Detroit boat show lures shoppers

Published online: Feb 15, 2010 News Santiago Esparza
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Detroit -- Organizers expect more than 60,000 people to come to Cobo Center through this week to check out the newest boats available for hitting the waters.

Buoyed by higher than expected turnout at shows in other states, vendors are hoping for similar luck with the 52nd annual Detroit Boat Show, which opened to the public Saturday.

"It is not going to break the bank," said Kevin Mosher, a salesman with Wilson Marine, which was selling a "recession-friendly," 16-foot boat that could easily fit five people for $11,500.

Wilson Marine purchased boats from several dealers that had gone under during the recent economic slump and was selling them for as much as $5,000 less than they normally would sell, Mosher said.

Other companies also were selling low-end vessels or offering discounts. For those who want to buy while at Cobo, staffers are available to help with on-the-spot sales. Some even offered 20-year loans to keep monthly payments low.

Salespeople such as Mosher were low key about sales, while others rang a loud bell whenever a boat was sold, sending a roar of excitement through the crowd.

Show manager Van Snider said the boating industry took its lumps as the economy soured and has been slow to recover. But he said sellers are upbeat this year.

"There is a perception out there that boating is for fat cats," he said Saturday. "That is not true. There is a boat with a price for you."

Many sellers listed monthly payments as opposed to the price of the boat. Others listed both. Harold Meloche, a 48-year-old Birmingham resident, was on a research mission with his wife and daughters.

They purchased a used, 1988 Wellcraft boat last year and would like to trade up from the 18-footer to something newer, he said.

"It is our starter boat," he said as the family checked out a pontoon boat that resembled a huge living room. "We will keep it at least two years. I am here to do some digging."

Organizers said 1,500 boats typically sell for a combined $50 million during the show's run.

Snider said he expects the average cost of a boat sold during the show's nine-day run to be about $28,000, about $5,000 less than in previous years.

He said the one-stop-shop aspect of the show separates it from the North American International Auto Show and the Autorama shows also held at Cobo.

"That is the difference between this show and the auto shows," Snider said. "This is a seller's show."

Other attractions include a Lego boat-building contest, boating instruction for youngsters and a wakeboard simulator.

sesparza@detnews.com(313) 222-2320

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