Pontoon boats hot at Roanoke boat show

Published online: Feb 28, 2012 News
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Shoppers hoping to step aboard a certain, shiny Bryant runabout at the Webster Marine display got turned away Sunday afternoon.

A sign on the boat requested that shoppers move on.

"Sold" read the sign. "Please don't board."

Those are the kinds of signs boat dealers love putting on their crafts as the Southwest Virginia Boat Show runs its course over three days on the final weekend in February.

And they got to put out a fair number of them last weekend.

"It was a pretty good show," said Webster's Mark Mills. "We sold a few boats.

"But we'll really know over the next two weeks."

While selling boats at the show is nice, the key is to finalize deals with shoppers who use the show to narrow down their choices and will make a decision over the next couple of weeks.

Mills pointed out that the fair weather in the forecast should help his dealership and others get customers out on the water. Those demo rides are the key to closing deals.

Show coordinator Darrell Ross reported that attendance was down slightly, which wasn't a big surprise given the still-soft economy.

Last year, the show debuted Free Friday, with all attendees admitted free. The promotion was back again this year.

The crowds were a little lighter on Friday than in 2011, but that was actually seen as a positive by some dealers.

Last year, the crush of visitors was so heavy when the doors opened that some dealers had difficulty handling the customers. This year, the Friday crowd was more manageable.

One thing that didn't change from recent years is the type of boat that seemed to generate the most interest. Dealers I spoke with Sunday said pontoon boats got most of the attention.

It makes sense.

Pontoon boats can carry bunches of people. And, because their designs are relatively spare and simple, they are relatively economical.

At the same time, new innovations have also increased pontoons' performance, meaning boaters can have a craft that is roomy yet has enough go to pull skiers or wakeboarders.

There are even some boats out that combine lounging with fishing utility, with features such as trolling motor hookups and fishing chairs.

Read more at http://www.roanoke.com/outdoors/wb/305475

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