CHARLOTTE -- Southeast Productions is leaning harder than ever on its slogan, "Life is better with a boat." That's because the company understands for many, at least economically, life is not so good right now.
"Quite honestly, we really don't know what to expect," said Ed Gray, president of Southeast Productions. "You just tighten up your belt and go on."
Every year, Gray's company produces the largest boat show in the Carolinas, the Mid-Atlantic Boat Show, in Charlotte. This year's five-day show runs Feb. 4-8 at the Charlotte Convention Center, with more than 200,000 square feet of display space, including more than 500 boats and 75 brands in one location.
So far this year, attendance at boat shows nationally is down because of the economy, Gray said. At his shows, attendance is down in percentage, "in the single digits."
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"That's to be expected, I guess," he said.
Almost four decades into the annual event, local boat dealers and marine vendors who often earn a large portion of their annual sales at the Mid-Atlantic show, however, remain optimistic. Robert Fulton, owner of Carolina Synthetics in Lake Wylie, has more than 25 years experience in Lake Wylie and more than 15 participating in the boat show. Even when the economy began making headlines last year, Fulton found customers at the show.
"It was good enough to do it again this year," he said. "The economy is definitely a concern. So far, it has not really impacted my business."
His vice president of finance and wife, Bonnie, said the company that makes synthetic lubricants for boats may better weather tough buying conditions than large boat sellers.
"We're really kind of hoping with the economy being the way it is that people will be interested in maintaining what they have, and they'll look to us for that," she said.
Still, local boat dealers say they are not experiencing the doom and gloom one might expect. Larry Bunch, general manager for Lake Wylie Marina, said sales are going "as well as expected" despite the economy.
"Some of the responses we're getting from other shows is attendance is good," he said. "I don't know why, but people are buying boats right now."
Bunch sees silver linings in easing gas prices and high lake levels -- both local concerns for the past couple of years. Plus, he said, a tough economy means dealers are making deals, which always helps the customer.
"If you want to buy something, now's the time to do it," Bunch said. "Without a doubt this is unequivocally the best boat show to buy a boat I've ever attended."
At Dockmasters in Lake Wylie, owner Perry Johnston sees a positive in all the vendor spaces being full. Johnston plans to bring a new double personal watercraft cable lift, as well as information on why potential customers should choose a service like his.
"We are going to be there, ready and focused," Johnston said. "We're going to use this year as much as a teaching experience as anything else."
Want to go?
The 38th annual Mid-Atlantic Boat Show runs from noon to 9 p.m. Feb. 4-6, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Feb. 7 and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Feb. 8 at the Charlotte Convention Center, 501 S. College St., Charlotte. Cost is $8 for adults, $7 for seniors and $5 for ages 8-14; younger than 8 admitted free. For more information, visit ncboatshows.com.
Participating area dealers and vendors:
Alpha Motorsports, Rock Hill
Carolina Synthetic Amsoil Lubricants, Lake Wylie
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department
Charlotte Power Squadron
Clover Custom Canvas, Clover
Dockmasters, Lake Wylie
Lakeside Marine Construction, Lake Wylie
Lake Wylie Marina
Lighthouse Marine Service, Charlotte
New Hope Marine, Gastonia
Norman/Wylie Detail, Charlotte
More Boat Shows
• Feb. 20-22, Carolina Power & Sailboat Show, N.C. State Fairgrounds, Raleigh, N.C. Hours: noon-9 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. Admission: $7 adults, $5 junior anglers ages 8-14, free for children 7 and younger, $6 for seniors 60 and older. Admission is good for all three days with return pass.
• Feb. 28-March 1, Central Carolina Boat Show, Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, N.C. Hours: noon-9 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. Admission: $7 adults, $5 junior anglers ages 8-14, free for children 7 and younger, $6 for seniors 60 and older. Admission is good for all three days with return pass.
• The 25th annual Palmetto Sportman's Classic, March 27-29, State Fairgrounds, Columbia. More than 300 exhibitors with products and the latest technology in fishing tackle, rods and reels; hunting supplies, tree stands, camouflage and archery equipment; boats and marine equipment and electronics; four-wheelers and supplies. Hours: noon-8 p.m. March 27, 9 a.m.-7 p.m. March 28 and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. March 29.
• Aug. 7-9, Mid-Atlantic Fall Boat Show & Sale, Charlotte Convention Center, Charlotte. Hours: noon-8 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. Admission: $6 adults, 12 and younger get in free with adult. Admission is good for all three days with return pass.
• Aug. 21-23, Carolina Fall Boat Show & Sale, N.C. State Fairgrounds, Raleigh, N.C. Hours: noon-8 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. Admission: $6 adults, 12 and younger get in free with adult. Admission is good for all three days with return pass.