Attendance down at Mid-America Boat Show

CLEVELAND – Results from the recent Cleveland Mid-America Boat Show – held Jan. 16-25 – were mixed, with strong sales reported by the majority of dealers, but a 6-percent decline in attendance that has the president of the Lake Erie Marine Trades Association puzzled, organizers said in a press release yesterday.

“Every indicator, save one, unemployment rates, heading into the show was positive,” said Norm Schultz, president of the Lake Erie Marine Trades Association (LEMTA). “Consumer confidence was up, interest rates were near all-time lows, and people seemed less fearful of terrorist activity. But due in part, we believe, to frigid temperatures all 10 days of the show, attendance ended up down nearly 6 percent over last year.

Midwest not seeing turnaround?

Schultz also suggested that after hearing the outcomes of the Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Detroit boat shows, he has come to believe the Midwest “may not feel the same degree of turnaround other parts of the country are now experiencing.”

“Not only are unemployment levels still high, but manufacturing jobs continue to be lost throughout the Midwest,” he explained. “Until this stabilizes, boat sales, particularly small boat sales, will not show new signs of life.”

Schultz also blames what the release called “the absolute failure of the marine industry to espouse the benefits of boating during the 1990’s.”

“Not until 9/11 was there any real recognition of the fact that the lifestyle benefits of boating were not being conveyed to potential boaters,” Schultz said. “It’s why boaters continue to age and boating continues to lose ground to other recreational activities.”

Optimism for the future

However, the majority of dealers at the show said sales were good to very good. “Prospects came armed with questions and were ready, willing, and able to make purchases,” the LEMTA release said.

Interest in large boats seemed to outpace smaller boats, the release said in conclusion, adding that Schultz feels 2004 is shaping up to be much better than 2003.

“Although the turnaround in 2004 may not be as significant as I once believed, I have no doubt that it will far exceed the past three years” Schultz said. “And in 2005, watch out, things will really go well.”

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