Boating seems to be one business in which same-day sales, even at the state’s industry trade shows, isn’t an accurate assessment of how well things are going.
In fact, neither is attendance at those shows.
The real success, industry professionals and exhibition organizers say, is measured by building long-term relationships at those events.
Of course that networking does begin by drawing a crowd to meet with Rhode Island manufacturers and other boat-industry vendors.
“If [attendance] follows the general climate and tone and what we’re seeing in the industry in general, we’re hoping it will be good,” said Tom Delotto, director of the Newport Exhibition Group, a subsidiary of the Newport Harbor Corp., which runs three boat shows locally, including the Providence Boat Show being held next month at the Rhode Island Convention Center. “We are doing well and there seems to be a general undercurrent of enthusiasm.”
The show will be held Jan. 18-20. It is the first major boat show of the year in Rhode Island.
The Newport Exhibition Group also organizes the Charter Yacht Show, which will be held next June, and the Newport International Boat Show, which will be held in September.
Though the group does not disclose attendance, exhibitor or sales numbers from its shows, Delotto said the 2012 international and yacht shows were successful. He expects January’s Providence event to be the same.
The industry was particularly watchful of the yacht show, which the Newport Harbor Corp. bought from the Newport Yacht Management Co. in October 2011 and operated under the exhibition group for the first time last year.
“We’re producing the sole charter-yacht show in the United States so it’s a platform for putting the brokers together and it was very well-received,” Delotto said.
Overall, “the trend [in boat sales] seems to be [good],” Delotto said. “The feedback coming is that they are enthusiastic, that business is good.”
Peter Van Lanker, president of Hunt Yachts in Portsmouth and chair of the Rhode Island Manufacturing Association’s manufacturing committee, said trade shows are not necessarily a “good marker” of how the boating business is faring here because a large portion of sales are made out of state.
That can include sales made at the state’s boat shows because the Newport Exhibition Group shows, as well as the Rhode Island Boat Show, a relatively new venture founded in 2011, are regional and attract attention from visitors.
“I have some [sales] from in the state but most of it is not. … We capture [boaters] in Rhode Island intrinsically, because we are here and it’s a small state,” Van Lanker said.
Van Lanker said business still is not back to pre-recession levels. But, he said, the industry is very capable of sustaining where it is now and he attributes increased sales to a pent-up purchasing demand.
“I think people want to get back to life as usual and enjoy it. Our business is making people have special moments on the water,” he said.
The Rhode Island Boat Show, which expanded in 2012 to three locations, in Bristol, Jamestown and Warwick, showcases the state’s vendors in an open-house atmosphere welcoming to serious buyers, said co-founder Ryan Miller, owner of Latitude Yacht Brokerage.
The show was held last April and Miller said it will go on again next spring.
“The show went well. It’s not an attendee-driven show to get people through the gate and turn a profit,” said Miller, who is exhibiting at the Providence Boat Show. “A show is the point at which you are introduced to a buyer. It’s more of a networking event and about making connections more than it is about transacting.”
This year’s Providence Boat Show will place a big focus on recreational sport fishing, with its seminar series exclusively focused on that.
At the 2012 show, Delotto said, all the fishing seminars were overcrowded and others were under-attended.
This year’s show also will feature a “Buy The Boat of Your Dreams” raffle. Any attendee who purchases a boat at the show of at least $10,000, whether it is paid for in full or financed there, can enter to win a daily drawing of a $1,000 West Marine Gift Card.
Delotto said the raffle is not being conducted to bolster low show sales.
“We’re offering it as an incentive and hopefully providing a compelling reason for someone who is considering … a purchase at the show,” he said. •