Nobody was planning his retirement based on this year's U.S. Sailboat Show business, but many of the local yacht brokers and marine equipment dealers came away when the show closed last Monday with a sense that things were turning around at last.
People came to the boat show this year, and they bought things. They bought sails, rigging, inflatable dinghies, electronics, personal gear, gizmos, you-name-its. And . . . they bought . . . sailboats.
This year the visitor didn't see dozens of bored and lonely looking brokers waiting and hoping for someone to talk to. As often as not, they seemed to be talking turkey with serious and qualified buyers.
"It was not as good as two years ago, but it was much improved over last year," said Nancy Cann, president of Crusader Yacht Sales in Annapolis, which represents several yacht manufacturers, including J/Boats, Freedom Yachts, Pacific Seacraft and Tartan.
"The things that showed the most activity at the show were the new lines, the new models, and of course, the Tartan 28 and the J/105 were class winners in the (Sailing World) Boat of the Year, which helped. People got excited and people bought, and what was selling was the more-innovative-without-going-crazy kind of boat."
Cann observed that while many of her old boat show friends and clients came by, on the whole the crowd of lookers and buyers was different.
"We already have about 15,000 people on our mailing list," she said, "and I'll venture to say that more than half of our leads from this year's show will be new people. There are new people out there ready to buy, or seriously thinking about it, which is good.
"You can't ever be sure that you've hit bottom until you start back up again, and I think our start is definitely here. I don't think there will be any big whoosh of activity,and it will be a bumpy climb, but we're definitely climbing back up again."
For Eric Smith's Bay Yacht Agency, this year's show was "fantastic, to put it mildly."
Bay Yachts handles Jeanneau, Ericson,Tayana and CSY, among others, and Smith echoed Cann's opinion that the business was on an upswing again and innovation was especially hotthis year.
"There was some shifting around to the newer products," Smith said. He reported a great deal of activity, particularly in the new Jeanneau catamaran line that includes the Lagoon 42, which wasSailing World's overall winner in this year's Boat of the Year competition.
"The people who are selling the same tired old thing are probably crying the blues, but we're in the process of closing some deals all across the range, from $150,000 to $500,000.
"One trend certainly is very strong interest from people within five years of retirement, who are interested in extended cruising, so they were interested in the Tayanas and the bigger Jeanneaus, too. It all takes a while since we're talking about some fairly customized boats, but things are definitely looking up."
Scott Dodge at Backyard Boats, the local Catalina/Capri/Morgan dealer, also reported a successful boat show.
"It was a good show," he said. "There were definitely no doom-and-gloom stories there, and even when it rained on Friday we were still busy all day. Last year was pretty dismal, but this year no one seemed to really worry about the luxury tax or things like that. It's going to be hard to say how good it really was until about two weeks after the show, but the people who were coming were prepared to buy. They had done their homework and knew what they wanted."
Beneteau dealer John Burgreen of Annapolis Yacht Sales was more wary in his assessment of the show but still positive.
"I'm cautiously optimistic," he said. "The attendance was excellent, and the attitude of the people coming to the show was very strong. I see a slight turnaround, and I feel much better than I did going into the show about the economyturning around."
Burgreen explained that with Beneteau dealers from many parts of the country represented at the Annapolis show, and customers coming from all over the nation, it was hard to estimate thedirect impact on the local Chesapeake Bay market.
"It's my impression that the New England dealers, for example, did badly, since the economy in New England is still so weak, but overall Beneteau did very well," he said. "The Mid-Atlantic region ranged from cold to lukewarm, but appears to be coming back. Surprisingly, the Great Lakes seemed to be doing very well, as well as the South, south from South Carolina."
Burgreen said the show was "what I would term a good show, compared to last year, but compared to three years ago, it was not sogood."