Inside Business: Boat shows give Bay Yacht owner optimism

Eric Smith enjoyed the sounds of the 2012 United States Boat Shows. Particularly, the sweet melody of pocketbooks opening.

After five years of slumping boat sales, buyers returned to City Dock earlier this month eager to put ink to check. Smith said the 2012 show was his best in the past half decade with a handful of boat orders.

Smith said the number of serious boat shoppers was higher than in previous years, as were the number of people who submitted financing applications. After 40 years running Bay Yacht Agency, Smith said he recognizes shifts in buying patterns. He said it seems buyers are finally returning to the market ready to spend their money.

Smith recently spoke to The Capital about the state of the boating industry.

How did the 2012 show go for Bay Yacht?

“Last year, we were surprised because it wasn’t as good a year as we anticipated. It was the quietest boat show we’ve ever had. This year was slow until late August and September. This year was the best in five years.

“It’s not easy, but there are people that are sick of waiting and opening their pocketbooks and buying boats.”

How has the industry changed in the past 40 years?

“The boats have gotten bigger. The average-sized boats people own now are bigger. It seems like when I was first doing this, the average size was something like 28-29 feet on the Chesapeake Bay.

“Lately, it seems like it is 40 feet. Catamarans are getting more popular. That’s because of the established charter fleets in the Caribbean where people go down and travel on them. I suspect that is wife-driven. It’s more comfortable. It’s flat sailing, you can put your glass of wine on a table, go away and it’s still there when you come back. It’s great for entertaining.”

How did the 2012 Annapolis boat shows compare to your first in 1970?

“It’s bigger. There are more vendors, more boats. People are coming from all over.

“It’s more national and international than it was in the very beginning. About 10 years ago it was even more international. There has been a proliferation of boat shows across the country and that has kind of diluted it.

“The Annapolis show is still a great show; it is the perfect time. We can take orders and have (boats) delivered in time for spring. It’s about the latest you can order and have it for spring. We sell that (aspect) at the boat show.”

What keeps you in the industry?

“I love boats. I still have a passion for them and sailing. I enjoy the challenge of running this business.

“I have some really good support people who have been with me for a long time. They’re fun to work with and they are like family. It’s a pleasure coming into work every day.”

How many boats do you think you’ve sold in the past four decades?

“Thirty is a good year. Now, with bigger boats, we sell less but the dollar value is higher. We’ve probably sold between 1,200 to 1,500 boats (in 40 years).”

How many boats have you owned?

“I don’t know. Probably about 20.”

Where’s your favorite place to sail?

“The Chesapeake Bay and Virgin Islands. We tend to sail with lots of guests and most are not big sailors. We like it to be easy because we can’t count on much help.

“There are lots of restaurants and things to do. We go down to the Virgin Islands about once a year. Up here, we sail as much as we can whenever we can.”

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