Yesterday I visited the Southampton Boat Show, not so much because I am a yottie but because I know people who are. A former work colleague had contacted me to announce he was attending with some pals and – if I was doing nothing else – I might like to join them.
That was the case. Apart from anything else I had not seen him for nearly nine months and what better way to catch up that meet up, as he had suggested, at the Guinness Bar at 1.00pm?
After something of a false start (having arrived, gained entrance, had a comfort break and a coffee, I then decided to call my host and announce my arrival … only to discover that I had left my mobile in my car, now parked in a multi-storey car park about a quarter of a mile away), I began wandering around the site in order to fill in the time until our rendezvous.
At any boat show there are basically three types of exhibit. Two are stands – one, always luxuriously-appointed, consists of serious yachting products, e.g. yachts, boats, engines, navigation hardware; the other is used to peddle anything and everything that could be of potential interest to sailors irrespective of their experience or skill, e.g. watches, clothes, wood carvings, lavatories, rope, maps, tupperware containers, insurance, wet suits, surf boards and seasick tablets – and the third populates the marina area, i.e. boats being exhibited whilst being moored on the water.
An irony of all trade fairs is that is that they operate on a similar basis to random junk calls or mail.
My assumption on ‘junk’ (if I may use that collective term) is that it only exists because it ‘works’, i.e. that – for example – if the hit rate on sending out fly-leaflets advertising a pizza takeaway service is only 5 take-ups for every 10,000 dispatched, that’s still enough for the pizza takeaway service to turn a profit. Otherwise why would they advertise that way?
With people exhibiting at trade fairs, the salesmen/women or those representing the exhibitors know that probably only 1 in 100 people who stop by to examine their products, or enquire about them, or take a leaflet, or just browse, is going to be a potential serious buyer with a hoped-for jackpot sale waiting at the conclusion of his visit. Nevertheless, sometimes in this life (especially if you’re a salesman) you have to kiss a lot of frogs in order to find the one who may actually turn into a prince. That’s why – as a stand executive – you have to be relentlessly enthusiastic and positive even to some filthy, raggedly-clothed tramp in matted dreadlocks who drops by (looking as though he’s arrived straight from the local benefits office). He might just turn out to be Rupert Murdoch on his day off and/or just larking about to win a wager with a drinking pal.
Most of the punters, like me, wandered around yesterday enjoying the fact that we were being treated like kings at every opportunity despite the fact that all I personally had in my wallet was just two cheques that I haven’t paid into my bank account yet and £15 in notes and (in my left trouser pocket) a maximum of £4 in loose change.
Based upon the evidence of yesterday, I should estimate that about 30% of attendees had no connection with sailing at all, but had simple paid the ticket price for the opportunity to get out and have something to do for half a day.
The weather was cold and blustery.
On the first ‘proper’ (luxury boat manufacturer’s) stand I visited yesterday I engaged the young lady on reception in conversation. Did today’s weather mean that less people would attend the Boat Show than might otherwise be the case.
“Yes …” she replied, “… although a greater proportion of those that attend are committed sailors – they’re more used to the wind and rain”.
In other words, less people but a greater potential sales hit-rate per foot-fall.
Another notable aspect yesterday was the number of people exhibiting wares that – ordinarily – one would have regarded as having no connection with sailing. I’m taking about the stands I saw selling hot tubs for terraces, log cabins, quad bikes and all sorts of garden furniture. Again, I assume that the marketing strategy thinking (“You own a boat, therefore you might like a hot tub … or a quad bike …”) must have been historically proved in the pudding but to me as a punter it seemed counter-intuitive … not that this stopped me spending over a quarter of an hour disporting myself upon various items of luxury wicker-work garden furniture for want of anything else to occupy myself whilst waiting for my colleagues to turn up at the Guinness stand.
I set off to drive home at about 3.30pm having drawn one central headline conclusion – that there are a hell of a lot of Brits who like spending time of water and that most of them must be pretty wealthy, judging by the fact that most 30 to 40 foot sailing cruisers can cost a minimum of £250,000 brand new. Not that I’m one of them.