Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Anchors Aweigh (Boat sales dry-docked)

A visit Monday afternoon to the on-going Cleveland Boat Show at the I-X Center was an eye-opener.

And not only because of what was there but also because of what WASN'T there, especially the lack of 14- to 18-foot aluminum fishing boats. In fact the show had a general lack of aluminum boats of any kind but especially those designed for angling.

Worse, the show takes in what seems only about one-half the I-X Center's 1 million square feet. Time once was the entire exhibit area would be awash in boats of all kinds and sizes.

Not this year. If you want a nice-smelling big fiberglass boat in excess of 20 feet you'll likely find what you're in the hunt for. But who can afford $50,000 or $100,000 or $150,000 for an entry-level boat?

To illustrate just how bad off is the economy my wife, Bev, and I saw a couple of brand new 2008 models till available for purchase. Just think of how long that poor dealer has had to inventory and pay for that boat.

Similarly we saw a fair amount of pre-owned (called "pre-enjoyed") boats for sale or else advertised.

No one can blame the Boat Show's producers, of course. Fact is the Lake Erie Marine Trades Association has done a great job of highlighting what the dealers have brought in. LEMTA further has made excellent use of its floor space for Anglers Alley - probably the best this section has looked in years.

Bev and I were particularly impressed by the Ohio Sea Grant display with its' walk-through format and various exhibits. The Snake Lady exhibit (you know, the scientist working on the Lake Erie water snake project and featured on "Dirty Jobs" was really and especially terrific.

And the Great Lakes Fisheries Commission exhibit on the sea lamprey was good, too.

But Bev and I toured the entire show in about 90 minutes, far less time than what it took us to walk the show floor in past years.

Figuring that an adult ticket costs $12 plus paying the $8 I-X Center parking fee and it would be entirely possible that visitors will believe they aren't getting their money's worth.

Fact is, however, the recreational boating industry is undergoing hard times with fewer dealers being out there so fewer dealers are available to exhibit at the Boat Show. That, plus the fact that dealers who do show must watch their cash flow and thus bring in what they best can afford to show and unload.

I suspect also that the larger boats have a higher sales value with greater potential for profit than a 14-foot or a 16-foot aluminum fishing boat. That could be a factor as well.

Yet the Boat Show is attracting customers and visitors. LEMTA said its one-day fishing college on Saturday drew a standing-room-only crowd. And Bev and I did see "sold" signs on several display vessels. That's good.

Here's hoping that we see a turn-around in the economy this year and that what boat dealers remain can stay into business and show up in force next Boat Show. It's too good an event to sink into Davey Jones Locker.

The Boat Show continues through Sunday with special programing all week, including seminars, entertainment and activities for youngsters. Visit the show's web site at www.clevelandboatshow.com. Admission is $12 for those age 13 and older, free for those age 12 and younger. Remember, the I-X Center charges a separate $8 parking fee, long a sore point with many visitors to various I-X housed productions.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

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