This year marks the tenth year of the "Billy B" show in Needles CA. What started off as a yearly Vacation with Billy B and some friends has turned into what is historically one of the coolest boating events on the West Coast.
Over the years this thing has grown to the point of busting at the seams. Last year was undoubtedly the biggest show of all of them. If you didn't arrive early last year and you had a spot in the back to say it was a "task" getting in there is a bit of an understatement. It was so packed with boats and cars, that they were actually wrapping some of the displays around the corners into the entrance. The crowd size was equally as large with shoulder to shoulder room throughout most of the show. From a media perspective it was actually pretty difficult to get decent pictures of the boats there was so many people.
This year team RDP got a booth for the second year in a row, and I was chewing on my finger nails the whole way up there. We were running an hour behind what I wanted to be, and arrived at the show at 7:30 am. I was concerned because I was towing a 26' Enclosed and I honestly didn't think we would be able to get it back to where our booth was to unload it.
When we arrived the staff was exceptionally friendly (as always). I have heard complaints about that from other people in the past, and honestly I think that's one of those "you get out, what you put in" situations. If you are polite and pleasant generally the receiving party is as well. The parking lot attendant told me "It will be a little tight, but you can get in there."
We surveyed the situation, and he offered to walk with me while I backed the trailer up, but I told him we were good and thanked him for his time. Stacy and I backed it in and when we got back by the booth I couldn't help but notice that there was a lot of boats missing. I was thinking "well it's pretty early in the morning so maybe they aren't here yet?" Then I remembered that all these old V-drive guys are typically here at Sunrise, and I had my first inclination that something might have gone "amiss" this year.
As I was unloading it was pretty hard not to notice that the weather was in the mid 40's. For guys like me that could be a pretty strong deterrent. As the sun rose though so did the temps, and it actually shaped up to be a pretty nice day. I kept thinking well the forecast wasn't great so maybe that kept people away. The more I thought about it though the more I kept thinking of Camp Far West on New Years and how a lot of this same crowd braves snow on some years and the boats still go out.
Normally when we do these shows we have a crew of people that helps us. We have a setup / tear down crew, and usually some staff to help man the booth throughout the day. Unfortunately all of my normal crew was busy this weekend, so Stacy and I did everything by ourselves. We haven't done that in years, and it was kind of eye opening to me anyways, how far RDP has come from the days of a 10x10 EZ UP, a table with no table cloth, and two card board boxes of shirts. Now it involves dollies, drawer systems, and a whole host of other things.
The RDP booth was already getting sales before we were even setup, and honestly it was like that pretty much all day. Because of that though I wasn't able to leave and go take pics of every single boat in the show like I typically do. Being that I was tied to the booth the whole day, the only things I really got to see was when I was taking my kids to the bathroom (which happens a lot when you have three as young as mine).
Overall the show looked to be about 40% off from last year from total participation of vehicles (cars and boats). I'd guess the crowd size to be about the same, maybe a little more. Don't get me wrong, we as a "vendor" are not complaining at all. Even with the crowd size being a lot smaller we still sold right about the same amount of clothing that we did last year. This year we did do some "target" marketing though with the shirts running things like "Make V Drives Great Again" etc.. As well there was a really strong contingent of our members there, which wanted to refresh their supplies.
So what went wrong?
Well as a guy that has put on a ton of events, a ton of things. We can start with the ten bucks a head to get in, plus the ten bucks for parking. We could move forward to the cops harassing the participants over registration, and finish up with the 1950's music playing all day on a sound system that wasn't up to par.
The good news, every single one of those things is not only fixable, but easily fixable. To list some of the quick fixes, charge less or charge nothing, and make up the money on the vendors. I'd happily pay ten times what we paid to be there if the crowds are present. Solving the cop problem is a coast guard permit and insurance which are easily attainable. The music is as simple as some live bands, a decent stage etc... (I think we know where we can get one of those)
Overall last year was the best Needles event ever.. This year they tripped and stumbled a bit, but that all comes with growing pains and it certainly nothing that can't be overcome. In a lot of ways it is actually a good thing, because it brings small problems to light, and brings people together to not only solve those problems, but to make the event better as a whole! I suspect next year the event will be back on track, and hopefully the best one yet! Speaking for RDP, we are already looking forward to it!
Words : RiverDave
Photos : TommyGun Images