Long time – no hear. It have been more than 10 days now since you´ve read a new article. This unusually long gap in new content is partially due to the boat show stress – 10 hours full throttle on the stand plus some hours before and after the show for meeting business partners and using the show as a networking hub. But this time, the “all-out boat show war” came with a present: The flu. Along with almost all of our own team, countless other exhibitors and surely many, many visitors, the influenza has me in her death-cold unrelenting grip. Man, that´s something! So, here I am: Vegetating sweaty and near a febrile delirium on my couch, trying to sort my thoughts to give at least a short summary of what this year´s Boot Duesseldorf was all about. Let´s try …
To sum it up: It was a crushing experience! At least for Hall 16, where the big brands of sailing are exhibiting, 9 days of a constant flow of visitors to our boats. I may be getting old (this is my eighth year in the business now and because of Covid-pauses my seventh Boot Duesseldorf) but I have never experienced a show with so many people constantly on the stand. Not even after Corona. I know that other reports announce less overall visitors but we did not feel any relief during the show at all. Full throttle all the time. Even the traditionally calmer weekdays from Tuesday to Thursday had been very, very strong. What a stress. So, that should be a good sign, right?
A market in decline?
Well, yes and no I´d say. Beneteau came with the biggest showcase of recent years, presenting eight sailing yachts from 34 to 60 feet. A very strong first weekend – we call it the “Zombie-Days” because people are pouring onto the stand from all sides, underneath the boats, between the decorative plants and stairs like in a Z-movie – was followed by a constantly high influx of visitors during the week. Amazing!
I originally had planned to work with just one another colleague on the stand but we soon realized that two people are way too less to cope with all the people, so I quickly took on a third team member. Still, it was impossible for us three to even take a pee during the boat show hours. The smart watch constantly showed over 15 kilometers walked on the booth per day. So that is a great indicator that boating, sailing and watersports are still attractive to people and that new boats are of high interest. But does it translate to sales? Yes and no.
Although the boats were full up to an extend that even the top management from Beneteau had to step in to protect the boats from being overcrowded (just imagine this picture!), the sales figures are both encouraging and thought-provoking. The targets were met and overfulfilled. That said, the turnover was absolutely great and the dealers as well as the shipyard are happy on the stand. But looking into the details, this is valid at least for my market in Germany, I can clearly see that despite unbroken high interest in the “bread and butter”-sized boats from 35-40 feet, sales are kind of low in this segment. Really well performing are the big units plus 50 feet. So what does that mean?
Boating and sailing is still top notch. But …
The high inflation which we all have to deal with on a daily basis by refueling our cars, buying groceries or paying the energy bills has as well skyrocketed the prices for new boats. As with any goods, yacht prices are through the roof. The shipyards do everything to somehow absorb the biggest part but of course, it´s undeniable: Some boats have seen an increase of 50% (and even more) from 2019 to now. An Oceanis 30.1 is now around 200.000 Euros all inclusive – and this is our entry level yacht! It is absolutely clear that especially the middle class, the “ordinary Joe” and average sailor is struggling to get together those budgets.
“The middle class is gone”, that´s a sentence I often heard during the show. I don´t fully agree because it is not gone or has vanished. From the conversations with many of my friends and people who met me on the stand I know that these people just keep together their things. These are small enterprises, CEOs of small businesses having worked hard to save the budgets. Now, facing an overall recession, rising energy prices, labour costs and such, they just know that spending their money on a boat may not be the smartest option. Many save the money to help their businesses. As interest rates for financing are high (in boating now we hit 7.x per cent per year easily) this isn´t an easy option either. So I guess this explains the strange co-existence of a high interest in small and medium-sized boats and a bit of reluctant market.
Two sides of the same coin
Anyway, speaking of a crisis is inept. Especially Germans need more time to adapt to high prices. I remember the uproar when gas prices went through the roof after Corona, now it´s a common thing and nobody talks about it anymore. Speaking of things that were not so good in Duesseldorf: The queues. Well, in almost all retrospects about the show I read that the visitors are unhappy with the long queues. I can understand that: Waiting is something I hate as well. But let´s step back for a moment and look at what a trade fair is. It is not an amusement park for people. We are not there to entertain. It´s a trade fair. Products must be sold here. The shipyards pay enormous amounts for the presentations of their products, we dealers pay a lot of money as well to be present on the booths. But we are not there for fun – we must sell!
In this, first of all, the address and personal data of our visitors is the “ore” in which we dig and try to screen out the nuggets. Secondly, all those charter-skippers and vocational sailors who just want to see their next boat cannot expect a boat dealer to show them around for half an hour and explain the boat in all details. And thirdly: “I just want to see the flagship” is totally understandable: Everybody wants to see what the “upper class” is enjoying: But the guys present on the stand have to make their living by selling boats. We are not there to serve the visitor´s convenience, no matter if they have paid an entry fee to the boat show. I can understand the frustration here and there, but people should understand that a boat show is meant to sell boats, not to make you and your kids a lovely afternoon. As hard as it may sound, maybe the boat show organizers should put more focus on this than on creating the biggest event ever? I guess this would help everyone: Us, dealers, to make business, and the visitors which get a clear and specific picture of what a boat show is.
Innovations @ Duesseldorf?
You know from the past years that I roam the stands and booths of the big and small brands to chase interesting sailboats. This is of course valid for this year´s edition of Boot Duesseldorf. In fact, you can look forward to no less than 13 boats I have pictured in full external and internal walkthroughs. In total, 16 to 17 articles will be published in the coming weeks so that´s a huge material collection again. A sign for the significance and unbroken ranking of Duesseldorf as the world´s leading boat show. Nevertheless …
I must say that I was surprised to see so few really exhilarating boats. I mean, Wauquiez launched their new line of sailboats with a “3D immersive experience” that turned out to be a black walkaround corridor with TV-Screens on the wall. Okay. I missed the true “wow”-effect, like last year´s Neo 570 or the Aelos P30. Strangely enough (and your will read and see it soon) the most exciting news came from the big “odd” production companies. I wouldn´t say that it was a boring show, but for the sailing yachts, I kind of missed the big bang, the specialty, the cherry on top. But maybe that´s my flu-battered brain …
A mixed résumé
In this, my personal résumé is mixed. I am still overwhelmed by the sheer masses storming our booth! Believe me, my dreams are exploding still from those impressions! It´s a good thing to notice that so many people are interested in sailing and especially our sailboats. I´ve met so many people again who are gravitating around their decision to get a boat for their families and it´s a relief to realize that – no matter the external challenges – so many people try to figure out a way to become a boat owner. I personally also quite love the fact that the product I sell still holds up very, very well against the competitive market, something this boat show is perfect for. And then there were these massive “socializing” places: Essentially, free areas where normally an axhibitor´s stand would have been.
It was quite noticeable, much more than last year, I´d say, that either more exhibitors abstained from participating this year or that booths and areas shrunk in size. Behind the big brands where normally the smaller yards would showcase at least one of their exhibits, many areas remained unused. The organizers tried the usual “decoration” to not make this so obvious, but it is undeniable, at least for Hall 16 sailing yachts, that there were a lot of free spaces with a lot of benches and plastic trees. Anyway …
Boot Duesseldorf is some kind of closure of the old and past year and a fresh start into the new year. Will it be a success? We will see in 12 months, I guess. My guts tell me that it will be a good year. Hard work, a fair and honest relationship to our prospect clients and buyers, an open and truthful sparring with our yard and suppliers: Staying true to our values, operating economically, always with an ear to the ground. Although this f*****ing infuenza is tying me down to my sweaty bed, it was a great show. Thanks to all who came to visit me in height of the Zombie-chaos, meeting readers of NO FRILLS SAILING.com is always a highlight for me.
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