Earls Court boat show rises once more

We speak to the team behind December's new, revitalised Earls Court Boat Show

Tuesday January 30th 2007, Author: James Boyd, Location: United Kingdom
In a move that will be welcomed by some and loathed by others, Earls Court Boat Show is to rise like a phoenix from the ashes this coming December. This is no idle threat. The familiar halls of Earls Court 1 and 2 are booked for 1-9 December, filling a slot vacated by the Royal Smithfield show, and the new show already has significant backing from leading spirits brand Whyte & Mackay. In short this looks set to happen.

Traditionally the boat shows in the UK are owned and staged by National Boat Shows, a subsiduary of the British Marine Federation (BMF) who run shows at London and Southampton and in the past have put on the Marine Equipment Trade Show. At present NBS are some way down the road with looking at setting up a new show in Liverpool. The rejuvenated Earl Court event will be the first major boat show in the UK to be run independent of the main industry body.

The idea for the new show was formulated by James Brooke (right), a former Royal Marine who has since spent his career in the marine industry as a crew on the Lymington Lifeboat and as a RYA Yachtmaster Instructor and John Vincent (below right), the financial and marketing weight of the duo. A lifelong sailor Vincent started his career at Procter and Gamble, and then spent seven years at Bain and Company the strategy and business consulting firm. He left Bain to create the ‘good fast food’ chain Leon with his co-founder Henry Dimbleby. Since 2003, he has been with the £600 million Glasgow-based Whyte & Mackay spirits group where he is an Executive Director in charge of marketing.

Aside from the Whyte & MacKay whisky brand, the group also own Dalmore, the most expensive whisky in the world, Isle of Jura whisky and Vladivar, the UK's second biggest Vodka brand. A successful entrepreneur Vincent says he was considering getting involved with the show personally, but then realised the good fit with Whyte & Mackay. His company's individual lines for example will brand different areas of the new show: Whyte & MacKay will have the central feature, Dalmore will be the brand to go with the high end luxury power and sail boats, Isle of Jura with the charter zone, Vladivar, the youth water sports area, etc.

Another significant piece of the jigsaw comes in getting on board Operations Director Paul Streeter, who up until February 2006 was Managing Director of National Boat Shows and was previously a Director of Wembley Arena. Between National Boat Shows and getting the call from the new Earls Court group, Streeter says he has been putting projection systems into nightclubs as well as looking at projects in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. "We are not here to knock the other show. We are going to deliver what customers appear to want. And I am pleased to be part of it," he told thedailysail.

So why does London need two boat shows? James Brooke launches into his pitch. "I grew up going to the Earls Court boat show and what I found magical about the Earls Court boat show was that there was a great sense of boat community. I started sailing when I was six months old and as I grew up I felt that I was part of something definable which was the sailing and boating community and growing up that gave me a great sense of being part of something.

"The other thing I loved about the Earls Court boat show as a kid and growing up was that it had a high entertainment factor, there were things to do, I looked forward to the theatrics of the whole show, there was a kind of heart and a soul to it. Another nice thing which I recognised growing up about boating is that it is very rare for a sport to be able to give that exhilaration and the glamorous and to create something that the whole family can enjoy.

"Myself and James, our vision for this Earls Court boat show is to deliver the community aspect, the theatre and the drama as well as that heart and soul. I wanted to recapture that - to make sure it existed for my kids and James’ kids and the hundreds of thousands of people who make up the sport."

Brooke and Vincent won't be drawn on the limitations they feel currently exist with the NBS-organised London International Boat Show at ExCel, other than from their mission statement for their show claims it will lay on. Clearly they don't believe the show at ExCel has a heart and soul or a community spirit or is a 'good day out' for families.

"What we’re responding to is overwhelming feedback and interest from the consumers and customers of the marine industry," continues Brooke. "It is not anything to do with any one show and it would be wrong to comment on anything that exists currently or historically. What we are responding to is a demand that we’ve had and our objective is very simply to realise that and deliver the vision."

We put it to them that the prospect of two London Boat Shows may result in both falling flat on their faces. Vincent rises to this: "If that were true there would be only one boating magazine, only one marina, one boat manufacture, etc. Our view is that you have to respond to customer demand. There is only so long you can buck what customers want. We believe that we are going to appeal to a large number of people. Like all brands and all events the shows will have to find their niche. We are not going to be knocking down the doors of all the investment bankers in the square mile the way that the current show does. We are going to be focussed on the community and families and I’m sure that between us we can work out a way of us giving people what they want and Excel delivering what is important to the marine industry."

According to Paul Streeter the layout of the new show hasn't been decided, but there are some givens. Earls Court has the unique facility to have a pool in its centre and this will be utilised. Around this there will also be a central feature and entertainment as boat shows in the past have had and the balcony walkway will be maintained allow visitors to few the show from on high.

"We are looking to retain the bits we loved and add on some very specific additional pieces," says Vincent. "The bits we are going to keep is the sense of community and the central feature idea that did give it a focal point, the pool and the entertainment factor, the types of entertainment that one can do around that. We are also going to keep that it is for a wide range of people. Given the fact that it is one of the rare sports where the dad, mum and the kids can be happy, we are going to retain the family element. What I mean is that each member can get separately what they want and come together as a family."

Vincent adds that the entertainment side of the show will also be increased both in the central feature and within the individual zones.

To date over 200 companies have registered interest giving them first refusal on stand space. "That represents a considerable percentage of the overall square footage of EC1 and 2. The implication of that and if this pace carries on, it is quite urgent for other companies to do the same if they want to exhibit at Earls Court," says Vincent. Among these companies is leading Italian powerboat manufacturer Riva.

Vincent adds that they are also looking at simpler ways of putting visitors and exhibitors together, possibly via an on-line form where visitors can register their interests. "From a customer perspective, it is like going through a tumble drier, you end up leaving the show with cards and brochures and then you have to try and remember who you’ve spoken to. And for sales people it is the same."

And the good news is that despite Whyte & MacKay's heavy branding around the show, the organisers do want a Guinness stand. "We love Guinness and love the people who run Guiness and we definitely want a Guinness stand," says Vincent.

So what do we think? If the public and exhibitors want more of a community and family feel to a London Boat Show this could certainly be achieved at ExCel. What cannot be changed is ExCel's east London location. We are heavily biased living in West London and having Earls Court a 10 minute tube ride away compared to a one hour 20 minute journey with multiple stops to get to ExCel. Yes, Earls Court is a lot more convenient for us, but so it is for the rest of the country other than those from the East coast and Kent. Against Earls Court is that it is a smaller exhibition space than ExCel, and while it may have more character, the venue is older and last time we visited, it felt it.

While National Boat Shows will be getting a hammering over this, it is only fair to give them a voice. While ExCel may be a bland, non-descript exhibition space in a part of London no one ever goes to, this will not be the case in five years time. Then East London will be THE part of London to visit. On a larger scale, east London is to be host for the 2012 Olympic Games and large chunks of it are soon to be given a facelift ready for this. The already enormous business and shopping complex that is Canary Wharf, to the west of ExCel, is set to double in size in this time frame. Over the water, the Millenium Dome having spent years quietly rotting away, is in the process of being transformed into the O2 Dome and will this year open as a huge venue for music concert, films and sports events.

With all this, transport to East London, including ExCel, is to expand dramatically with 25% more trains on the Jubilee line and a 50% increase in trains on the Docklands Light Railway. A new extension to Woolwich Arsenel south of the Thames is to open next year, allowing easy access from the southeast and longer term there will be a line up to Stratford International Station that is part of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, to where high speed trains are scheduled to begin running in in November this year, although we leaern they will not stop there en route to Kings Cross until 2010 when the DLR branch to there is finished.

In addition to this two more Thames crossings are in planning stage in this area - including a new road bridge from Beckton to Thamesmead. Nearby flights in and out of City Airport are also set to expand greatly.

Development is also to continue around ExCel with the exhibition space itself to be enlarged by 100,000sqm, a new apartment village on its west side to be completed in three years time and an entertainment and leisure complex on its east side. The former development will include 30,000 new homes and several four and five star hotels. Meanwhile the derelict factory across the locked basin from ExCel is to be transformed into something called the Biota, a tourist attaction described as being somewhere between the Eden Project and the London Aquarium.

So if National Boat Shows are to cop flack for moving to ExCel now, in five years time we will be patting them on the back.

Earls Court Boat Show - the return.... Is this a good thing? How will it affect the London Boat Show at ExCel? Let us have your thoughts here

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