Revived boat show hoists anchor
by Nicole Sours Larson
Jun 26, 2009 | 1123 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
When news broke recently that the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) was closing its San Diego office and canceling its 21-year-old winter boat show at the San Diego Convention Center, local boat dealers and small boating businesses were left high and dry.

But this boating-friendly region, where the recreational marine industry contributes more than $200 million annually to the economy, did not have to wait long for a replacement to emerge.

Jim Behun, general manager of Sunroad Resort Marina located at the east end of Harbor Island, recently announced that Sunroad is organizing a new in-the-water boat show to be held at the marina’s docks, with large exhibit tents in the adjacent parking lot to house marine electronics and accessories. Because the show no longer depends on the convention center’s scheduling issues, Sunroad has moved away from the event’s previous timing right after New Year’s.

The 2010 show, called the San Diego Boat Show at Sunroad Marina, will be held between Jan. 28 and 31 on a weekend free of professional football playoffs that impacts attendance.

Boat dealers, manufacturers and local vendors are excited about the more favorable dates, Behun said. Most major past exhibitors have already committed to participate. The San Diego Unified Port District has also signed on as a show sponsor.

Involved with the San Diego Boat Show since its inception, Behun previously ran the in-the-water show at the Marriott Marina and has produced boat shows all over the world.

As a former captain and yacht broker, he understands the value of the boat show to the local industry as well as the potential “rolling impact” damaging the boating community if the show were to disappear.

“The average dealer or broker makes 60 percent of his income off the boat show,” Behun said, stimulated both by direct sales and from leads generated through boat-show encounters. The recession-battered San Diego boating world didn’t need yet another blow like the show’s cancellation, Behun said.

He pitched the idea of staging a new boat show to Sunroad’s receptive corporate management, which sought new ways to showcase the marina.

Behun was able to line up many of the previous participants and sponsors for the revived show, and Sunroad is eager to broaden the show’s appeal. He said Sunroad welcomes exhibitors with wares enhancing the boating lifestyle.

Already scheduled are weekend cooking demonstrations by Deborah Scott, owner/chef of the nearby Island Prime restaurant. New educational seminars include sessions on boating safety for children and pets. One exhibit section will focus on “green” boating products, services and equipment.

Under discussion is a nautical art show, showcasing local and regional working artists.

Vendors whom Behun hopes to attract include interior designers, jewelers, clothing and other boating suppliers.

Prior to announcing the boat show cancellation, NMMA did not inform the convention center, which lost a $100,000 booking. Nor did NMMA notify local trade associations, dealers or manufacturers who have long been supportive of the show and who relied on the January event to develop potential customers and introduce their newest models, said Will MacIntyre, manager of the Harbor Island office of H&S Yacht Sales, the region’s largest boat dealer.

“We were shocked, disappointed,” MacIntyre said of the earlier cancellation. “This marketplace was left without its main show.”

Even though show exhibits, particularly inside the convention center, had shrunk in recent years as the economy sagged, brokers sold numerous boats at the show, which McIntyre described as “extraordinarily successful” for his firm. He cited industry statistics that 90 percent of all boat buyers attended a boat show within the previous six months.

“There would be a negative impact on the local (recreational boating) industry if the show went away and left a void. It would hurt the retailers and boating,” MacIntyre added.

Sharon Cloward, president of the San Diego Port Tenants Association, confirmed the importance of the recreational boating industry. She pointed to the large numbers of boat owners who live elsewhere and patronize local restaurants and shops when visiting their boats. These visitors also pour money into marinas for dockage and into boatyards and marine stores for boats parts, repairs, supplies and accessories.

“(Sail) racing is a big industry,” Cloward said. “We’re also the largest sportfishing industry in the country.”

Cloward said she is optimistic about the new show and supportive of the changed, more flexible format, which she thinks will better serve local boating businesses. Many small businesses generate as much as 70 percent of their business through boat show leads, she said.

 “We’re ecstatic at having someone save the day,” Cloward said.

For more information about the San Diego Boat Show at Sunroad, call (619) 574-0736 or visit www.bigbayboatshow.com.
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