they can afford one.
The "Affordability Pavilion" is a section of the convention center floor showing runabouts and fishing boats that can be financed for $250 a month or less.
The pavilion has a variety of makes -- including Glasstream, Carolina, SunChaser, Boston Whaler, Rinker, Prolite and Scout - ranging in price from $12,050 (Glasstream 17' Backwater with motor and trailer) to $29,995 (21' 210 Rinker MTX with a Volvo engine). Some boats come with a motor and trailer, and monthly payments range from $140 to $249.02, according to the dealers.
"We're trying to show people that they don't have to be rich to buy a boat," said Rick-Joule. "As we pull out of the recession, we want to make sure that buying a boat is still within reach," she said.
Miami 2010 also features Miss Geico, the world's fastest offshore racing boat; a chance to meet Guy Harvey, the marine artist and conservationist; an evening with Chris Fischer, professional fisherman and leader of National Geographic's Expedition Great White; daily sailing seminars, The Miami Herald's Discover Boating Photo Contest; and other events.
But as dealers and manufacturers spend tens of thousands of dollars to transport their boats and set up exhibits for the Miami show, the question remains: With Florida unemployment at 11.8 percent in December and the real estate market still bleak, will people begin buying again?
"There is a lot of pent-up demand and I think we'll have a good show," said Jim Wiborg, president and owner of Bob Hewes Boats in Miami. The firm will have more than 20 watercraft at the show.
There are fewer dealers now than a year ago, he pointed out, and that means more business for those that have survived. Dealers are also being very aggressive on pricing and manufacturers are offering rebates.
"I've seen more traffic at my stores in the last few weeks than in the last three months,'' he noted. "I don't know why -- maybe consumer confidence is better or maybe people are just tired of bad news."
"I don't think we'll go from zero to 90 in the next couple of months, but there will be an increase in business. But we've got to make sure the banks go out and provide financing."