Dealer Outlook

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Fall Show Season Begins this Week

The 2008 round of major fall in-water boat shows gets underway at the Michigan City (IN) In-Water Boat Show this Thursday and winds up in early December at the new St. Petersburg (FL) Boat Show and Strictly Sail. In between, the industry will be watching for any results that indicate our sales decline has bottomed out and increases are finally a real prospect.

If you’re slated to exhibit in one of these fall shows, you will be in the right place at the right time! But, please don’t read that statement as meaning I’m ignoring comments some of you have recently made in this blog that boat shows aren’t delivering the results they did in the past.

The facts are, with rare exception, attendance and sales have declined at our industry’s boat shows. But, to have it otherwise makes little sense. Could we expect our boat shows to increase while overall sales for our industry were in acute decline?  No, like it or not, our boat shows cannot create a market that doesn’t exist. Rather, shows only reflect the market that does exist. The real core value of our boat shows has always been that they will draw the active market, whatever its current level.

That’s certain to hold true again as we head into this fall’s show season. When it comes to sales prospects, the current “herd” may be thinned but there is still a lot of “beef” out there. And, as has always been true in the past, our boat shows will corral that “beef” in one location where area dealers can get a shot at them. That isn’t something a dealer can unilaterally duplicate back in the showroom. Moreover, if there is momentum for a sales increase it will be manifested at these shows.

It’s also important to recognize that the buying cycle is getting longer. Gone, at least for now, are the days when prospects come into a boat show and buy on impulse. The time between thinking and buying has significantly widened. Prospects do more research and comparison than ever before. And, because there is a longer time from looking to buying, many sales experts say this extended time causes most sales to be lost because the salesperson quits too soon. Keeping contact with prospects, including the likelihood that they will turn up at the boat show, can be key. In today’s climate, it’s critical that the sales team maintain contact in the context of “we’re always here for you whenever you’re ready.” Of course, if you’re not there, likely someone else will establish contact with your prospects.

Like them or not, attendance up or down, sales strong or soft, our boat shows still remain the single most effective promotional vehicle, with the most impact on the sales, available to us in this industry. If there is a fall show in your area and you’re not, yet, committed to exhibiting in it, I urge you to seriously consider it. In a down market, any expenditure to be in the middle of the active prospects will always be well worth it.


5 comments on “Fall Show Season Begins this Week

  1. Chad

    I completely agree with your theory that salesmen need to focus on a longer term sales cycle, with less emphasis on sales at the show.

    I also believe that the value of boat show attendance would be improved if we took a page from the play book of 20 years ago… In those days, boat shows were staffed with experts from the manufacturers; boat shows were a place where existing boat owners could get outstanding support and information from the engineers – support beyond what dealers and retailers can provide. This contact creates powerful loyalty and repeat buyers (repeat buyers are bigger buyers too). Today, boat shows are mostly full of dealers and retailers – they can tell us nothing more than they can tell us when we visit their showrooms and stores – so what benefit does the boatshow provide?

    Boat shows will be more productive to the industry when we have fewer T-shirt vendors, fewer pots & pans vendors, and more manufacturers showing real equipment and staffed ith real engineers.

    Best wishes,


  2. Terry Wood

    This business has always been about relationship selling. If you were not doing it in the past then you were not doing your job. The smaller boats might be different about buying right away but remember if they didn’t buy right away and you didn’t follow up with them you might have just lost 5 or more boat sales with them over the years. You must make them feel that you are there boat guy (or gal). what ever they need from boats to dockage anything about boats they will call you.

  3. Wally

    I totally agree with Chad. Bringing factory people in to shows would draw more consumers, help educate the dealers on the nuts and bolts of the Brand and enlighten the factory guys about what consumers are saying. It would strenghthen dealer/ manufacturer relationships and in the end we would not only all sell more boats but the right boats to the consumer.

  4. Tim

    The Michigan City Boat Show is about a 90 minute drive south for some of the most avid boaters on Lake Michigan. Why is it then ,that nothing is done to market to his area? IE Western Michigan. Year in and year out, I speak to many boaters that have no idea when the show is. Perhaps a few “GROW BOATING” dollars could be sprinkled in this direction, to encourage folks to attend, what is always a great show!

  5. Bill Kearns

    If management does not listen to its customers, (dealers) , why would engineers listen to consumers at a boat show? I have always found that the best dealers are the one’s that know the boats the best from bow to stern. They take the time to look in hatches and look at wiring. Feedback given to them from end users and then given to the builders’ managers usually falls on deaf ears.

    A boat can only be assessed after hours of use and CSI scores do not always reflect reality. Listen to the qualified dealer and modify product based on what input they offer.

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