Strong Opening Weekend at the Toronto Boat Show

Cold weather couldn't do it. Even at minus 15 degree Celsius temperatures with wind chill, crowds we're lined up in the lobby of the Direct Energy Centre for the opening of the nine-day long Toronto International Boat Show this past Saturday.

There was a positive atmosphere on the show floor as exhibitor's booths quickly filled up with show goers in search of their next boat. Show manager Cynthia Hare reported attendance down 10 percent on Saturday and five percent on Sunday. Nonetheless, during the opening weekend exhibitors reported making sales, some setting new records for opening weekend.

“As a whole we sold 24 boats on Saturday,” reports Jamie Small of CO2 Inflatables. “It was a strong opening day. We sold boats anywhere from eight feet up to 16 feet. On Sunday we sold a 20-footer. The qualified buyers were here and the crowd was knowledgeable.”

While opinions varied on what type of consumer was at the show, many felt that the entry-level consumer was prevalent.

“The entry-level boat buyer has returned,” commented Tom McNair of Brunswick – US Marine & Outboard Boats.

Others shared McNair's view. The Boat Warehouse, which has Four Winns models on display ranging from 18 to 43 feet, agrees that there's a lot of interest at the entry level.

“We find we are getting the new boat buyer,” says Dave Mayhew of The Boat Warehouse. “It's exciting to see the entry-level buyer. It shows that there is some consumer confidence despite the economy. We're spending more time with them because they are new to boating and first time buyers. Customers have been looking to us to help them find out what would be the best boat for them.”

“So far we've had a wide range of success,” continues Mayhew. “We've had small boat sales and more mid-range sales than we've had in the opening weekend of the past two years. Saturday the traffic was so busy we couldn't even get to everyone. We've sold 24s, 27s, some big boats, some small – it has been right across the whole board.”

Staff at the Discover Boating booth also noticed a surge of potential first-time boat owners who were seeking insight on how to get into the recreational boating. Siegi Kaminski, who has been working with Discover Boating for more than 10 years, has seen his share of visitors to the organization's booth. “We've found a lot of new cottage owners who want to get into boating are visiting us,” says Kaminski. “A lot of them have no boating experience, but they knew to come see us. We've seen a very significant increase in interest over last year. This year they are gung-ho to buy a boat.”

Other exhibitors found that consumer interest was more spread out. That said, the feedback they had to share was positive as well.

“I'm seeing the mid-range right now,” says Bruce Cleland, Sales Manager of Gordon Bay Marine, MacTier, ON. “We've done a lot of mid-range Boston Whalers and Monterey. “Most people have been on the Internet before they came down because they are very informed. There have been more educated buyers this year than we've ever seen.”

Sea-Doo had a good opening weekend, reporting sales across its lineup. “It was a good opening weekend for us,” says Bob Gossling, Sea-Doo shows and events – North America – BRP. “We're selling everything from entry level to $45,000 dollar boats – it's right across the spectrum.”

Bayliner had 13 boats on display at its booth (five cruisers and eight runabouts) ranging from 16 to 31 feet. :You've got to show it if you want to sell it,” says Bryan Down, District Business Manager for Brunswick – US Marine & Outboard Boats. “The quality of the people here over the weekend was quite good,” continues Down. “They qualified themselves nicely.”