By Dorie Cox
Wednesday worked. For as long as most people remember, the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show has started on Thursday and run through Monday. But this year, for the 58th annual show, organizers pushed the dates back for the five-day show to start mid-week and end on Sunday.
Capt. Aaron Steenbhom of M/Y Zenith was happy with the change to the show that ran Nov. 1-5 in Fort Lauderdale. And the show was a success because the 133-foot Sabre catamaran is in negotiations to sell.
“To my surprise, we were busy from the beginning to the end of the show,” Capt. Steenbhom said. “At 6 p.m., at the closing bell, we had a guy walk up. Even at the Las Olas, north end of the show.”
He and the crew said it was better without Monday, then he joked, “We could do without the Sunday.”
“It was a really good show and we saw very good clients, qualified buyers,” he said.
Bob Denison, president of Denison Yachts Sales in Fort Lauderdale, said he loved the date change.
“The crowds on Wednesday were a little bit light,” Denison said. “But better than any Monday I’ve ever seen from years past.”
He reported 11 boats under contract during the show, a “mix of big and small, four new Hatteras and Beneteaus and seven brokerage yachts.”
As to future sales from leads made during the show, Denison said it’s tough to predict right after the show.
“If I were a betting man, I’d bet lunch and dinner our team will sell another five-plus boats as a result of FLIBS,” he said.
Phil Purcell said statistics showed that the date change worked. He’s monitored shows for years and is executive director of the Marine Industries Association of South Florida, which owns the show.
“There was never a Monday that felt like that Wednesday,” Purcell said. “It created value to both attendees and exhibitors.”
Statistics after the show back the positive reports. Organizers said attendance was up 7 percent over last year, with approximately 105,000 visitors from more than 50 countries. There was little rain to dampen attendance and Washington didn’t do anything disruptive, Purcell said.
“People felt good. Without question, if we didn’t have the best, it was one of the best shows,” he said.
Purcell likes to see things that work, especially growth in the industry reflected in after-show statistics that report more boats on display in the water (up 4 percent) and more new boats under 100 feet (up 9 percent). Plus there were 10 percent more pre-owned brokerage boats over 100 feet.
“The industry is reinvesting in itself, tweaking itself,” Purcell said. “This show is the culmination of lots of reinvestment. Lots of new boats never seen before, bigger boats, lots of new models and new tooling.”
Richard Lambert, head of sales at Burgess, said the show compared favorably with recent years and the mood was positive and encouraging.
There seemed more of a move to larger yachts, he wrote in an email. “And also representation by a more diverse cross section of shipyards, which is good news for the future of the show.”
U.S. Superyacht Association President Kitty McGowan said association members told her the overall show results were positive.
“Member exhibitors felt the crowds were a bit lighter this year than last, but were much more qualified and actually buying,” McGowan said. “We’ve had a number of exhibitors who had their best show ever and have already asked to sign a contract for next year. I definitely feel that our industry is on a very positive track right now.”
It was a good show with good traffic on Wednesday and Thursday, said Mike Joyce, chairman and CEO of Hargrave Custom Yacht in Fort Lauderdale. He said there were lighter crowds on the weekend, but he expects final numbers to be similar to last year and the year before.
“The pattern’s the same,” he said. “We have a couple of used boats under contract and we expect a couple more. And a couple contracts on new construction.”
He thinks there is a massive change cycle underway and is watching what he sees as a trend with new and younger boat buyers.
“The next generation is in for experience,” Joyce said. “I’m not sure where we’re headed, but eventually we will be in the experience business.”
He said although boat slips will always be full, how the boats are built and who buys them is all up in the air. In preparation for anything the future will bring, he said, his staff put extra effort into potential future buyers. Even if they were just 10 years old.
“Kids are annoying, but I was that little kid,” Joyce said. “I’ve owned 32 yachts since then. Those little kids are the future.”
Denison said there are noticeable changes in the attendees looking at boats.
“There is higher interest in charter and shared-consumption models, like BoatSetter,” he said.
Interest in the charter side was active for Westport as well, said Alex Rogers, director of sales in Fort Lauderdale. Rogers is a fan of the new schedule in that it eased the rush on Thursday seen in previous years.
“It made for a softer start for the madness and then it carried through consistently,” he said. “It took pressure off brokers to meet everyone all at the same time. Mondays have been slow in the past. I think people went home on Sunday and back to work Monday.”
The company expects several brokerage deals to come together and offers are coming in, he said.
“We had great activity and we met new people, mostly from the U.S.,” Rogers said. “And many new to yachting. It was pleasant.”
Overall, the largest in-water boat show in the world just worked.
Dorie Cox is editor of The Triton. Comments are welcome below.