Boaters! Start you engines. Yeah, sure, with a foot of ice on every lake, temperatures cold enough to freeze a bad word in midair, and stored boats deep in hibernation mode, it’s hard to talk boating.
But that’s exactly what happens this week as the Cleveland Boat Show opens for a ten-day run of boats, boating stuff and boating talk.
For years, the Cleveland Boat Show was considered one of the top consumer boat shows in the nation, a huge event that was all about selling and buying boats. The best of deals, the most of special and often free bonuses, and all the things manufacturers and marine dealers could dream up to make it a consumer featured spectacle.
Then the wheels fell off of the economy, buyer confidence tumbled and the purchases of toys took a serious hit. In the last two years a sizable percentage of boat dealers nationwide have closed and surviving boat builders are operating lean and mean.
And, of course, the Cleveland show is less than it was before. Now the good news. The Cleveland show, which opens at the IX Center on Friday, Jan. 14, is alive and well.
Granted, it is smaller but is still a buyer’s event. According to Ravenna Marine owner Gary Tennefoss, winter shows like the Cleveland show are important to dealers and manufacturers because they kick of the season, allowing sellers to measure interest, close deals and place orders.
Tennefoss said he had a decent year in 2009 and from all indications this season should be somewhat better yet. Buyer confidence is improving and boating is still a popular pastime for families and anglers.
“We are going be at the show just as we always are and we are planning to sell boats just as we always do,” he said.
Tennefoss said that the Internet has noticeably changed buying habits, and boat buyers are no different.
“A prospective buyer can spend hours online, build his own boat on manufacturers’ websites by adding the features he or she wants — even see performance videos and get prices,” he said, adding many buyers who attend a show or walk in to his showroom have already done their homework and the next step is to select the right dealer and make the purchase.
Some buyers are all about the bottom dollar but building a good relationship with a dealer is just as important, according to Tennefoss, adding that unless a boater owner is a capable mechanic, he will need maintenance or service at some point.
That’s when a good owner-dealer relation is especially important. While the Internet has opened the door to armchair shoppers, retail dealerships have changed, as well.
Dealers aren’t going to stock one of everything in a never-ending selection of colors anymore. Instead, shoppers can expect to see, touch and feel relative models with the expectation of ordering their boat to their specs.
And that’s exactly what boat builders are waiting for, orders to fill. So boaters, start your season.