OCEAN CITY — Seeing the inside of the Roland E. Powell Convention Center when it is completely empty and then again once it has been completely filled can be a bit mind-boggling, especially once you’ve seen the set up process.
For many if not most events professional planners mark off and design the various conferences and conventions the place houses but for the Seaside Boat Show, sponsored by the Ocean City-Berlin Optimist Club, the place is marked out, set and coordinated by volunteers who just do it the one time per year. Of course, they’ve done it now 29 times and are beginning to get the hang of it.
A number of the volunteers are also ex-military which can account for both their ability to organize and the occasional colorful word as they tease one another, keeping the excruciatingly exacting process fun.
Setting the Convention Center for the annual event is literally a fame of inches. Armed with industrial tape measures, the groups goes row by row, marking off each of the 150 display-area positions with shoe polish an “L: for a corner and a “T” for the intersection of two corners. It takes an incredible amount of coordination and also of abstract thinking.
The vendors positions are mapped each year on copy-paper-sized layouts and the gentlemen responsible for the markings translate the lines on the paper to marks on the floor. They met at the Convention Center floor Monday afternoon and spent the better part of the rest of the day solving last-minute problems, completing the layout and generally preparing for Tuesday which is the biggest of the pre-show days.
Laying the floor plan is one thing, filling it is another. There are a number of vendors who have tables and wares and that is it but the dominant amount have large, complicated displays and, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise given the shoe’s name, many have boats and other watercraft. Getting all the vendors and all their products in requires an astounding amount of careful planning and precise execution.
It isn’t only about making sure that the boats and other watercraft come in and can get out easily, it is also important to lay out a schedule for which vendors are expected to be able to get in at what times.
Starting at noon, boat-bearing trailers line up at the Convention Center in their time slot order and are expected to get in and out in the allotted amount of time. The Optimist Club is demanding about this because running the show well is one of the most important aspects of bothering to have it. It is because it is so well run and promoted that it is attended by both a significant number of vendors and potential buyers.
Each year the Seaside Boat Show sells out its vendor spaces almost as soon as they go on sale. It has nothing to do with the Optimist Club’s philanthropic mission but rather because the vendors often have their best days of the year at the show.
Over the last three decades — the Optimists didn’t hold it one year while the Convention Center was under renovation — companies who sell boats, boating accessories and other purveyors of beach lifestyle peripherals have come to kind of an understanding with their customer base. Attendees show up with the intention of buying and dealers make sure they are rewarded for their efforts by offering some of the lowest prices on various gear that will be available each year.
For their part, the Optimists see this show as one of their best opportunities to help fund their substantial scholarship program as well as the clubs other philanthropic endeavors. According to Charles Smith, who heads the Seaside Boat Show promotion effort, 95 percent of all the show’s revenues go to their scholarship and youth activities program with nearly all the rest distributed to their other charitable efforts.
Since its inception, the Optimist scholarship program has endowed more than 275 Stephen Decatur High School students with $1.45 million in funding.
A significant part of the money they use for scholarships is generated by the Seaside Boat Show’s scholarship raffle. For $100 per raffle ticket, participants have the chance to win $75,000, $15,000, or $10,000 in cash. Tickets will be available throughout the weekend and the winner need not be present for the show-closing drawing Sunday in order to win.
In addition to being able to purchase tickets, showing up gives all paying entrants the chance to win one. Included in the price of admission are chances to win one of the $100 raffle tickets as well as other door prizes.
The most impressive of the door prizes in a chance to win a boat. North Bay Marine owners, Scott and Mary McCurdy have once again donated a boat as one of the door prizes. Smith estimates that the pair has made this donation for at least 25 of the 29 years the show has been held.
The Seaside Boat Show has also become a kind of boon for local business as, in addition to vendors from all over the country, the show has become a regional attraction with thousands coming not only for deals but just for an excuse to have a getaway weekend in the midst of cabin fever season.