It’s been a bumpy ride for boat dealers in the wake of the recession, but the Charleston Boat Show this weekend could be the kick-off to a year of smoother sailing.
If you go
What: Charleston Boat Show
When: Noon-7 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday
Where: Charleston Area Convention Center, 5000 Coliseum Drive, North Charleston
Price: $9 for adults; $5 for military personnel; $4 for ages 4-12, free for younger children
More Info: www.TheCharlestonBoatShow.com.
Boat sales in the United States jumped by 5 percent in 2013, and they’re expected to keep growing this year, according to the most recent report by the National Marine Manufacturers Association.
“If economic growth persists and the recreational boating industry continues gaining participants, we anticipate sustained growth in 2014 and into 2015 and 2016,” association President Thom Dammrich says in the report.
The renewed confidence in the boating industry is perhaps evidenced by the sheer volume of boat dealers who have signed up to participate in the Charleston Boat Show this year.
The 34th annual event, hosted by the Tri-County Marine Trade Association and produced by JBM & Associates, will be held Friday through Sunday at the Charleston Area Convention Center.
Already the largest showcase of vessels in the Lowcountry, the event this year will host a record number of exhibitors, said Jacqui Bomar, president of show organizer JBM & Associates.
By October, the event had booked every parcel of showroom space, even after expanding the exhibit area in the parking lot.
“That’s a promising sign for the economy in my book. The fact that we had to expand our exhibit space, and that we sold out three months ahead of the event,” Bomar said.
JBM & Associates is also partnering with the Tri-County Marine Trade Association in April to bring back the Charleston In-Water Boat Show, which took a five-year hiatus during and after the last recession.
Its former organizers, Maritime Events, had to cancel the event in 2009 after it lost nearly half of its exhibitors. The springtime show, although it changed names and sponsors a few times, had been an annual event for nine years before it was canceled.
“That was a very tough time. The dealers couldn’t support two shows, there was no way. They could hardly support one show,” Bomar said.
The boat industry, which relies on consumers’ expendable incomes, was crippled by the economic downturn in the late 2000s. Households that had been affluent consumers tightened their budgets, and recreational purchases became a luxury many no longer could afford.
New boat sales in the United States fell by nearly 25 percent in 2009, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association.
Despite choking sales, many of Charleston’s marine dealers managed to stay afloat.
“The dealers in Charleston are a unique breed. They are very smart business people. They know their market so well, and they really have been flexible through downturns,” she said.
Scott Chapman, the owner of Barrier Island Marine and president of the Tri-County Marine Trade Association, explained it this way: “By my fingernails. That’s how I hung on in the recession.”
Now on the other side of the downturn, Chapman said business has improved steadily in recent years.
Wealthy people again are willing to spend extra on what they want, and middle-class families are back to boat shopping because financing has become more available, he said.
Plus, Barrier Island Marine and other local boat dealers are well-positioned to serve newcomers in the Lowcountry.
“We’re getting a significant number of buyers who are new to boating,” he said. “Charleston is a fabulous place to be because of how many people want to live here and are moving here. And a huge benefit of living in the Lowcountry is the water.”
Chapman said that although he saw signs of improvement last year, he was still cautious of stocking up on expensive inventory.
But this year, his collection of boats is as robust as it was before the recession, he said.
“I think everything is sort of coming together. The stock market keeps going up, the economy slowly continues to get better,” he said. “People are buying boats, and have the means to do it, so I feel very good about 2014.”
Reach Abigail Darlington at 937-5906 and follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail