New boat show finds place in crowded waters

'We're not charging admission or parking or anything the other shows charge.'

By Rebecca Keister
Contributing Writer
ShamWows may be, as organizers of the Rhode Island Boat Show said, “awesome,” but you won’t find them there. More

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New boat show finds place in crowded waters

'We're not charging admission or parking or anything the other shows charge.'

COURTESY MATTHEW LEDU POWERING FORWARD: New and used power boats similar to the ones pictured above at Bristol Marine will be on display at the second annual Rhode Island Boat Show taking place April 28-29.
By Rebecca Keister
Contributing Writer
Posted 4/23/12

ShamWows may be, as organizers of the Rhode Island Boat Show said, “awesome,” but you won’t find them there.

You also won’t find anyone selling knife sharpeners, woks, or anything else, really, unless it’s something that can be used on or for a boat.

“[There won’t be] all those gadgets and gizmos you find at trade shows. This show really is for people interested in buying a boat or accessories for their boat,” said Ryan Miller, owner of Latitude Yacht Brokerage LLC, in Jamestown, and co-founder of the boat show. “It’s geared for the serious boat owners and buyers.”

The Rhode Island Boat Show will be back for its second year April 28-29, keeping with its streamlined philosophy that Miller and co-founder Matt Leduc, a broker at Bristol’s Fleet Yachts Sales say, combined with filling a springtime show void, will keep them successful.

When the Newport Spring Boat Show, run by the Newport Exhibition Group, which also oversees the Newport International Boat Show, folded in 2010, Miller and Leduc, friendly from their years in the marine industry, began talking about a way to replace it that also would provide a better venue for their clientele and drive home the idea of promoting Rhode Island as a boat-purchasing and boat-docking destination.

“It certain respects, [the Newport show] was successful,” said Miller, citing his belief that it stopped running in anticipation of launching a bigger show that then didn’t happen because the economy soured. “We’re not trying to be competition for the Providence Boat Show or Newport International. We’re really just a progressive group of professionals trying to offer more for our clients.”

It wasn’t totally smooth sailing, however.

Planning to put the show on in April 2011 came only after the winter show circuit had ended that year.

“It ended up becoming a very interesting recipe on how to put a boat show together,” Leduc said. “Last year, [the show] was done real quick and it was pretty much whoever was on my speed dial. The response was good enough to want to do it again.”

Held last year at Bristol Marine & Fleet Yacht Sales, in Bristol, where Leduc’s office is located, the show attracted 20 of Leduc’s speed-dial contacts and approximately 150 attendees.

This year’s event is at three locations, again at Bristol Marine and also at East Ferry Wharf in Jamestown, where Miller’s business is housed, and at Bassett Marine in Warwick.

The expansion is meant to highlight the entire state, open the show to different vendors in those three towns for a local feel, as well as to benefit local businesses.

“Hopefully we get enough traffic where restaurants in Bristol get business and coffee shops in Warwick,” said Leduc.

Earlier this month the show had about the same amount vendors lined up as last year but that number was expected to increase as word spread.

One hundred percent of the money they charge vendors goes into marketing the show, which makes up its only overhead cost.

There’s none of the more traditional boat-show staffing or building costs.

“The difference for us is costs,” said Miller. “We’re not charging admission, or parking or anything the other shows charge.”

The Providence Boat Show, held in January at the R.I. Convention Center, charges $10 for adults for one of its three show days. Newport’s September show, at Oldport Marine, Bannister’s Wharf and Bowen’s Wharf, charges $18 admission for one of three days or $30 for its VIP day.

Well-attended by both local, regional and international buyers and sellers, the shows, both decades old, are longstanding draws.

“I really think they’re all different,” said Wendy Mackie, CEO of the Rhode Island Marine Trade Association. “[Boating] is a year-round experience. This [show] is your last chance to buy before the season begins. We’re hoping a boat show at this period of time is a boater’s perfect opportunity to just get it done and enjoy the season.”

The Rhode Island Boat Show, said Miller and Leduc, wants to be only what it advertises – an open-house type of show run by local businesses that will promote purchasing in Rhode Island, which has a tax exemption on boats purchased by nonresidents and no tax for residents registering a boat here.

Where the Providence Boat Show, Mackie said, is thought of as local, it is indoors and an opportunity for those thinking about purchasing for the upcoming season to begin browsing.

The Rhode Island Boat Show, comparatively, will put boats in the water.

“It will bring [people] out and get a feel for the [boat’s] atmosphere by being on the water,” said Mackie. “That does happen at the Newport show as well, but in a much more congregated atmosphere.

Where families may make a day of it in the sun at the Newport International Festival, which expects some 750 dealers this year, joining in parties, book signings, and seminars, Miller and Leduc hope their vendors, who do, they said, exhibit at the other shows, benefit from a stricter concentration on marine-related businesses.

Vendors lined up so far include those selling new and used power and sail boats, including Leduc and Miller’s companies, club memberships, sailing lessons and boating equipment.

That’s not to say they aren’t eyeing – and hoping – for increased success.

“I’d love to see it continue to grow and become more inclusive with the entire state. It’s our job to get people to mobilize to do business here in Rhode Island,” said Leduc. “We’re specifically dealing with boat sales and we have a huge advantage with the no-tax [status]. The coastline is what Rhode Island has to offer. We need to push that.” •

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