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Thursday, May 24, 2018
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Sales improving with economy, boat show vendors say

TAMPA - Bryan Crowder and Debbie Culala were supposed to be in research mode this weekend. The couple’s plan was to attend the Tampa Bay Boat Show Saturday at the Florida State Fairgrounds, do some research when they returned home and then – in the near future – purchase a boat. That near future came a lot quicker than expected as the couple placed a down payment on a NauticStar boat Sunday afternoon. “We planned it to actually be an extension of the research we were already doing,” Crowder said. “We were looking at used boats. (Debbie) wasn’t sure how deck boats sized up to the fishing boats. I wanted a (fishing boat), she liked the deck boat for all the people, so to come out and physically see the boats they had available helped make the decision easier.”
The pair settled on a hybrid. More than 100 dealers and exhibits were set up inside the fairgrounds’ Expo Hall. Merchandise on display eclipsed the $10 million mark, according to event planners. The show, which began Friday and ended Sunday, featured seminars covering a handful of topics, including fishing and net casting. Kiosks with fishing supplies, portable docks and security systems were among the many other items that lined the inner perimeter of the hall. Louis Vinci, president of Indian Springs Marina, has participated in the show since it began more than six years ago. His company, which also sells boats, has witnessed a change in behavior. People are starting to buy again. Vinci said the most expensive boat he brought to the show, an EdgeWater 318, was sold the first day. The 31-foot vessel fetches $180,000. “Now, there doesn’t seem to be the fear,” Vinci said. “You’re seeing the perceived wealth of equity in homes coming back. Housing values are going up, not as many people are upside down in their homes. … There are more people who are employed, they’re not fearful of losing their jobs. They’re not in fear of shutdowns. They want to have some fun, as do retirees.” Andre Africa once owned a 24-foot boat he used to entertain family and friends. After about five years, he had to let it go due to work constraints. Sunday, he was at the fairgrounds to scratch a familiar itch and prepare for a second go round. “I always take the opportunity to go out and look at new boats,” Africa said, “and wish, reminisce and plan for the future. … I got rid of my boat about six years ago, so the newer boats have better technology, better finishings, better motors. So I’m trying to keep up without having ownership.” Crowder and Culala, who moved from Kansas City in March and now live in Hernando Beach, will test a similar boat in the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday with members of the marina. They hope to get their boat in about five weeks. “Living in Florida, water is what it’s all about,” Culala said. “We had a great time.”

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