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In Hartford, boats go out the door

Show organizers see a slight dip in attendance but a renewed interest by some in ‘affordable’ boats

The 40th Annual Connecticut Marine Trade Association Hartford Boat and Fishing Show ended up surprising organizers, according to the head of the CMTA.

Buyers were looking for deals and exhibitors were looking for good news at this year's Hartford Boat and Fishing Show

Attendance at the show, which ran from Jan. 22-25, was down only 5 percent from the previous year’s total of roughly 16,000 people, according to executive director Grant Westerson.

“In a normal economy, that would be a good show. In this economy, it was a great show,” says Westerson, 61. “I don’t know anyone who attended that walked away dissatisfied.”

Westerson says the show owes much of its 2009 success to the aggressive advertising campaign it launched this year, and the diverse styles of boats featured at the show.

“We had bass boats to fishing boats to tugs,” says Westerson. “We had 25 boats in our affordable price section, many of them with financing around $100 a month.”

The affordability section, dubbed “Let’s Go Boating!” featured models such as a Discovery 195 Bowrider from The Boat Center in Madison, Conn., with a total monthly fee of $167.60, and an EdgeWater 14 from Brewer Brokerage Yacht Sales with a monthly show special of $198 per month.  

“The criteria for this section was the payments for the boat had to be $199 or less per month, including a standard 10 percent downpayment,” says Westerson. “We had a great selection, from center consoles to ski boats.”

Michael Boudreau of Barrington, R.I., and his wife, Jeannie, found what they were looking for. After eyeing a Pursuit C 310 with twin 250-hp Yamaha 4-strokes, they bought one from their local retailer, Striper Marine, the same week.

Meanwhile, Triumph appealed to the economical consumer, selling two 1700 Skiffs, 17-foot center consoles with a maximum horsepower rating of 90. Both were sold by A&S Marine, and the manufacturer’s advertised price was $12,931, making financing a little more than $100 a month, according to Carrier.

“I think we’re making it too affordable. People just couldn’t believe the price,” says Carrier. “

“The skiff is the right boat for the right time,” says George Blaisdell, 45, vice president of operations for Triumph. “The boat shows are still the best place to get eyeballs to see the product. The Internet is great for selection, but people want the tactile aspect, they want to be able to see it for themselves.”

John Cassillo, 47, of Deer Park, N.Y., agrees boat shows are still the best way for customers to see what’s out there.

“The Hartford Show is easier to get around and very well laid-out because it’s not as big as the New York or Miami show,” says Cassillo. “I’ve seen some Down East-style vessels I didn’t see in New York.”

Cassillo says he sold his 26-foot Luhrs fishing boat and was looking for something in the 23-foot range that would be easier to handle if he was out fishing by himself.

Parts and accessories sold well in Hartford. Traffic was good at the booth for Lighthouse Marine Supply in Riverhead, N.Y., which offers everything from motors to LED lighting, says Patrick Welch, 56.

“I think there are a lot of people who have a definite love of the sport and do what they have to to enjoy it,” says Welch. “Since the show moved from the Hartford Civic Center about three years ago, we’ve continued to do very well.”

Welch says they will continue to be involved with the Hartford show, because they are becoming a familiar face to the attendees, and the show continues to be an effective way to get their name out to the public.

Welch says he has been with his company six years and in the marine business for 30 years, and, in the end, it all comes down to the company’s quality and service.

“In this economy, everyone has to sharpen their pencils,” says Welch. “People are expecting higher levels of service.”

This article originally appeared in the April 2009 issue.