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Boat show sales buoy industry

2008 December 1
In October, the serially crashing stock market was at the top of every newscast. Conventional wisdom might hold that people would not be in a buying mood. Yet in Annapolis, Maryland, sailors were coming to the U.S. Sailboat Show in droves, buying gear and even boats.

The annual boat show, which attracts sailors from around the country, was not only surviving in a tough economic climate, but thriving, bucking a trend the industry feared.

"The economy may be slow and the stock market is certainly interesting these days, but so far it's been smooth sailing for us," said Jeanneau America president Paul Fenn.

Jeanneau sold three 54DS models, as well as the 49i, 42i, 39i and 36i, Fenn said.

Similar success was reported by Beneteau, which had 11 models at the show from 31 to 54 feet long. More than 20 orders for boats were taken at the show, said Beneteau USA President Wayne Burdick.

Other boat manufacturers reported unexpected success at the show, which saw good attendance during its five-day run. Show organizers said this year's attendance matched, if not exceeded, last year's record. More than 50,000 people attended the show, which had about 500 exhibitors.

Nick Harvey, director of Lagoon America, which makes cruising catamarans, said the Annapolis show was a success for his company. More than 2,500 boarding stickers, given to people who tour the boats that span between two piers at the show, were doled out, which is the same or better than past years, he said.

"We confirmed two definite orders, which is one less than last year, but I'm sure there will be more," Harvey said.
Bill Goggins, president of the trade organization Sail America and CEO of Harken Yacht Equipment, said the response to the show, which is the largest sailboat show in the country, was very encouraging to an industry worried about the effects of the financial crisis and weakening economy.

"Timing-wise, you could never have positioned a show at a worse time," Goggins said. "But the bad economic news was counterbalanced with beautiful weather and people who just wanted to enjoy themselves. Even with an economic drought, there will be people who need to get away from the Wall Street woes. It's human nature to direct your energy to something positive, and many people look at their passion for sailing as one of those outlets."

In addition to unexpectedly strong business for manufacturers, accessory dealers also reported brisk sales.
"When there is a recessionary time and people get a little nervous, sometimes they hang onto the boats they have and refit them," Goggins said.

The industry may also be experiencing a phenomenon similar to what happened after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks when it received a boost as people decided to invest money into pleasure activities they can do with their families.
"I think you're going to see a little of that," Goggins said. "Sailing is positioned so well, especially with the pending fuel crisis, which is inevitable. We are the hybrid vehicles of the water. The sailing industry is in a great place."
--Erin L. Schanen