The annual Tampa Bay Boat Show is back, with dealers and manufacturers plugging the latest in boating culture.
Vendor Lou Vinci, owner and operator of Indian Springs Marina, keeps more than 300 boats in the full-service marina and also is a dealer of five major fishing and recreational boating manufacturers: Chaparral, Four Winns, Wellcraft, Robalo and Everglades.
The vessels he sells represent fishing boats from 16 to 43 feet and recreational boats from 21 to 48 feet.
Here's what Vinci had to say about the show (which is presented by the Tampa Bay Times), the lines he represents and how the boating industry has bounced back since the Great Recession.
What's new in boats this year?
Each one of the lines we represent has released new models this year. Four Winns has the new Horizon Series H350, 35-foot boat. … It's got the combination for sleeping down below.
Wellcraft and Four Winns were acquired by Jeanneau two years ago. Jeanneau is a European builder. They are the biggest boat builder in the world. It is the General Motors in the boating industry, and they are devoting $100 million to the American market in the next 12 months.
The Tampa Bay market represents the No. 1 fishing boat market in the United States. It's the boating capital of the world. And all of the boat builders are represented here at the show.
Are people buying more boats now that the economy is up?
We've seen a growth in the marine market over the last five years. The market at my dealership is up 25 percent over the last year. We had a phenomenal year last year. It was the same across the entire spectrum of boats that we sell.
I think we're seeing growth in the 10 percent range industrywide. Here, people usually come to the show with checkbook in hand, which is really nice. The boat shows probably represent 55 percent of our annual sales. You can see 25 different brands of fish boats. You park your car once and you can see what you want. Now, there is a lot of traffic here.
Our financing people are here, and it's really a one-stop shopping event. I have 26 boats on the floor right now.
Any signs the market for boats might falter any time soon?
Nobody has to have a boat, except fishermen. It's a truly elective purchase and when times get tight, it's often the boat that gets cut. It is a discretionary purchase.
But the nice thing about Florida is, there's always a getaway. … I've been in the boating industry for 50 years. I can go fishing 3 miles offshore and it feels like I'm the only one out there. You get away from the traffic, the phone, the harassment of everyday life. Frankly, I would probably not be a continuing resident of Florida were it not for boating. I can use my boat for 10 months a year, although I used to go 12 months a year.
How big is this year's show?
It's sold out. This show is as packed as I've ever seen it.
I've got 2016s left on the floor, but we're in the process of making room for the 2017 models here at the show and at the dealership.
And the money is still good. The loans are still good with the lenders. Lenders are comfortable again with boats. Interest rates are 4, 5, 6 percent, depending on credit scores. But I haven't seen these kind of rates in a long time.