Boat dealers ready to set sales

Published online: Feb 22, 2011 News Melissa Burden - The Detroit News
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Dealers at the annual Detroit Boat Show are predicting a rebound in marine sales after some rough sailing.

With the state's economy stabilizing, dealers and show organizers say customers are more confident and willing to dole out thousands of dollars for pontoons, speedboats and fishing boats.
Typically, more than 1,000 boats, valued at about $35 million, are sold during the nine-day event, organizers said.

"We definitely feel things are turning around for the boating industry," said Nicki Polan, director of communications for the Michigan Boating Industries Association, a trade organization that hosts the show and serves the state's $3.9 billion boating industry. "We were affected just like the auto industry."

Michigan is among the top states in number of registered boats, ranking behind only Florida, California and Minnesota. Registrations for recreational watercraft has dropped about 2.6 percent in the past four years, to 914,539, according to the Michigan Secretary of State.

The recession, layoffs and job uncertainty kept people away from showrooms, but some dealers began to see a turnaround last year when boat manufacturers slashed prices, luring bargain hunters.

"Consumer confidence, it's up and it's reflecting in our show," said John Ropp, the association's president and CEO.

This year's show, which opened Feb. 12 and closes on Sunday, is 10 percent bigger than last year and features more boats and brands, Polan and Ropp said. Organizers did not have attendance figures so far, but said the first weekend was well-attended; last year, 62,000 people came to the show.

"We're hearing from several dealers that they're selling more this year than last year," Polan said.

Ron Wilson, owner and president of Brighton-based Wilson Marine, estimates he'll hit his show goal of selling 150 boats, each averaging $25,000. "Cobo Hall always sets the tone," he said. "If you have a good Cobo Hall, you have a good year."

Tom and Linda Olney of Grand Rapids came to the show Friday with their daughter Erica Olson, 30, of Royal Oak.

The family, which sold their boat last year, ended up buying a 26-foot Crownline cruiser from Wilson Marine.

"This was exactly what we wanted," said Tom Olney, 59.

Tyler Munger, sales manager for Bee's Sports in St. Johns, said his staff had already sold several pontoon and fishing boats during the show and were expecting a strong finish this weekend.

Munger said in past years, people complained about high gas prices and their jobs.

This year, "they're just ready to spend some good, quality time with their family and enjoy themselves - on a boat."

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