Providence Boat Show grows with new attractions, reinvigorated marketing

PROVIDENCE, R.I. —  At the conclusion of the Providence Boat show, held January 31 to February 2, Rob Lyons of Ocean House Marina walked out of the show having sold six new powerboats in the 20-foot range, four to new customers he met for the first time at the show; Bill Burke of Lakeview Marine tallied nine boat sales, with eight to new customers; and Steve Arnold of MarineMax had several boat sales, all to new customers. These sales records are rich rewards for powerboat dealers who invested time and marketing dollars in this indoor show, but they tell a deeper story: that the strategy of the Rhode Island Marine Trades Association (RIMTA), the show’s new owner, to change the configuration of this 20-year-old event so it casts a wider net into the boat-buying public is working.

“As a boat dealer, that’s the reason you invest in a boat show: it’s not to go and meet with your existing customers and close deals. It’s to meet new buyers …We were definitely happy after this year’s Providence show,” said Steve Arnold, general manager of MarineMax in Warwick (R.I.).

RIMTA purchased the Providence show this fall and had only 100 days to produce the event. It was a tall order for a small organization with limited show-management experience. But RIMTA CEO Wendy Mackie hired a new management team and asked the industry to work with the organization to set the bar higher.

“We set out to transform this show, which is a staple on the winter show circuit, by breathing new life into it—by adding special events and personality appearances, strengthening the sailing component, and showcasing the boating lifestyle in the Ocean State to engage existing boaters and cultivate new ones,” said Mackie. “The game plan worked, but it is much bigger than  RIMTA’s success. It is the industry’s success.”

RIMTA’s rationale for this large undertaking is two-fold: to give local industry a venue to showcase their products in a way that inspires the boating public; and to support the sustainability of the organization with an event that can help fund the marketing, workforce-development, and advocacy efforts RIMTA does on the industry’s behalf.

A total of 9,600 people attended the show, and ticket revenue was up by 20% over last year’s show. All available space was sold out early, creating a waiting list for exhibitors, and revenue from space sales was up by 15%.

Eighteen sailboat brands were among the 84 boat brands on view at the show, and sailing exhibitors were equally pleased with their show results. “The show exceeded my expectations,” said Rob Lawnsby of Narragansett Sailing.

Lawnsby jump-started his sailing-school sales for the coming season, surpassing what he tallied last year at the same time. The West Wight Potter, a 19-foot pocket cruiser he brought to the show, also generated a healthy amount of interest among families and individuals looking for an affordable way to get involved in sailing.

A new Show Pavilion—which housed special activities such as sea-to-table cooking demonstrations, visits from personalities such as America’s Cup winner Rome Kirby, and interactive activities such as surf lessons on dry land—proved to be a popular hub of the show. The H20 Zone, another new addition, showcased small one-design sailboats with experts and was a go-to destination for sailing fans. The show also featured two seminar series, on Sport Fishing and Navigation & Seamanship.

Two “Boats Work for Rhode Island” areas, sponsored by Jamestown Distributors, showcased Rhode Island’s marine career–training resources—including High School programs at Chariho, Warwick and Tiverton, and trade-school courses at IYRS and the New England Institute of Technology.

RIMTA will continue to work closely with the marine industry to improve the show; exhibitors will be surveyed this winter to gather ideas that can be incorporated into future plans for the event.

Sponsors of the Providence Boat Show included Kellogg Marine Supply, Starkweather & Shepley Insurance Brokerage, Tasca Chrysler Dodge Jeep RAM, and Wild Things technical outerwear.

For more information on the Providence Boat Show, visit

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