Surfeit of shows: Is three a crowd?

Posted on Written by Richard Armstrong

ny1Fall New York City production would run within days of Norwalk and simultaneously with Newport

While exhibitors at two autumn New England boat shows were doing their best to entice customers, show managers and exhibitors couldn’t help but wonder how the debut of a planned fall show in New York will affect them next year.

In addition to the National Marine Manufacturers Association’s annual New York City boat show in January, a second show will be launched Sept. 11-14 that will include an in-water component on the Hudson River.

The dilemma is that another NMMA-owned show, the long-running Norwalk Boat Show in nearby Connecticut, is scheduled for Sept. 18-21.

“Everyone has the same question: How will the New York show affect the Norwalk show?” says Bill Gardella Jr., general manager of the Rex Marine Center, which is owned by the same family that owns Norwalk Cove Marina, site of the Norwalk show since the mid-1970s.

Next year, the new New York show also will overlap a popular regional show that the NMMA does not own. The Newport (R.I.) International Boat Show is scheduled for Sept. 11-14.

Days after this year’s Norwalk show was wrapping up, Gardella said he had not been told of any changes for 2014.

“We don’t know anything, honestly,” he says. “The official word is, ‘We’ll see you next year.’ ”

“If they canceled the show, there would be a chance of being no show,” Gardella said of Norwalk. “We would consider a different producer. There might be some interest, and we would look and see if that is something that is viable. It could be nothing or there could another show.”

Room for three

NMMA regional show manager Jon Pritko says the NMMA has no plans to alter the Norwalk show.

Although the fall New York show is still early in the planning stage, he says organizers hope to make it “more of an event,” featuring food and wine tastings from local restaurants and wineries. The on-water location was still being decided, but Pritko confirmed it will be in Hudson River Park.

“People are resistant to change. However, change isn’t always a bad thing,” Pritko says. “Sometimes change is necessary. The consumer’s buying habits have changed a lot. Look at the new products and releases. We don’t have the luxury of saying, ‘These are the dates we want.’ ”

Despite speculation, the NMMA says it plans to continue the Norwalk show. “Basically what’s going to happen is the market is going to determine things,” Pritko says, pointing out that the Norwalk and New York show dates do not overlap.

ny2“I think there might be some years that it could conflict with Newport, so that’s why we tried to get a five- or six-year pattern out there so everyone can plan accordingly,” he says.

“This is almost like when we purchased the Atlantic City show because the Philly show had challenges, and people thought we purchased it to get rid of New York,” Pritko says. “That’s not the intent of this event in New York. This is something that we were looking at as an alternative to the winter show, and when it came up there was a lot of interest from larger boat manufacturers because … [they] can finally have an in-water venue in New York.”

Broad support from city, state and industry officials for the endeavor creates “a unique opportunity” for the industry and the region, Pritko says.

“I don’t think attendees will overlap,” he says. “For exhibitors, there is going to be some overlap when you’re talking about the larger ones — probably not for the smaller dealers because for most of them, their territory is different.”

Exhibitors weigh in

As regional industry players await word of potential changes to their normal fall boat show schedules, the reaction is mixed among local dealers, show managers and manufacturers.

“The Norwalk show is one of few opportunities for area dealers to appeal to that New York City and Fairfield County client,” says Tom Pilkington, a broker at Norwalk-based Prestige Yacht Sales. “I think it’s just in a great location to service the tri-state area. I just think it’s a critically important show to the region.”

Roe O’Brien, director of marketing for The Hinckley Co., which exhibits annually in Norwalk, says a show conflict puts direct sellers such as Hinckley in a bind.

“Dealer-based companies can, in fact, be in two places at once. At this point, I don’t know enough about the format of the new New York fall show to say whether we would or would not participate,” O’Brien says. “I look forward to learning more about it.”

The Newport Exhibition Group, owner and producer of the 43-year-old Rhode Island show, is keenly aware of the direct conflict with next year’s Newport show.

“The industry has seen positive trends the past couple of years, and two shows so close in geography may put pressure on local dealers and exhibiting manufacturers,” said Tom Delotto, director of the Newport Exhibition Group, in a statement.  “It is unfortunate for both exhibitors and attendees that the two shows will occur on the same weekend. The Newport International Boat Show is widely recognized as the unofficial kickoff to the boat show season, and as we enter our 44th year we have seen a record number of new boats and products introduced to the public at our show.”

Sabre Yachts, which exhibits at Newport annually and has exhibited at Norwalk in the past, differs from Hinckley because of its dealer network.

Bentley Collins, vice president of marketing and sales, says his company is not concerned about potential boat show schedule changes.

“Newport and New York might as well be Boston and Miami. No New York show will deter us from exhibiting in Newport — it’s a totally different market. No decision here for us,” he says, adding that Sabre’s New York and New Jersey dealers may opt for a fall New York show at that time of year.

This article originally appeared in the November 2013 issue.

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