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.