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Reflections on London International Boat Show – Iconic, Humbug and Excel 2017

Many of you are like me, passionate boaters. This crazy industry we work in is far more than a job and it is way more than just lifestyle.

We go to work because we get drawn back to the boats that we love being around and we can’t escape the industry no matter how hard we try.

For those that have that passion London International Boat Show is something of an institution that has been part of our annual diary for far longer than the marine industry has been our careers.

None of my family had an interest in boats, but I still dragged my father to Earls Court every year where as a young boy I dreamed of one day being the captain of one of the beautiful yachts on display.

Perhaps it was no surprise that I joined the industry. My aspirations were a little high and I joined not as a captain, but as a sales man for one of the major French brands and upsold to an Italian counterpart that was sold by the same dealership.

Actually, I joined relatively late in my career. I stood on the back of a rather nice 42’ Italian flybridge and asked the two directors of the business for a job. Slightly bemused as to what an IT salesman knew about selling boats I convinced the two bosses to give me a chance by offering my services free of charge for the duration of that boat show and, with some moderate success during that show, for me the rest is history.

That was at Southampton Boat Show in 2002 and so I was destined to work at the last London Boat Show held at the iconic Earls Court. That January show in 2003 still stays in my memory. Watching as another tube load of visitors arrived and like a swarm they headed around the hall. The celebratory exhibitors party was something else, but so was the whole atmosphere. Earls Court will always be a very special venue for the London Boat Show.

But, then came Excel…

The show had to move, it was bursting at the seams. But we didn’t want it to and we all huffed and humbugged our way to East London for that first year.

My word it seemed vast! Two enormous halls with anyone and everyone that dipped a toe in the UK marine industry clamouring for the buyer’s attention.

There is no getting away from the fact that Excel has no soul compared with Earls Court and so we really did huff and humbug, but we started selling boats. Lots of boats.

Over the coming years the London Boat Show became a place to do deals. Our French power boat stand went from strength to strength and I know that those of my competitors did equally well.

Yet we still huffed and humbugged and we still reminisced.

Perhaps we are just all old grey and grumpy, but whilst we grumbled about going we all did well.

And then the financial crash came and many of our bubbles burst. Many of us still here today are here because we changed tack and adapted to the needs of the reducing numbers of buyers.

Inevitably the London International Boat Show downsized. There is no doubting that it lost some of its “International” flare and I am as guilty as anyone that I blamed National Boat Shows. “There costs are too high”, “There’s another bloody jewellery stand”… However in fairness they did a fabulous job in keeping a dwindling show on track and making sure that as many of the buyers out there still came.

We huffed and we humbugged, but we still exhibited and we still sold some boats and we still filled out lead books for the season ahead.

Ten years on from that last “mega show” of 2007 and we have all just recovered from another ten days at Excel. We are greyer still and now even grumpier and we still huff and humbug about the trek to docklands and our ten days of no daylight.

The same people are full of the same bravado and the same people are full of doom, but we are back and we are still filling our lead books and taking some orders.

For the first time in my marine industry career I was no longer selling boats at the show, but instead I was there firstly to meet the exhibitors and explain a bit more about Promarine Finance and how we may be able help close deals, but my main role was to be available to quote your customers whenever you needed me.

Whilst show footfall did at times feel rather low I was kept busy by a number of you. Perhaps numbers may have been down, but quality of buyers up?

Being available to come to your stand at a moment’s notice certainly seemed to help in customer confidence and if the number of quotes I did for your customers and the number of quotes that have come through our website is anything to go by your lead books should be bulging and it looks like many of you will have a strong season ahead.

Beyond the number of your customers that I met another gauge of the show for me was how busy the small inflatables and tender stands were. Tenders are purchased by the owners of larger boats and on one stand, despite a quiet middle few days of the show, the final sales numbers were impressive to say the least. I couldn’t resist and on visiting the stand found both sales guys busy with customers and another waiting. Five minutes later the order pad was out. £800 of inflatable or £800,000 of luxury yacht. You never lose that buzz from doing a deal!

So, through going grey, huffs and humbugs. Through rain, snow, tube strikes and man flu, the show must go on. And so it does.
Promarine Finance can help you close some of those leads you took.

We understand your buyers as we are boaters and we understand you as we have sold boats too. Most of you know where we excel (pardon the pun) and in those circumstances use us and you may win a deal that would have walked away otherwise.

I very much hope to be of assistance over the coming season and will see many of you before, but if not, …See you at Southampton!

Tom Bettle, Business Director, Promarine Finance