The Big League

In sports, Jim Osborn would be considered a natural; so inherently good and comfortable in what he does that it seems to flow effortlessly. But Jim’s not in sports. He’s in sales. Jim sells powerboats and the World Series of boat sales is the Annapolis Boat Show.

Jim Osborne (5)For boat guys like Jim, the Annapolis Power Boat Show is the bigs. Those who travel to boat shows say the only other show that comes close is Miami. It’s not unusual for potential buyers to fly in from other states to spend the weekend in Annapolis to experience the one-stop shopping for comparing boats.

Jim will be standing by not so much to sell, but to meet and explain. The boat show starts relationships.

“I typically meet (a potential buyer) two years before they buy anything,” Jim said. “Then it’s three to four years before they get the next boat.”

This year (2013) is the 44th annual boat show in Annapolis. Officially it’s called the United States Powerboat Show and it represents the second largest annual event in
Maryland, producing an estimated $51 million economic impact, according to U.S. Yacht Shows, Inc.

Jim was at the first show, when it was only sailboats. He was a teenager doing odd-jobs at a nearby marina, pumping out boats and splicing lines, and when the owner of the marina decided to start a boat show Jim helped get boats in place.

Once he graduated from college and got married, Jim transitioned that summer job into selling sailboats full-time. “I was mentored by the white haired guys that I’ve slowly become,” Jim said. That was the 70s.

In the 80’s Bob switched to selling cell-phone service. He got in at the start, when cell phones came in an over-the-shoulder carry case. He set up Cellular One retail shops across the East Coast.

The excitement for selling cellular faded for Bob when it went from being the new-technology-on-the-block to a must-have. Along came Saberline, a sailboat company, with a new powerboat line in 2003. That caught Bob’s attention.

With three kids out of college and into their careers – an engineer, an attorney and an actress – and only one child still working his way through college, Bob decided to get back into boating. “The last three years have been the best I’ve had,” said Jim.

He sells powerboats mostly to older guys who’ve been sailing most of their lives and want to squeeze out a few more years on the water. The boats start at $500,000 and easily go up to $1.5 million. “It isn’t so much how much it costs; it’s how many years do you have left,” Jim said philosophically.

Bob is ready to point out that having a roof, a grill and a powerful engine can be appealing. “It’s nice to go 180 miles a day, painlessly,” said Jim.

In his office across from the boat show on the other side of the Spa Creek inlet, Bob can look across to where he’s about to spend nearly a week talking about boats from early morning to late at night. Then several days after the show closes he’ll shuttle boats to different docks so potential buyers can take another look.

Last year, Jim sold one boat during the show. But that’s not the point; the real purpose of the boat show is to give people the opportunity to see the boats and get acquainted.

“I love my job,“ Jim declares sincerely with a boyish enthusiasm coming from the middle-aged guy he’s become.

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