In spite of an 11 per cent year-over-year attendance dip, many exhibitors at the 56th Toronto International Boat Show reported strong sales.

A total of 72,289 people visited Canada’s largest consumer boat show, held on the Toronto waterfront from January 11-19. This represents an 11 per cent decline compared to the 80,010 people who attended the show in 2013. Yet several exhibitors reported positive sales despite the thinner crowds. In total, more than 550 manufacturers, dealers and marine suppliers completely sold out the Direct Energy Centre, filling more than one million square feet of display space.

Dave Dusome, regional sales manager at Nautic Global Group, said that sales of Rinker, Hurricane, Aqua Patio, Godfrey, Sweet Water and San Pan boats were better than ever. “We’re up 50 per cent from last year’s show and we’re very pleased,” said Dusome. “In my opinion, cruisers are on their way back and consumers are willing to pay for bigger units as long as the value is there.”

The 2014 show also exceeded the expectations of Les Dawe at CO2 Inflatables. Noting that 10 years ago “people couldn’t spell inflatable”, Dawe said that his year-over-year revenues have doubled. “It was our best show in at least five years, and we’ve actually had more than a 100 per cent increase in units sold at this year’s show.”

“We had very good quality attendees, who came prepared to purchase,” observed Mike Green at Beneteau dealer Anchor Yachts. “Part and parcel of the lower attendance is the simple reality that you get to talk to the people who are here for a lot longer, and that resulted in us selling three times as many boats this year.” Green added that he expects to sell “at least seven” more boats coming out of leads generated at the show.

Echoing the quality-over-quantity theme was Legend Boats general manager, Marc Duhamel. “Our total number of units sold was down maybe 10 per cent, but our dollar volume is well up over 10 per cent,” said Duhamel. “Pontoons were about even, small utility boats were down somewhat, but bigger boats were selling well.”

In order to attract new buyers, show organisers continued developing an outreach program launched a few years ago, which targets new immigrants by offering unique show tours conducted in Mandarin. More than 200 people participated in a total of 25 tours conducted over the course of the show, and purchased four boats. Additional sales are expected to be concluded in the weeks following the show. “It’s a very interesting market and we’re seeing more interest from various ethnic groups as well as from women, which is something we didn’t really expect,” said Bill Connor, owner of Stanley Boats. “Both sales and dollar volume were up at Stanley this year, with an emphasis on sales of bigger boats overall.”

First-time buyers were also out in full force at this year’s Toronto show, according to Gary Potyok, district sales manager for Bombardier Recreational Products. “We introduced our new Sea Doo Spark at the show, and had all kinds of interest and very strong sales, especially from people who’ve never owned a boat before. That really added a positive spark to this year’s show, and I also believe it’s adding to the very strong mood in the boating industry.”

Joining BRP in unveiling new product at the Toronto show were Yamaha, which used the event to stage the global debut of its new F115 four-stroke outboard, F175 outboard and new Talon propeller, and Crestliner Boats, which introduced its modular 1600 Vision fishing boat. Rec Boat Holdings showed its new Scarab 215 and Glastron GT207 jet propulsion boats, in the new models’ first international unveiling.

“Overall attendance was below expectations, despite the show delivering unprecedented advertising and publicity,” said show manager Cynthia Hare. “We will be reviewing together with exhibitors in order to understand if changes need to be made in the future. We are thrilled that so many boat brands and accessories had increased sales, despite the attendance decline.”

The Toronto International Boat Show is owned and produced by Canadian Boat Shows Inc. In generating more than $354m in economic impact to the region, it remains one of the largest consumer boat shows in North America. Dates for the 2015 Toronto International Boat Show are January 10-18, 2015 with a special Preview Night, with all proceeds donated to children’s charities, to be held on Friday, January 9.