Annapolis Boat Shows, Inc.
In October 1987, Jim Barthold,
general manager of Annapolis Boat Shows, Inc., watched the flood
waters caused by high tide and northeasterly wind lapping at the
restaurants and shops downtown. Everyone in tent "C"---the big
white tent on Dock Street---was knee-deep in water clutching their
goodie bags at chest level to keep their treasures dry. One customer
was overheard to comment, ..."sure gives a whole new meaning to
in-the-water boat show!" Exhibitors actually posted "No Wake"
signs in their booths.
realized they had never experienced these conditions before and
hadn't planned for a flood! But, as anyone who's familiar with
Jim or the Boat Show folks knows, they had planned on virtually
everything else. Since then, they've incorporated hurricane preparedness
in their extensive logistical planning.
Jim has lived and breathed the Annapolis Boat Shows since Dec.
17, 1973, when, with a U-Haul trailer
containing his life's accumulation of "stuff," he drove to Annapolis
from New York City. In a career move he's never regretted, he
gave up his job as an associate editor of Boating Industry
Magazine for the chance to be part of what has become the
premier in-the-water boat show in the world.
However, prior to 1970, there was no such thing as an in-the-water
sailboat show. Until then, sailboats were regarded as the "weak
sister" of the industry and were relegated to the corners of the
premier show sites. Power boats were regarded as the "queen of
the show" and, as one might envision, sailboats were difficult
to display indoors. Usually, the masts and sails were not displayed
at all---what you saw was a lot of hull and keel. Only the most
motivated "rag-baggers" would risk climbing the makeshift scaffolding
to clamber aboard to inspect the industry's latest offerings.
Like so many entrepreneurial ideas in Annapolis, all that changed
when Jerry Wood and Peter Carroll sat down at a local pub and
dreamed up the idea of an in-the-water show over cocktails. As
the owner/operator of the Annapolis Sailing School since 1959,
Jerry had experience with smaller sailboats and was familiar with
sailboaters. And Peter had come to Annapolis to learn to sail
as one of Jerry's students and became an avid sailing enthusiast.
Few today grasp that October 1970 ushered in a new era in the
maritime industry when the very first in-the-water sailboat show
of any kind, anywhere, took place in "America's Sailing Capital."
It wasn't without risk. Conventional wisdom dictated that boat
shows should take place in February or March, before
the boating season begins. But Jerry Wood understood fundamentals
about sailboats that most people missed. First, the vast majority
of sailboat manufacturers generally build after the order
has been placed. Second, a fall boat show was a better time to
display boats in the water. And third, boats ordered in the fall
were built over the winter in time for delivery before the next
boating season, which was the best possible situation for the
numerous sailboat builders around the world. Ultimately, the combination
of marketing and timing proved to be exactly right.
Two years later, after savoring the success of the sailboat show,
the United States Power Boat In-The-Water Show was born. So, this
October will see the 33rd Annual Sailboat and the 31st Annual
Along the way, Jerry Wood bought out his original partner in 1976
and took on two new partners, Ed Hartman and Bennett Crain, both
of Annapolis. The management team of the boat shows has remained
intact for years. Included, along with Jerry and Kathy Wood, are
show manager Dee Newman, operations manager Tom Rumsey, Annapolis
Sailing School manager Rick Franke, and dockmaster Tim Dowling.
Jim knows that virtually everyone who comes to a boat show has
an interest in boating, so you don't get the equivalent of "tire
kickers." When asked his business philosophy, Jim smiles and says
it's no big secret. "We cater to that niche audience who is very
product-driven. You could say we're a consumer product show and
the boats and accessories are the show---and we do everything
we can to make their time in Annapolis as productive and profitable
as possible. We don't need entertainment, food, or novelties to
make it work." All told, there are about 1,500 exhibitors in each
of the two shows.
To keep exhibitors and customers smiling takes a lot of work.
From a full-time year-round staff of just four people, the payroll
expands to nearly 250, including support staff, part-timers and
subcontractors. If you have never seen a boat show setup, it resembles
a finely choreographed ballet. They take over the leased City
Dock area at one minute after midnight on Monday and transform
a mostly unimproved area into an impressive site in less than
three days. To do that requires tens of millions of dollars worth
of equipment, including more than one nautical mile of floating
dock, hundreds of small tents (they still rent larger tents locally)
and enough electrical cable to "power up Pittsburgh!"
With understandable pride, Jim claims the Annapolis boat shows
are the industry's most important. Following Annapolis' success,
many other in-water boat shows have sprung up in cities around
the globe. "But we have worked very hard to nurture and defend
our position as the premier in-water boat show in the world,"
The shows have a unique lease arrangement with the City. Generally,
it extends out five years, but as one show takes place, the out
year is then renegotiated. Right now, Annapolis is guaranteed
a minimum rent of $350,000 against 50 percent of the gross gate,
which consistently exceeds the minimum---in the neighborhood of
Most Annapolitans agree, the two weeks in October when our town
becomes the epicenter of the international boating world is more
than worth the temporary inconveniences that approximately 100,000
visitors with money in their pockets create!
Al Hopkins, long-time alderman and former mayor of Annapolis says,
"I can't imagine October without the World Series or
the boat shows!"