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Rhode Island Boat Show establishes new model for reaching consumers

Rhode Island Marine Trades Association
May 10, 2013
Filed under News

Bristol (R.I.)  May 9, 2013 — The Rhode Island Boat Show, held May 4-5 in five venues throughout the state, drew 52 exhibitors and hundreds of boating enthusiasts to the waterfront for this Ocean State happening. But numbers don’t tell the whole story of this unique boat show that started in 2011 as a homegrown, industry effort.  This year’s running of the Rhode Island Boat Show proves that this event is hitting its stride, maturing into an effective way for marine companies to reach consumers.

Organizers focused on a set of simple goals when staging this year’s event: Make it low cost and easy for exhibitors to get to; make it free for consumers; include on-the-water opportunities for those who wanted them; use low-cost communication such as the website and Facebook; and draw people to waterfront venues to showcase the boating lifestyle.

“The set of goals we had for this year’s event worked together beautifully,” said Wendy Mackie, CEO of the Rhode Island Marine Trades Association (RIMTA), which endorses the show. “Many companies are learning how to use this event to connect with their clientele—to spend time with them and to build that critical relationship with customers that is the heart of our business.”

Ryan Miller of Latitude Yacht Brokerage in Newport, one of the original founders of this show, understands better than most how to maximize results from this springtime event.

“This show is unique,” said Miller. “It’s not inside a convention hall in the middle of winter, your boats are not penned in to a dock space the way they are at big shows—so you can do things you can’t do at traditional shows. You can take your customer out for a test sail, let him turn on the engine and go for a demo ride, let their kids hang out on the docks, or spend some one-on-one time.”

Miller was proactive in drawing his clientele to his venue in Jamestown and emailed over 5,000 people to alert them to his participation. As a result, the traffic in Jamestown was double of what it was at last year’s show.

For Dick Cromwell of Freedom Boat Club, with locations in Newport, Portsmouth, and Warwick, this show far surpassed other marketing events he has done in the springtime. In previous years, he organized Open Houses, but with disappointing results.

“This year, we netted out much better by putting our energy and effort into the Rhode Island Boat Show,” said Cromwell.

Cromwell is aware, as other exhibitors were, that this boat show is “a different critter,” as he said—and for those who include it in their marketing mix, they may net out like him with sales and leads to new qualified customers.

The boat show also featured opportunities to get out on the water and learn. Sailing classes were run in three venues by Narragansett Sailing. Confident Captain worked with Discover Boating—a nonprofit awareness program run on behalf of the North American recreational boating industry—to run a series of powerboat clinics and seminars at the Warwick venue, which sold out. Sessions were geared to a range of experience levels and covered skills such as docking, anchoring, open-water boat handling, close-quarters maneuvering, and even an introduction to the Rules of the Road.

“Boating instruction helps you enjoy your boat more,” said Confident Captain President Kent Dresser, whose instructors taught at the show onboard boats supplied by Marinemax and Freedom Boat Club.  “There are great lessons to be learned from professional instructors: they help take the worry out of a boater’s day, they instill confidence, and they ultimately help boaters have more fun out on the water.”

The boat show was also an opportunity for those from out of state to visit and learn what Rhode Island offers—including the state’s no-sales-tax policy on boats that are sold and registered in Rhode Island, and on boating services such as refits, repairs, storage, mooring, and berthing. Many out-of-state individuals have already made the Ocean State their boating home: approximately half of the 44,000 registered boaters in Rhode Island live in other states.

At presstime, RIMTA and the show’s organizers were assessing what worked well this year in order to plan the next stage of evolution of a show that they hope will become a fixture on the Ocean State’s springtime calendar. One certainty is that they will put their focus on waterfront destination venues.

According to Wendy Mackie of RIMTA, being an industry-organized effort with multiple destinations gives organizers of this show a certain degree of flexibility in creating an event that will follow the pulse of the marketplace.

“The Rhode Island Boat Show will become whatever we, as an industry, determine it will be. That alone makes this show pretty special,” said Mackie.

For more on the Rhode Island Boat Show, head to the event website at www.rhodeislandboatshow.com or call RIMTA at 401-396-9619.

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