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New England show still a drawing card

The 54th annual New England Boat Show saw a significant increase in sales and an uptick in attendance, according to organizers.

"The earlier winter shows did well and I think each one has been getting stronger and stronger," says show manager Joe O'Neal. "We're one of the later winter shows, so we've gotten some of the benefits."

The New England Boat Show, Feb. 20-28 at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, saw a slight uptick in attendance this year.

The Feb. 20-28 show took place at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center. Initial on-site ticket numbers show a 2-percent increase in attendance over last year, which was about 50,000, says O'Neal. The show was about 30 percent smaller this year, with dealers bringing less inventory to the floor.

"We decided to stay with a nine-day format because we wanted our dealers to get the most out of our show," says O'Neal, who has managed the event for more than 20 years. The National Marine Manufacturers Association bought the show just two months before this year's opening and O'Neal says the transition was smooth because the existing management team was kept in place.

The show included the NMMA's Affordability Pavilion, which featured 24 boats that could be financed for less than $250 a month. It proved to be a popular feature. Among the "affordable" boats sold, O'Neal says, were a 17-foot DaySailer built by Cape Cod Shipbuilding Co. in Wareham, Mass., a 15-foot Boston Whaler from Russo Marine - a dealership with locations in Massachusetts and Rhode Island - and a Sea-Doo Utopia 205 PWC from Billerica (Mass.) Motorsports & Marine.

"The show was very positive for us," says Larry Russo Sr., owner of Russo Marine. "It was very busy, especially on the weekends."

Russo says his dealership - now in its 70th year - has exhibited at every New England Boat Show. "It's important to be in the marketplace in the offseason to get our customers thinking about boats before the season starts," he says. "This show - we can't live without it."

Kari Sullivan, general manager of Billerica Motorsports & Marine, says her dealership sold 38 personal watercraft at the show. "We tripled our sales of what we did last year," says Sullivan. "For a lot of people, their whole attitude was different. They were happier and ready to spend some money and have fun."

NMMA executive vice president Ben Wold says the group is pleased that many exhibitors had a strong show. "It was unusual for us to buy a show two months before [its scheduled run]," says Wold. "But it allowed us to get our feet wet and we learned a lot.

"We hope to bring more features and events to this show in the future," says Wold. One idea for next year is a separate sailing section with seminars tailored for sailors.

This article originally appeared in the New England and Connecticut/New York Home Waters Sections of the May 2010 issue.