Telltale signs of improving watercraft business expected to propel time-honored Charleston Boat Show
By JIM PARKER
The Post and Courier
Scott Chapman is no economist, but the marine dealer believes he can accurately forecast the boating industry’s fortunes this year.
After all, there’s a definite pattern.
“Well, conservatively, I’ll say it will be better than 2012, which was better than 2011, which was better than 2010,” said Chapman, owner of Barrier Island Marine west of the Ashley and in Beaufort.
To be honest, boating observers would have to look back seven years to find the last time the watercraft business enjoyed a really solid sales year, said Chapman, chairman of the Tri-County Marine Trade Association.
He expects to fine-tune his prognostication after this weekend: The Charleston Boat Show started up Friday and runs through Sunday in and around the Charleston Area Convention Center in North Charleston.
The uncannily consistent event is marking its 33rd year in a luxury business known for ebbs and flows, relying on enthusiasts’ propensity to dish out $30,000 to $300,000 in disposable income. “It’s amazing, isn’t it,” Chapman said.
Moreover, the show is the unofficial launchpad to the Lowcountry boating sales season and usually proves to be a reliable gauge of the upcoming year.
At least 10,000 people are expected to attend the three-day fest. Hundreds of boats will be on display representing 22 dealers in the Charleston area and as far north as Georgetown and south as Ridgeland.
“The time of year is important,” said Chapman, whose lineup at Barrier Island Marine includes Chris-Craft, Pathfinder, Hewes, Pioneer, Bulls Bay, Cobia and Maverick. After the long winter, boating enthusiasts are excited about seeing a show.
Dealers struggled through lean years in the late 2000s but the tide is turning.
“We had a terrific show last year, everybody did,” the manager said.
The 2013 show should be even stronger. “From the promoter’s perspective, we are sold out, (even) oversold. We are making up space for exhibits. It looks like a big year.”
Showgoers not only can view all types of boats, they can take in entertainment. “We’ve got the ‘hand fishing guys’ coming,” Chapman said. The pair, who have their own TV show, stick their arms and legs in pitch black water to haul out gigantic catfish.
Still, the boats will be star attractions. “You’ve got half of the parking lot closed off,” he says. “There’s a big tent out where we’ve expanded.” Eight dealers will fill the sprawling display zone within the convention center and the wide hallways will fill up with vendors.
Greenville-based JBM & Associates produces the show on behalf of the Tri-County Marine Trade Association. Mercury is a corporate sponsor. The associates also put on the Savannah Boat & Outdoor Show in early March. To learn more about the Charleston show, visit www.thecharlestonboatshow.com.
When it comes to vessels on hand, variety is a strong suit. The Charleston Boat Show will have everything available from “a 10-foot john boat to a 40- or 45-footer,” Chapman says, noting that a number of power-sports vehicles will be on hand as well.
“We’ll have a boat for everybody.”
For more information and photos, visit www.postandcourier.com/automotive.
CHARLESTON BOAT SHOW
Dates: Jan. 25-27
Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m today, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday
Location: Charleston Area Convention Center
Tickets: $9 a day for adults, $4 for children 4-12, $5 for military with valid ID, free for children 3 and younger. Parking free.
Producer: JBM & Associates
Host: Tri-county Marine Trade Association
Lead sponsor: Mercury
Show items: Ski boats, fishing boats, pontoons, cruisers, personal watercraft, accessories.
Participating dealers: 22
Boat and engine lines represented: 87
Total boats on hand: More than 100
Features: Hosts Skipper Bivins and Trent Jackson of Animal Planet Network’s Hillbilly Handfishin’ TV show teach everyday folks how to catch massive catfish with their hands and feet; Coastal Fishing Expo under tent with seven presenters on net casting instructions and tips on fishing for red fish and trout, sheepshead, near coastal reefs, nearshore reefs and with kids and family; Wild Wing Café wing eating contest; loco laser tag, bouncy house, Susan Fedor face painting, nautical chain saw carvings, archery teen sensation Ella Kokinda of Goose Creek, vinyl demonstrations by Pleasant Details and Department of Natural Resources fishing simulator.
Estimated attendance: 10,000
Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or email@example.com.