Boat Shows: It’s a small world after all

Industry field visits are a great way to toss off the frosty cobwebs that can fill a transitioning trade press editor’s schedule. That’s especially true if a record-setting weather outside is creating a mental winter of discontent inside. While my Boating Industry magazine brethren headed to a busy week at the Miami International Boat Show, I hit the small show circuit closer to home.

The “Land of 10,000 Lakes” has a significant recreational boating footprint, with the industry contributing $5.5 billion annually to the economy and supporting more than 28,790 jobs. According to the most recent data from National Marine Manufacturers Association, annual retail sales of new boats, engines, and marine accessories total $709.6 million in Minnesota. Additionally, the state is home to over 817,560 registered boats.

Keeping those NMMA statistics in mind, my target of choice for a little gunwale grabbing was a small boat show right in my hometown.

The St. Cloud Boat Show brings in all segments of the market for display, along with local dealers who sell and service products for residents in Central Minnesota, said Miller Marine General Manager Mike Zunker, who helps organize the overall show. Miller has been a Minnesota marine dealership for nearly 30 years.

Show attendance was down slightly on Friday, but Saturday rebounded and overall, Sunday’s attendance was very comparable to years past, Zunker reported, adding that consumer confidence is very high.

However, according to Zunker, one of the biggest concerns for the boating consumer remains product received dates. “More customers wanted to buy out of stock versus ordering out,” he said.

Bennington has remained one of Miller’s hottest brands over the past several years. Pontoons continued to follow a trend-setting form by getting the most attention on the show flow.

Swing-back seating and all-vinyl flooring were popular and highlighted features, Zunker said.

“Pontoons have changed and grown the most,” he said. “With the addition of tri-toons and larger horsepower motors, this segment has added another market to boating, resulting in a huge drop in sales for fiberglass runabouts.”

February’s Boating Industry Market Trends Report, “The Do-It-All Machine,” provides confirmation of Zunker’s small show analysis.

According to Zunker, supply is probably the biggest issue affecting the industry right now. Demand is high, and finding help for manufacturers is tough, he said.

Nevertheless, there is a seasonal brightness dead ahead that’s bound to break through and toss aside any economic overcast.

“We are looking forward to open water,” Zunker said. “We can’t wait to start delivering boats sold last fall and those that we’ve sold this winter.”

Tim Hennagir is a contributing editor and former editor-in-chief of Boating Industry magazine. He can be reached at

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