Successful Essex show eyes a 2011 return

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At one point during the new Spring Boat Show in Essex, Conn., Jim Eastland wondered if launching a new show in a down economy was a good idea.

A sunny Saturday afternoon brought crowds of people to the inaugural Spring Boat Show in Essex, Conn.

Three hours later, with the docks packed with consumers, Eastland changed his mind.

"At 1 o'clock on Saturday I thought it was a waste of time. By 4 o'clock I decided we should have one every year," says Eastland, founder of Eastland Yachts, one of the exhibitors at the show.
By the show's end, in fact, all of the organizers were talking about next year's offering as though it were already decided. Organizers estimated between 2,000 and 2,500 people attended the small "boutique" boat show.
"The reaction from everybody involved was that the show far exceeded expectations and was an extreme success," says Doug Domenie, vice president and general manager of Brewer Dauntless Shipyard & Marina - one of the show's organizers. "We were very pleased by the mix of boats and the quality of boats on display - even on Sunday when it was rainy at 10:15 a.m., there were 20 to 30 people on the docks."
Six Essex-based yacht brokers - Boatworks Yacht Sales, Wilde Yacht Sales, Eastland Yachts, Hank Aldrich Yacht Sales, Prestige Yacht Sales and Barlow Yacht Associates - collaborated to host the show, which ran April 23-25. The show featured new and used brokerage boats from 25 to 72 feet. Manufacturers represented at the show included American Tugs, Cabo Yachts, Grand Banks, Hallberg-Rassy, Hatteras, Hunt Yachts, Jupiter, Nonsuch, Nordic Tugs, Ranger Tugs and Sabre Yachts.
Soundings Publications was the exclusive media sponsor of the show.
Ben Wilde, president of Wilde Yacht Sales, was convinced the show was a success right from the first day.
"We were slammed on Friday. It was as good as any Friday at the Newport (R.I.) Spring Show," he says.
The Newport Spring Boat Show was suspended this year - one of the reasons the Essex brokers decided to create their own sales opportunities.
Old Saybrook, Conn., resident Pat Orso, who attended the show Sunday afternoon, also felt the Essex show was a success.
"It's really great to have a show right here in town and not have to drive to Newport, R.I.," says Orso. "What better place than Essex for a [boat] show since we're right here on the Connecticut River?"
In fact, small boat shows like this one are part of a growing grassroots movement, says Prestige Yacht Sales' Tom Pilkington.
"Big shows have turned people off and, for the vendor, it's extremely expensive to exhibit at those shows," says Pilkington. "Small shows are the wave of the future."

This article originally appeared in Home Waters sections of the July 2010 issue.