No single thing makes the Progressive New England Boat Show, which runs Feb. 13-21 at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, stand out from the others. Instead an abundance of details come together and help it do so, says Roe O’Brien, marketing director for Hinckley and Hunt Yachts, which have operations in Rhode Island.
“I like the fact that it’s an urban show, and for that reason it’s easy for people to come from offices to spend a couple of hours,” O’Brien says. “I like the fact that it gives Northern brokers a fresh chance at bat in the dead of winter without having to send them all the way down to Miami, where they’re seeing customers that aren’t necessarily their own. Bostonians love the traditional look [of our brands], so it’s great for us. The Boston Convention Center is a beautiful new facility; it’s bright, it’s airy, and it’s pleasant, unlike a lot of older facilities.”
The convention center has valet parking, as well as easy self-parking that is near the facility, and it uses a quick shuttle to bring customers to the front door, so it’s easy to get in and out, O’Brien adds.
And the people who run the show are top-notch, she says. When she needed to rope off her booth for a boat christening, show director Joe O’Neal showed up moments later with stanchions. “It didn’t show up on my bill. It was just a professional courtesy he quickly did,” O’Brien says.
The year before, the drapes separating the Hinckley booth from a neighboring booth clashed with the boat. “I didn’t like the color, and I don’t think it was 20 minutes before the show decorator was there changing them out. He came and took all of it down and put up all white. Joe could’ve easily said, ‘Roe, chill out, the show’s already open.’ But he didn’t,” O’Brien says. “They act like you’re the most important person they’ve ever met, even though you’re not.
“Those little things go a long way when you’re trying to get your company in and out of a dozen boat shows,” she adds. “It all comes together. So many little things come together, I think, to make that a pleasant show to work and an effective show to work.”
Given her choice, O’Brien says she would prefer working the New England show to going down to Miami. “This year I can’t, but I’d rather be in Boston in February, and that’s saying a lot for someone who lives in Rhode Island,” she says.
This year’s show will take place at the same time Boston-area schools are out for vacation week, which O’Neal knows is not ideal for exhibitors because many people who might have attended have headed south for a week. “We tried to avoid school vacation, and when we do we’re usually late in the month. That’s our ideal date, but the convention center has several large trade shows that always start around the first of March,” he says.
Starting in 2017, a five-year commitment will give the New England show dates that fall prior to the week children are out of school. That’s with the understanding that if the later dates open up, the boat show can move in then instead so there is no conflict with the Miami International Boat Show and Yachts Miami Beach.
Larry Russo, owner of Russo Marine, would prefer that because only three of the new Sea Ray sportboat models will come his way after their debut at the New York Boat Show; the others will go to Miami because they are in limited production, Russo says. “Since our show overlaps Miami, we won’t have all five.”
Russo Marine will have a display called “The SLX Experience,” bringing the 250 SLX, the 280 SLX and the largest, the 310 SLX. “These are dual-console bowriders, sport-style boats,” Russo says. “They have a sexy European look. They’re not deckboats; they’re sophisticated and have a real premium image. It’s sort of the Range Rover/Jaguar audience.”
It also will be one of the first showings for the new Sea Ray 400 Sundancer.
New Boston Whaler models include the 280 Outrage, which is redesigned all new, he says, and a 320 Vantage, an expansion of the company’s dual console series.
Russo Marine also will show five Sailfish, a new line the company has picked up.
Scout Boats will have the new 42-footer, O’Neal says, and Everglades will have the new 43. Bosuns Marine will have a 50-foot Riviera, and there will be some 40-plus-foot sailboats from Elan Yachts and Beneteau.
Cobalt Boats will bring its new pontoon line — two Marker One models, O’Neal says. Lewis Marine will bring two large Jeanneau models and three smaller ones on the power side. The sailboat side will have two Jeanneaus.
The show has added exhibitors, but it remains the same size, O’Neal says, because so many dealers had such a strong late summer and early fall.
“Nobody’s ordering a bunch of boats for stock anymore, so when they sell a bunch and can’t talk owners into lending for the boat show, they don’t have as many to bring,” he says. “It’s good, and it’s bad. Some people cut back, but we filled it in with new exhibitors.”
The show will have a Discover Boating center, as it did last year, which will be staffed with people to answer questions in an unbiased way, O’Neal says. The show also will have an Affordability Pavilion for shoppers to compare lower-priced models. “I think it works. It gives people a chance to look at the boats and see how affordable boating can be without a salesperson breathing down their neck,” he says.
There will be a new Progressive Insurance Boat School that will include a simulator, docking demos and docking pools. The U.S. Power Squadrons is bringing back its simulator, as well, O’Neal says. It’s a bit different from the boat school, but it creates the perception of driving and docking a boat, and the people who staff the booth can tell visitors how to handle the “boat.” Fred’s Shed is also back with new topics.
The Boston show remains one of the last nine-day shows in the country, which Russo and O’Neal both say is important in New England. “Last year, it would’ve been a wash with all the snow we had if it hadn’t been nine days,” Russo says.
“The expense, time and effort invested isn’t going to change, whether it’s two days or 10,” O’Neal says. “Last winter, that would have been all for nothing if it had been a five-day show.”
This article originally appeared in the February 2016 issue.