Attendance grows at Hartford Show

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New convention center location credited with earning the event ‘fastest growing’ honors from the industry

New convention center location credited with earning the event ‘fastest growing’ honors from the industry

Last November, Trade Show Weekly awarded the Hartford Boat and Fishing Show with the title of the fastest growing consumer show and the fastest growing show overall in America.

With attendance topping at 16,000 at this year’s 39th show held Jan. 24-27, the sponsoring Connecticut Marine Trades Association (CMMA) appears to be defending its title.

“The show was fabulous; I would say we have the best show in the region,” says Grant Westerson, executive director of CMMA. “This is our third year at the HartfordConvention Center, and it is a great facility. The people there are tremendous and very supportive.”

Westerson says they were busy the entire weekend and he believes much of their jump in attendance is switching facilities.

“Our attendance has close to doubled what we were doing before at the HartfordCivicCenter,” says Westerson. “There is just more space; and we are probably one of the biggest events the [Convention] Center does during the year because we take up the entire exhibit hall downstairs and we use the ballroom upstairs as well.”

Vendors have certainly noticed the difference. John Ricciardi of Hat Trick Embroidery, a booth where people can have custom embroidered hats within minutes, says they have been attending the Hartford Show for the past five years and have had much better success since the show has been held in the new building.

“We used to be in the CivicCenter, and there was no room to walk around,” says Ricciardi, whose business is based in Sandwich, Mass. “The walkway was a hodgepodge. But in this new building, I think this show has a lot of potential. There’s lots of room and lots of space to grow.”

Ricciardi says he and his wife and business partner, Karen, have been doing shows for 13 years from the Florida Keys to Maine.

“I saw someone doing this in a mall and thought it would be a good business venture,” says Ricciardi.

A customer walks up to the booth and first selects a color of the hat. Karen says depending on where they are depends on what colors go fastest.

“In the hotter regions like Florida, people tend to go for the brighter, lighter colors,” says Karen. “In Miami, white or yellow will sell out first, whereas in Maine the darker blue is very popular.”

The hats usually run from $25 to $35. Then the customer decides what they want on the hat and gets to see their design digitally on a laptop.

“We have eight different letter styles they can choose from,” says Ricciardi. “We have people that just choose the name of their boat to put on their hat; others like to think of their own catchphrases.”

Once the customer settles on a design, the hat is placed in one of four Stitch 2000 machines specially ordered from Japan and the work begins.

“A typical hat can take five to 20 minutes, depending on how much they want on it,” says Ricciardi. “We encourage people to keep it simple.”

John’s wife and business partner, Karen, also has a line of ready-made hats with novelty sayings such as “Sell the house, buy the boat, keep the dog” and “Pirates for Hire: specializing in mayhem and madness” that have also been very popular.

“I started this about five years ago, and the dog one always sells,” says Karen. “We also do a version with a cat too.”

And they stay busy — according to Ricciardi, they do about 20 boat shows a year. Karen says the secret to success is simply to pay attention to the trends and what’s hot at the moment.

“People really like that they don’t have to fill out a form and wait,” says Ricciardi. “They can see what they’re creating right on the computer and have it in their hands within a couple minutes.”

Another highlight of the Hartford Boat Show was the 235 CC Triumph making its show debut. At 23 feet, it is the biggest center console the company has ever built.

“You can drive this thing 50 miles an hour over four-foot waves and laugh about it,” says Pete Hall, representative from Guilford Boat Yards, Conn. “It’s equipped with a Yamaha 250 outboard motor and the hull has a lifetime warranty.”

Like all Triumph boats, the 235 is built with the proprietary Roplene system the produces seamless, dual-wall hulls out of marine-grade polyethylene.

“It’s more flexible than fiberglass and can take a harder beating,” says Hall. “This boat is made for rough seas.”

Hall says the boat got a fair amount of attention, mostly because it is a larger model that is still trailerable.

“A lot of the people I have seen at this show are retired or about to retire and they are looking for a boat to go play,” says Hall. “I’m not seeing a lot of people with two kids and a dog looking for the megayacht.”

Westerson says they are in discussions now to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the show.

“The best thing about the show beyond the accessibility of everything is the variety of boat types I’ve seen,” says attendee Stanley Papuga from Massachusetts. “There’s all different sizes from sporting to fishing to family boats and the facility is big enough to get around and see all of them.”

Next year’s show will be held from Jan. 22-25 at the Convention Center. For more information, visit www.hartfordboatshow.com