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Boat Show Fall Out?

Tough economic times aren’t all bad. We all know there is frequently a “thinning of the herd” as weaker businesses fail to survive a downturn and those that do emerge stronger and more successful because of it. Even more to the point, there can be a clearing out of firms that produce sub-par products and just drag down the overall image of the industry.

Funny, but that’s got me thinking the same can apply to boat shows. Or, perhaps it’s the recent announcement by NMMA of the postponement of the Liberty (New Jersey) Boat Show until next year and the cancellation of the Des Moines Boat Show that’s really started me wondering: Will there be any more fall out of boat shows?

I don’t know, of course, but I commend the NMMA show staff for bold and decisive action in dealing with these two particular events. Clearly, they put these two shows to the ultimate question: “Is the show producing results for the exhibitors and for the Association as the producer?” The answer came up “no” and NMMA acted appropriately.

Now, lest you think I’m about to call for the elimination of more boat shows, let me remind you that I’m an advocate for good boat shows. After all, I managed well over 100 boat shows during my years with the Lake Erie Marine Trades Association.

Without question, boat shows remain the single most effective marketing platform available to our industry. Shows bring thousands of prospective buyers face-to-face with our sales team and our products in just a few concentrated days, most often in the off- season. And, until we find another vehicle that can duplicate or improve on that, shows will continue to be a mainstay for our industry.

But this also raises the often-heard question: “Are there too many boat shows.” The answer is no, and yes!

First, no there aren’t too many shows as long as we’re talking about events that consistently deliver a quality audience for the exhibitors. Successful dealers who do the math will affirm that the boat show(s) have made them a lot of money overall. In fact, I recall a well-known dealer who told me at the end of one of my shows that he hadn’t sold anything during the show that year. I told him I was sorry. He said: “Don’t be. I have made a lot of money over the years because of you and I am grateful.”

On the other hand, there can be too many shows in some marketing areas. In locations where there are multiple shows close together in dates and locations, the industry and the consumers may not be well served. The problem often comes when dealers recognize a show is not delivering real value but they exhibit in it anyway out of some sort of fear that they’re “forced to” because a competitor is there. In fact, that’s how promoters of “weak” shows stay alive — by playing “the other dealer is in” card. 

Moreover, too many shows in a market reduce the importance of all of them and take away any sense of urgency to buy at the show. So, perhaps these tough times for our industry are the right times to reassess your market area and the shows within it. If there are multiple shows and one or more produce sub-par results, this may be the ideal time to “thin the heard” by exhibiting only in those events with a solid record of success and taking a pass on those that don’t have it.


12 comments on “Boat Show Fall Out?

  1. Rose Terriere

    We exhibited at the Sacramento Boat Show in March 2008. We did not realize that it was the 3rd boat show at that venue within 3 months. The attendance was so poor, that we were one of the few vendors that sold anything. We will not do Sacramento again.

  2. Arch

    Great info, but too politically correct for my taste. Of course, I understand you have to be since you are writing for TRADEONLY.
    I’ve been to HUNDREDS of shows over the last 20 years, and I can tell you one thing for sure….THEY DON”T PRODUCE THE WAY THEY USED TO. I can’t think of one dealer that has told me any different. Yet, I can give you DOZENS OF EXAMPLES that have come to resent the apparent necessity of the shows. Many look at it as a necessary evil.
    Perhaps we would learn more about our industry by looking at WHY this is happening.
    Is it the internets fault? Is it just a consumer trend driven by other industries and consumer advocates that discourage impulse purchases? Is it a overall decline in boat sales per capita?
    It’s probably all of the above, but like I’ve said MANY MANY TIMES in this forum, we have to look at why this is happening and then address the problem.
    As long as boats keep getting more and more expensive at 2 to 3 times the rate of inflation, and discretionary income doesn’t keep up (and it rarely does), this problem is only going to get worse.
    Let’s address the problem head on instead of tip toeing around it.

  3. Paddy DeLaura

    I just received an email about the 2008 Marine Dealer Conference & Expo. I thought that sounded interesting. Wonder when it is? I read the letter and the only thing I could find was the cut-off date for a reduced price. Now I’m really curious, so I clicked on the registration link-still no date or where it is. The hotel prices are giving me a clue from Saturday Nov. 15th thru Nov. 19th with assorted rates and it’s at the Rio, All Suites & Casino. Now I’m getting somewhere… we have casinos in FL, CT, NJ and NV. I think Rio sounds Western so I’m banking on NV, Reno or Las Vegas, who knows? Wow a black tie affair starting at 6PM, wonder which night?. Other than the registration early bird fee I’m still in the dark. (gee maybe it’s Florida after all) Now I see where I can register by clicking on the online secure form, maybe that will help me. No luck, I can fill out my information and credit card but still do not know where I’m going.

    Whatever happened to the basics, who, what, why, where and when? I’m so lucky to have the time to play with this puzzle, thanks to all the media forecasting doom and gloom.
    Someone needs to learn how to proof read and play editor!

  4. Larry Keeter

    Reassess your marketing area, now that’s a laugh?! C’mon all you have to do is look at the ‘thinning herd’ and long faces at the NY Boat show. A show that used to be in mid January, then after Christmas, and now early in December. Why? Simple, they can sell the space to more lucrative shows that produce more revenue to the center and the city. In the more suburban areas, they died years ago.

    So what are you supposed to do, keep beating a dead horse just to give something away so your long-time boat manufacturer doesn’t replace you?

  5. Tired Boat Guy

    We too have decided to pass on the Sacramento show in March. Three shows in the same venue within 80 days of each other makes zero sense. Coupled with the fact that a select few powerhouse dealers control all the space in the only “good” building at the facility, and the decision to not return was an easy one.

    Too many shows….too few skilled sales reps, and Outboard manufacturer’s promotions that give zero incentve to pull the trigger at the show for the consumer…..

    We will instead spend the money on shows that can consitantly put buyer’s in the booth…in our case, with our brand makeup, that is the ISE and Fred Hall groups. I feel sorry for the choices that remain for ski and runabout dealers.

  6. Waterdog

    Larry wrote ”
    So what are you supposed to do, keep beating a dead horse just to give something away so your long-time boat manufacturer doesn’t replace you?”

    Maybe it’s time to change this metiphor to “Boating a dead horse”

  7. Separator

    This article is definatly too politically correct.

    Lets be truthful shall we….Boat shows are dead…I personally have been seeing this trend for the last 2-3 years. Too many shows..Too expensive for the dealers and manufactures..No return on investment. We the dealers and manufactures spend the money in hopes of people coming to the show and buying at the show and that is not happening anymore. Waste of time and good money.

  8. Terry Wood

    Hi Norm, As you know we are in St. Petersburg and there’s a show every weekend it seems but we attending more small shows now. There’s very little traffic at the showroom and it seems i’m talking to a good number of people at the shows. The Shows are discounting there price for space if you work them and were selling some boats that I don’t think I would have sold at the store. We are doing 4 shows in 3 months. Now take in mine i’m only taking 4 to 5 boats and leaving them on trailers so coat is down and not tying up the service shop. The only way to get out there and see people and its not the norm for us we only did 3 big shows a year. We left tampa show 15k in the hole and these other shows we attending were coming out from 8 to 12k ahead. I guess its thinking out of the box

  9. Gordy McKelvey

    I’ve said this many times before: It’s tough to sell anything at a “Show”. There are way too many distractions at a “Show”, not enough quaility time to spend with interested prospects at a “Show” and no real commitiment from NMMA and other promoters to help establish the perception that a real deal is to be had buying at the “Show”. The buzz word this year is “Change”. Dealers I know are constantly changing, tweaking and adjusting to try to stay alive. When are the “Show” organizers going to do the same?

  10. Dave

    As a long time boating customer and now a dealer-partner, I suggest a factor which cannot be measured, however, logic certainly supports. The Boating Industry needs to continually romance the public to convince them the boating lifestyle is worthwhile. Without boat shows, prospective new customers do not have a venue which truly promotes the image of what owning a boat would be like. It’s time for us “all” to get optimistic – who wants to purchase anything from Chicken Little?

  11. Ken Reda

    While as a dealer we still manage to write business and make some solid contacts at Boat Shows, (reduced numbers for sure) the shows seemingly continue to loose their core group flavor and magnetism. Kind of like going to a NBA game, whereas the idea for many is to see and be seen. A social outing rather than a boating enthusiast event……. Take a look at the attire of the attendees. Some look as if they just came or are on their way to a seclusive South Beach night club. We’ve all seen it, spiked heals and Saturday Night Fever pants…… I don’t think they really are interested in what the IPS propulsion has to offer, or the fundamentals of hull coring material. Explain this to me…. What marine / nautical affiliation does a wooden bench swing vendor have at a boat show? Oh, it must be the canvas top.

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