Will the five-day LBS work?
The London Boat Show - first held in Olympia - went to Earls Court in 1957 before moving east to ExCeL in 2004. Then in 2018 the traditional ten-day run was cut to just five. Why? And how did this dramatic change pan out, asks Peter Poland.
Like everything else in commercial life, a boat show must make a profit. In the past, headline sponsorship made a major contribution – from the early days of the Daily Express right up to the successful Tullet Prebon headline sponsorship that drew to a close in 2014. CWM FX then signed on to take up the baton, but dropped out in 2015.
No title sponsor
Since then, no title sponsor has been found, despite British Marine’s message that ‘If you’re interested in a major headline sponsorship package, an attraction integration opportunity or simply a branding exercise, contact us and we will create a solution to suit your needs.’ This headline sponsorship black hole must hurt the balance sheet. And so must a ten-year fall in attendance figures from 213,801 in 2004 to 88,593 in 2014. In 2018, the new five-day format pulled around 52,000 visitors through the doors.
BM is understandably keen to highlight successes, announcing ‘The UK leisure marine industry achieved its sixth consecutive year of growth in 2017, with total revenues climbing by 3.4% to £3.12bn – their highest level since the 2007/08 financial crisis.’
And for LBS 2018 it marketed two new events - the Boating & Watersports Holiday Show and Bespoke London - to run within the show. New features such as an Activity Pool, Beach Club, Adventure Park and John Goode-organised Practical Boat Owner Theatre were also thrown into the mix. So BM can’t be accused of not coming up with new ideas. But what did exhibitors make of it all?
Dusseldorf (a week after London) is now Europe’s largest show. With 1,900 exhibitors and around 250,000 visitors, it’s where boat builders concentrate their biggest efforts. So it wasn’t surprising that some companies had smaller stands for the five-day London show. However market leaders Princess and Sunseeker still each had five boats on display and Fairline had two. Princess also retained its eye-grabbing and spotlight-festooned canopy above its stand.
These important UK companies continue to develop new models and have healthy order books, delivery stretching as far as 2020 and 2021 on some Princess models. David King and MD Chris Gates told me the marine business needs the London Boat Show, even if the five-day format means it’s more a UK event than a major international jamboree. Proving this point, I met a British buyer on the Princess stand who had just ordered a new 50-footer.
Major French and German builders also had simpler stands. Beneteau showed three sailboats and nine powerboats. This split in favour of power was much the same with Jeanneau, Hanse and Bavaria. However despite initial misgivings, all four took new orders over the five days. But Richard Hewett (of Bavaria dealer Clipper) and Peter Thomas (of Hanse dealer Inspiration) said far fewer visitors returned to the stand for a second look - a side effect of a five-day show?
Paul Heys of Key Marine (UK dealer for J Boats, Grand Soleil and Bavaria/Nautitech cats) thought so; but added that despite this he sold more at the show than last year.
The absence of cruising catamarans or Scandinavian yachts - both major components of the family cruising market - constitutes a glaring gap in the London show. They all went to Dusseldorf instead. However smaller motorboats abounded. Expanding Polish builder Parker exhibited an impressive array of sports motor cruisers and Mick Mills (Sussex Boat Shop) said sales were made on the stand.
And Bates Wharf told me they were delighted to have sold a broad cross section of models - three Bayliners, three Beneteaus, one Fairline and one Sacs RIB.
Smaller British builders also seemed happy. Swallow Yachts and Cornish Crabbers both took the gamble of towing yachts from Wales and Cornwall respectively and did business. Two interesting small Polish yachts made the long trip over: the Maxus Evo 24 (with twin keels) and the lifting keel Sedna 26. So the market for new small cruisers still has life. While Rob White of Topper was delighted with the ‘buzz’ around his dinghies at the show, telling me he had made sales and that his 2018 order book was full.
The charter companies also did good business. Christian Brewer told me Dream Yacht Charter (with 947 boats at 49 bases) sold boats and bookings while Sailing Holidays also had a good show, although crushing crowds on Saturday made it impossible to give attention to every visitor to the stand. Moorings and Sunsail (fortuitously sold by Tui to private equity group KKR in early 2017 before hurricane Irma decimated Caribbean fleets) were also up and running again and selling charters at the show.
The underlying five-day show problem is the lack of weekend days. Several dealers told me that two weekends worth of visitors were effectively crammed into one exceptionally busy Saturday. Andy Goddard of chandlers Andark agreed, saying that retailers need two weekends to maximise sales and cover costs. While praising the BM’s pre-show promotions and advance ticket sales, he reckoned that increased numbers of retailers would dilute business for those who – like him – took a punt on the five-day show.
Did it work? Time alone will tell.
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