London Boat Show is shop window for Norfolk’s marine companies

PUBLISHED: 15:23 29 November 2017 | UPDATED: 12:54 20 December 2017

The London Boat Show is a big deal for East Anglia's marine-based businesses. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The London Boat Show is a big deal for East Anglia's marine-based businesses. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Copyright: Archant 2017

Vessels large and small, along with a long supply chain of ship chandlery, will be on display at January’s London Boat Show, an event that draws an enthusiastic group of East Anglian exhibitors as well as visitors from the region.

Just 20ft long and powered by the leg muscles of a two-person crew, a paddle boat built in the Broads will feature at this year’s London Boat Show in the same venue as enormous and eye-wateringly expensive sea-going yachts.

“The two national boat shows [London ExCeL and Southampton] are important to us,” says Stephen Pittkethley, director of Ludham-based Dad’s Boats. “If you’re not there, people wonder why not!

“We are a microscopic company in the boat-building world, so we feel we need to raise our profile and the shows help us do that.”

At £10,500, the paddle boats are at the affordable end of the show’s floating exhibits, where a Sunseeker yacht will cost millions of pounds.

“We are unique at the show,” says Mr Pittkethley. “Certainly, you could buy several of our boats for the price of a Sunseeker!

“We’ve been around for 55 years and sales have been especially going well recently as healthy activities like cycling increase in popularity. There’s also the green element – it’s pedal power.”

Further up the price scale, Brooms Boats has been a London Boat Show exhibitor for decades. “For us, it’s a brand awareness opportunity as much as a sales trip,” says Jenny Simpson, marketing and communications manager at the Brundall yard.

She paints an upbeat picture of the boat-building sector, despite the uncertainties of Brexit.

“Things are looking good at the moment in our experience,” she says. “Three orders have come through in the last three weeks, which is very positive for a company of our size.”

She adds: “People ask about a Brexit effect in the industry, but the fact is nobody knows; it’s all speculation. From a marketing perspective, there’s backing for Brooms brands and we’re just doing our bit to support British boat building.”

With 70 staff across the business today, this year the company is taking one of the Broom 35 Coupé Explorer models, an entry level boat but still commanding a six-figure price tag.

Another boat show exhibitor, ASAP Supplies, offers a range of more than 14,000 marine equipment and boat parts, specialising in marine products for maintenance, repair and overhaul requirements.

With 27 years in the marine products and spares business, the Beccles company has been exhibiting at the London Boat Show for the last 10 years.

“For us, it’s a crucial way to hit our target market,” says Carley Butcher, marketing co-ordinator. “We distribute to customers all over the world, mainly from our website, but we also have a shop in Beccles and a sales team that can deal with any technical issues.”

ASAP has a workforce of 38, but plans to expand with a new outlet in Fareham in Hampshire due to open early next year.

Greg Munford, chief executive of Stalham-based Richardson’s Boating Holidays, is looking forward to the company’s fourth visit to the show.

“The boat shows work on a number of levels and are an important part of our marketing mix,” he explains.

“It gives us the opportunity to display our boats in front of thousands of people, giving them the chance to hop on board and see our next generation design.

“The show allows our team to talk directly to potential customers and customers of old about our passion for our business and area where we live, work and play.

“This passion is infectious and has proven to be a key driver in seeing our sales figures grow year on year.”

Richardson’s Boating Holidays, which began life more than 70 years ago at Oulton Broad, now runs more than 300 hire boats – the area’s biggest fleet. “We also come to the show to promote the Broads experience in all its forms,” says Mr Munford.

“We believe in helping our customers to get the very best from their holiday – and there aren’t many better places to do that than in the magical waterland that makes up the Broads National Park.”

With nothing to sell, just a long-standing love of boats, veteran visitor Paul Thomas, a former editor of Anglia Afloat, looks forward to the buzz of the show. “It’s always a special trip down to London,” he says.

“There’s everything there that you want to know about boats and boating equipment – and you can get to ExCel quickly from Norfolk and park on the premises. This year it’s running for fewer days and there’s a wider holiday theme, which I think will appeal to the general public.”

Book tickets online for the London Boat Show 2018

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