The upcoming Seattle Boat Show has something it hasn’t had since before the recession — a waiting list.
George Harris, president of the Northwest Marine Trade Association, which puts on the show, said about a dozen boat dealers and brokers have requested additional exhibit space for the January show, prompting the need to put some exhibitors on a waiting list. It’s the first time that’s happened since the 2008 show, held just a month after the nation plunged into recession.
“We’ve had significantly more square feet requests for the 2013 show than we’ve had all the way back to 2009,” Harris said. “It’s the best we’ve seen in five years.”
Of the 375 exhibitors signed up for the show, 101 — more than a quarter — requested more space than last year, resulting in a 27 percent increase in requested square footage overall. Slightly over half of boat exhibitors (52 percent) and 24 percent of accessories exhibitors wanted more space.
The Seattle Boat Show of the past four years has been a far cry from the heady days of 2008, when demand for exhibit space saw the show expand onto the football green at Qwest Field (since renamed CenturyLink Field). A year later, exhibitors faced near-empty aisles as recession-rocked customers stayed home or came to the show just to look. The region’s beleagured marine industry has struggled to rebound since then.
Harris attributes the increased demand for exhibit space at the 2013 show, which runs Jan. 25 through Feb. 3, to healthy sales and renewed interest from buyers during one of the sunniest summers the Northwest has seen in years.
New and used boat sales in Washington state have increased every quarter this year in dollar value over the same period last year. The number of boats sold increased in all but the third quarter, when they dropped by 4.2 percent for new boats and 0.6 percent for used boats, according to statistics compiled by Washington Sea Grant.
Harris said he’s heard encouraging signs from other marine trade organizations around the country, with associations reporting increased sales and greater interest in boat shows from consumers. The popularity of particular categories of boats in specific geographic areas seems to be driving the trend, Harris said — for example, pontoon boats in Texas and sport-fishing boats in the Northwest.
He noted that the market has not yet rebounded for cruising boats in the 26- to 38-foot category. That reality was underscored by Bayliner’s recently announced decision to halt U.S. sales and production of cruising boats from 24 to 35 feet and focus instead on dayboats under 21 feet.
Overall, Harris said he’s optimistic about the upcoming Seattle Boat Show. Showgoers can expect to see a wide range of boats, he said, and more large boats than in the previous few shows. The increased demand for exhibit space creates a challenge, but one that Harris and new Boat Show Director Katie McPhail are happy to have.
“It’s really refreshing to go back to how it was in 2008,” Harris said. “For me, these are the signs of a healthy show, when you’ve got exhibitors calling you two or three times a week because they’re concerned about getting as much space as they can in the best possible location.”
Said McPhail, “That’s a better position to be in than trying to convince people why they want to be in the show.”