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Boat show may buoy sales
Marine businesses optimistic for 2009
Boat Show 4 es
Richard Hunter gives a tour of a Sundancer 330, one of Marine Max in Cumming's top sellers. The boat dealer is showing 26 boats at the 47th Annual Atlanta Boat Show this weekend. - photo by Emily Saunders
At a glance
* What: The 47th annual Atlanta Boat Show
* When: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Jan. 16; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Jan 17; and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Jan. 18
* Where: Georgia World Congress Center, Atlanta
* Tickets: $9, adults; $5, youth ages 13 to 15; and free, children 12 and younger.
* Contact: (954) 441-3220 or go online at

The ongoing drought and economic downturn have stung the boating industry and other merchants who depend on Lake Lanier, but several Forsyth County businesses hope to lift their spirits and sales this week at the 47th annual Atlanta Boat Show.

“We scaled down considerably because our business has declined because of the lake levels,” said Liz Morrisey, secretary of J&L Dock Supply. “We know it’s not going to be as good as it has been in the past, but we want to make sure we have a presence there and we’re hopeful that things will turn around.”

Among the other Forsyth County vendors attending the boat show include: Atlanta Dock Inc.; Carolinian BoatWorks; Marine Max of Georgia; Overboard Designs; Port Royale Marina; and Southern Fishing School.

J&L Dock Supply has been part of the boat show for its 14-year existence, said Morrisey, who is hoping the recent rains will restore customer confidence as well as the lake level, which is already 4 feet higher than this time in 2008.

“This is our second year of bad years because of the lake level,” she said. “We’re positive and hopeful [the lake will continue rising], but we didn’t have the economy situation the way we have it now. We call it the perfect storm.”

The sluggish economy has actually benefited Overboard Designs, said owner Cibele Ziobrowski. The boating upholstery service last month received its highest December sales of its five-year history.

“Most people are not able, or they are not buying new boats,” she said. “They’re fixing up what they have and that’s a very smart way of them spending their money and investing in something that they already have, to keep the value up.

“That’s where I think our business comes in, just to help them make their older boats look like new for a fraction of the price.”

Charlie Bell, Park Marine sales manager said Lake Lanier’s Port Royale Marina, along with the company's four other marinas on Lake Allatoona, will share a booth at the show.

“People who buy boats are looking for a place to keep them,” he said. “We’re there to try to create business.
“We go every year. It’s a huge event for us.”

The company also will have a booth representing its four sales operations in the metro Atlanta area. The display will showcase about 50 different units, including deck boats, cruisers, runabouts pontoons and a full selection of Yamaha watercraft.

The boat show, the state’s largest boating event, has drawn crowds as large as 40,000 people. But manager Larry Berryman said the Atlanta Boat show and other consumer-type events have seen attendance drop recently.

“The boat show's attendance has fluctuated between 30,000 and 40,000 attendees over the last several years,” he said. “There are many contributing factors for the decrease, including general economic conditions, the housing crunch, Georgia's drought, lake levels, consumer confidence ... etc.”

“Now, gas prices are falling again and the lakes are getting much needed rain, so once the economy rebounds a bit and consumer confidence increases, we think we will see our attendance numbers increase as well.”

Ziobrowski said she’s gone to the boat show for the past five years, but this will be her first year as a vendor.

“I’ve been there every year just meeting people and handing out business cards,” she said. “This year we decided to step it up.”

This also will be the first year Carolinian BoatWorks is participating. Marketing Director Marty Allagood said he expects the company’s hand-built, custom-made boats will be a hit.

“I’ve been in the boating business for a long time and I’ve lived in the area for 26 years now," he said. "Obviously, with the economy being slow, the customers that are buying boats right now that are having to finance their boats are really having a rough time.

"We’re not selling to people like you and me. I couldn’t afford this boat if I had to. The customer that we are looking for is the customer that pays cash.”

The price range for a Carolinian BoatWorks custom sports fishing boat ranges from $220,000 to as much as $2 million.

During the boat show, Allagood said he’s hopeful to get their brand name, which is less than two years old, out to potential buyers.

Name recognition isn’t a problem for Marine Max of Georgia. The boating giant has 88 dealerships throughout the country, including a Cumming location.

Scott Cunningham, district president, said the company has been to every Atlanta Boat Show over its nearly five-decade run. This year, it will display 26 boats, ranging in length from 18 feet to 47 feet.

Business, especially through the holiday season, has exceeded expectations, Cunningham said. He hopes that trend continues next week, particularly since about 20 percent of annual sales for the boat dealer come from the show.

“We’ll probably see fewer dealers and maybe fewer boats sold, but it feels like the consumer is really focusing on higher quality products,” he said.

The company participates in more than 100 shows each year, said Cunningham, adding attendance “has been down in the numbers, but the quality of the traffic has been way up.”

Ziobrowski is optimistic for the industry in 2009.

“I have seen a change in the spirit of people and now it’s like boaters are looking forward to being able to use their boats,” she said. “People will still see an advantage of spending time with their family and using their boats and getting back into their recreational [activities].”