HARTFORD, Conn. — After many years with the same layout and same look, the 46th annual Hartford Boat Show, a four-day event at the Connecticut Convention Center that ended Sunday, had a new look and new energy.
“We wanted to deliver a fresh product this year with a completely new layout, far more interactive displays, guided tours for new buyers, live remotes and a revitalized social media reach,” said Kathleen Burns, executive director of the Connecticut Marine Trades Association, which owns and produces the show.
Burns took over from retired longtime executive director Grant Westerson last August. Leading a makeover of a venerable show in just a matter of months was a challenge that Burns said needed to be taken on.
“We’re pulling out of a very difficult period of years, so if we’re finally in an uptick, why wait?” she said. “We took such a big hit since 2008, so we need to re-energize the public about our industry and the boating lifestyle.”
The new look began with a center-out layout that led visitors to a central hub that featured a tiki bar beneath a massive four-sided multimedia screen showing images of people enjoying themselves on boats, personal watercraft, water skis and paddle craft.
In close collaboration with CMTA member exhibitors, displays featured more screens showing video loops of their products being put through their paces and enjoyed.
Michael O’Hara, vice president of Candlewood East Marina, a Cobalt, Nautique and Malibu dealer in Brookfield, Conn., invested in an enormous showpiece that featured a wakeboard boat trailed by an inflatable wave with a mounted wakeboard. Visitors could stand atop the board and be photographed in front of a mural depicting a sunny backdrop.
“Will it help sell boats? I don’t know — we’ll see — but it invites people to come in, meet our staff, have some fun and go home with a nice present,” he said.
Whether it was the audacious display or an improved buying mood, O’Hara was optimistic about the show and 2015.
“We had two sit-downs before 1:30 today,” he said on Friday, 90 minutes after the gate opened. “We’re finding customers wanting to talk numbers and take it to the next level.”
Burns said today that reported signed contracts were up 30 percent through Saturday from previous years.
“They were an engaged crowd,” she said.
She also said marina and service exhibitors reported selling slips and a considerable number of service packages.