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Lauderdale crowds smaller, but sales were made

Attendance numbers were down noticeably at the rescheduled Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, which ended Nov. 6.

As many had predicted, exhibitors typically reported low traffic and a more local crowd than is normal for the big show. But they also reported a high percentage of serious buyers.

“For all the trials and tribulations we had getting ready, I feel we’re going to end up with a pretty good show,” said Bob Hazard, vice president of sales and marketing with Egg Harbor, Predator, Davis and Topaz. “This year we’ve been able to give [visitors] a lot of attention.”

Hazard says most of the visitors he saw were from South Florida, but there also were some from New York, other places in the Northeast and the Midwest.

But for some, it started off slow and ended slow.

“We’re down about 90 percent,” said Kim Riley, communications director for Carver Yachts. With only an hour to go on the final afternoon of the show, the Pulaski, Wis.-based builder had generated about 550 leads. That, she said, compares to 5,000 in a normal year at Fort Lauderdale. “It was worse than what we expected,” said Riley.

Other exhibitors had a similar experience.

Huckins Yachts owner Cindy Purcell reported things were a little slow all weekend.

“The crowds are light. You look up and down the dock and it’s been like this,” said Purcell, motioning at a nearly empty B dock the final morning of the show. She did, however, say Huckins had a strong opening, but, “The rest of the days, you could throw a bowling ball down the dock.”

Geir Ingolfsrud of Fort Lauderdale-based Grand Banks dealership Hal Jones & Co., counted less than half the normal complement of visitors this year. There was good news, though.

“In terms of leads, we’ve got probably the same amount of leads — good, quality leads — as other years,” he said. “Compared to other [Fort Lauderdale] shows, usually the dock is full but they’re just here to look.”

The high percentage of serious buyers was a common thread.

“It’s been a very good show for us — the quality of the people has been high,” said Dick Lazzara of Tampa-based Lazzara Yachts, smoking a cigar on the patio of Lazzara’s floating boat show villa as the final day of the show wound down. The company had success across its line (68 feet to 110 feet), from which Lazzara described a pretty good cross-section of buyers.

At the Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center, it was a heavy local attendance over the weekend that helped dealers.

“A lot of the Northern, European and South American crowds have slowed their return to this area, and the benefit is that more of the local boating enthusiasts are coming in to look at boats,” said Steve Diener, Eastern regional manager for Tracker Marine Boat Center in Dania Beach, Fla. “So it kind of got rid of a lot of the tourists and brought in the serious buyers.” Tracker’s brands include Mako, SeaCraft and Crownline.

“Attendance I think was down until today,” said Grady-White sales representative Greg Idol on Nov. 5, the first weekend day of the show. “We’ve had some decent interest and we feel like we’re going to sell some boats.”

Idol, who has been working the booth at Fort Lauderdale for the last five years, thought the weekend crowd was consistent with those of years past, though made up of more southeast Florida residents.

“It’s definitely more of a regional show,” said Idol.

Some couldn’t help but imagine the show that might have been.

“We’re going to have as good a show as we ever had,” said Jan Boone, vice president of sales and service for Hatteras. “And my question is, ‘If it’s this strong … how good could it have been?’”