Business: North Fork dealers head to New York Boat Show

PHOTO COURTESY OF NEW YORK BOAT SHOW | The Javits Center in New York, where several local boat dealers are taking part this week in the New York Boat Show, one of the boating business’s major annual events. Here boats are lined up during last year’s show.

Local boat dealers are feeling cautiously optimistic that hard financial times may finally be in their wake. Many are also looking forward to this week’s New York Boat Show at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan as a way to secure new sales.

Bill Lieblein, co-owner of Port of Egypt Marine in Southold, and Jeff Strong, president of Strong’s Marine, with locations in Mattituck and Flanders, both said that their businesses generate 25 to 30 percent of annual sales from their presence at the boat show.

“The amount of inquiries we’ve had for the show, the amount of appointments we have set up already and quotations that are already in the works is definitely encouraging and up from what it was last year,” Mr. Strong said. “We’re forecasting a 20 percent increase in sales over last year.”

Mr. Lieblein and Mr. Strong said they saw their worst declines in sales during 2008 and 2009. However, both have seen the tide begin to turn, with steady increases from the early part of 2010 to this month.

Mr. Lieblein is hosting two separate booths at the boat show and believes that the key to staying afloat is to diversify a company’s offerings. Port of Egypt will be out in force at the Grady-White Boats booth, as well as hosting their own booth.

He is also promoting the first boat club on the North Fork. Called simply the Port of Egypt Marine Boat Club, the new venture allows boat enthusiasts to lease a boat for a season, avoiding the typical worries of boat ownership, such as maintenance and docking fees. The cost is just shy of $4,000 for the season, which runs from May 1 to Oct. 1. Lessees can use the boat as much as they like and are financially responsible for gas and any damage that might occur. Boats ranging from 18 to 25 feet are available.

“Port of Egypt owns the boat, but people still have a sense of ownership in that the same people will be using these boats,” said Elisa Ruroede, the company’s sales manager. “It’s not like a rental, where someone comes in and you never see them again.”

Boat servicing has kept Port of Egypt from sinking, according to Mr Lieblein. Over at Albertson Marine in Southold, owner Bill Witzke agreed that his service department kept his business on a steady course. When people cannot afford new boats, he said, they tend to pay attention to the vessels they already own.

Mr. Witzke and his crew will be at the boat show at the Mercury Marine booth, although he says he does not depend on the boat show for sales as much as other local boat dealers do.

“I do meet a lot of my customers at the boat show, which is nice,” he said. “It’s good public relations for me. A lot of my customers are from the city area and it’s nice to see them at a different environment. We have a strong customer base and they’re very loyal to us, so it works out well.”

Having cut back on new stock for the past few years, Albertson’s is focused on selling boats already in their inventory.
But one problem that gives boat dealers a sinking feeling, Mr. Witzke noted, is the fact that potential owners are having trouble securing loans to float their boating dreams.

Much as the banking industry has tightened up on real estate, potential lenders are also getting stricter on requirements for boat financing.

“When we typically look at a boat loan, we like to see at least 20 to 25 percent down,” said Kevin Santacroce, chief lending officer for Bridgehampton National Bank. “As for annual percentage rate on a boat loan, it depends on the individual’s credit score and their own personal financial condition, but I’d say we’re looking at 7.5 to 8 percent.”

The boat show opened Wednesday and runs through Sunday, Jan. 23.