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Boat shows are more important than ever

It’s virtually here – the winter boat show season. It opens even earlier than usual as the New York National Boat show kicks things off with new dates, Dec. 13-21. To my knowledge, this is the first time a major market winter boat show has ever run before Christmas and it could give us an early hint of what the big winter shows around the country will do in January-March.

However, what the New York show does or doesn’t do with its dramatic date change will not change the fact that this winter’s boat show circuit shapes up to be the most critical in our industry’s history, for dealers and manufacturers alike.

Let’s face it – Detroit’s big three aren’t the only ones running out of cash. To one degree or another, virtually everyone in our industry is now on the razor-sharp edge between staying in business much longer and losing it all. It means that the retail sales of boats and engine generated by the end of the first quarter of 2009 on the show circuit may dictate who is still in and who isn’t!

Moreover, with ad budgets generally reduced and campaigns like “Discover Boating” temporarily dry-docked, the importance and need for boat shows by all segments of the industry has never been greater.

Oh, I know what some of you are thinking now: “Boat shows don’t get it done like they used to.” Some of you have said it before in your comments to this blog when boat shows have been the subject. I agree with you – they’re not like they used to be. But this isn’t 1988 or 1996 or 2003 (great show years) either. Using years like those as benchmarks is simply failing to acknowledge today’s realities.

The power of boat shows has always been the ability to draw to a specific location at a definite time that segment of the local market that has an interest in boats. In good years there are more and in tough years there’s less. But in all the years, our industry has never found a more productive medium to put our products and our salesmen face-to-face with large numbers of prospects. The shear numbers can’t be duplicated any other way. So, until we find that other medium, boat shows will remain the cornerstone of our retail selling.

It’s why manufacturers must have their lines represented in boat shows and why local dealers cannot afford to be absent. Moreover, in times like these, when there is no overall market growth, capturing increased market share becomes the name of the game. Dealers and manufacturers who are not in the shows literally put their share up for grabs to those who are there looking to take it! No one can afford to surrender any market share now.

If, as a dealer, you aren’t already signed up for your local winter show, I urge you to do it now. I remember a very successful dealer once saying to me: “Your shows are expensive and a pain in the . . .! But the only bad show would be the one I’m not in.” True!

Comments

15 comments on “Boat shows are more important than ever

  1. Britt

    I agree with this completely. Although, it would be imperative to add that it is necessary to incorporate cross medium, integrated marketing strategy in this type of economy. It is important to maintain marketshare more than ever rightnow and as much as boatshows are necessary, it is just as important to stay in the eye of the buyer via additional lines of communication.

  2. Larry Tague

    In todays market I think you are right, No I do not believe we will be closing a lot of units, But I do think That there will be people shopping for 2009 season & beyond. Remember boat shows are about more than just NEW boat sales. The Boat shows are going to decide who will be around in 2010.

  3. Jon

    The boat show will only be successful if we can get cutomers financed. Right now even if a customer wanted to buy a boat it is all most ipossible to get them a bank loan. Unless the banking industry starts to be real and grant consumer loans the boat shows will be a waste of time and money. Lets hope the banks become willing to loan again.

  4. John

    Norm,
    Do you work for the NMMA? NY may have some people there but mostly tourist (and really this year not so many) from other parts of the county looking to waste some time (both theirs and sales persons) while spouses shop Manhattan. Even with the reduced rate at NY it’s way to expensive for the results generated. I understand that shows produce all year but if fianancing, both wholesale and retail are not available, a lot of money and effort will be wasted. I agree, most dealers and manufacturers are running low on cash and resources for “show” advertising. There are other less costly methods of reaching quality buyers in the dealers market. Time to let the show concept die.

  5. Neil

    Nice article…. BUT Boat Shows are going the way of the dinosaur. They used to bring in people and sales… Now they are not and the show expenses are continuing to increase.

  6. Dave Geoffroy

    Norm, as usual, you’re right on target. The short term outlook for the recreational boating industry is going to be tough, but those in the business who will make it through this difficult period will not abandon what has proven to be the most effective method of generating new boat sales and gathering leads for more than a half century. Especially now, well produced boat shows are the most likely place for prospective boat buyers to congregate. Maybe attendance numbers won’t be as robust as in the past, and maybe dealers won’t sell as many units as they did five years ago, but if they don’t exhibit, it’s a certainty that their boat show sales and potential new sales leads will total zero. That’s no formula for future success. In Southern California, we’re about 60 days away from opening our 53rd Annual Los Angeles Boat Show. We’re featuring the theme, “Boating Is…Affordable Family Fun.” And to back up that slogan, we’re hoping to entice more visitor traffic by emphasizing the fact that we’ll be displaying between 30 to 40 new boats in the Convention Center lobby that retail for under $20,000. It’s the consensus of our Association that the recreational boating industry has lost it’s way a little during the past decade, relying largely on profits from bigger, more expensive models. We’re confident that our message of “Boating Is…Affordable Family Fun” will resonate with the general public resulting in some bonus attendance and increased sales potential. We’ll report back in mid-February and let you know how we did.

  7. Arch

    JON, I have to disagree somewhat with your comment. The marine lenders right now ARE buying deals. YES, they require a down payment, YES they have higher standards, Yes, there are fewer options….but they are there. Most of the customers the banks are declining right now SHOULD be declined. Much of the reason for our current recession is that people that shouldn’t have been given credit, were given credit (mortgages, businesses, etc). It has only attributed to the problem, including higher repossessions on boats (which is one of the reasons many lenders have left the business and credit has tightened up).
    I know this doesn’t help boats get over the curb, but the days of just about anybody scoring over a 675 getting approved are GONE. So are the most automatic approvals and zero down options for those scoring over 700.
    Like you, I hate it. It’s cost me BIG $, but you can’t blame them for doing it.
    This is how it will be for a while. By Summer 2009, they might start loosening up a bit, unless we are still in a recession then. No doubt by Spring 2010, we should be in good shape.
    Until then, it’s going to be tough and ugly.
    Best of luck to all of you.

  8. Gordy McKelvey

    With dealers dropping like flies all over the country, the ones that are left should have a pretty good show. Even in the worst of times there is always an upside.

  9. JACK DOLAN

    SHOW OR NO SHOW, CLOSE UP OR STAY OPEN. IF YOUR STILL IN BUSINESS NOW,YOU NEED CUSTOMERS. THE SHOWS ARE YOUR BEST SOURCE. DISPLAY YOUR BEST DEAL NEW 09’S. YOU CAN ALWAYS CUT A BETTER DEAL ON YOUR CARRY OVERS. TAKE LAY-BYS FOR YOUR DOWN PAYMENTS. WE ALWAYS USED OUR FISHING TEAM CAPS TO GET A QUESTIONARE FILLED OUT FOR THE CAP. REALLY WORK THE FISHING CAP LEAD, CALL THE GUY BACK ON HIS CELL WHILE HE’S STILL AT THE SHOW. OFFER TO SELL HIS TRADE, GET IT INTO YOUR STORE. HAND OUT FLYERS ON YOUR EVENING SUMMERIZATION CLASS. SEND HIM A 20 DOLLAR CREDIT TO USE AGAINST A LARGER ACCESSORY PURCHASE. KEEP PEOPLE IN YOUR STORE ALL WINTER. MAKE LOTS OF FRIENDS, TURN THEM INTO BUYERS, TURN THEM INTO HELPERS. DO IN STORE FISHING DEMOS, NAVIGATION DEMOS, LOADING AND UNLOADING ETC. GET LOTS OF CARSINTO YOUR PARKING LOT. JACK DOLAN

  10. brad michael

    I run the south florida boat show in june in miami beach and several home shows in south florida. This past weekend i was at the ft laud home show talking to a client that was complaining attendance was off 50%. I pointed out the fact that he also complained he had seen no one is his furniture show room this past week. This unfortunately is todays market, off 50% Shows are still the biggest bang for the buck! With that said, I run avery lean operation and have raised rates maybe 10% in 5 years. These big shows need to get a grip on there overhead and be more cost effective or else they will be in the same boat as the big 3!

  11. Bill Kearns

    I attended the New York Boat Show last Sunday. I was pleasantly surprised at the turn out. It was not that bad. I was dismayed by the lack of attention I received by salespeople working the booths. For the most part, they did not seem to care that I was on their boat. If these guys are waiting for buyers to wave deposit checks in their faces to draw attention – it’s not gonna’ happen. I spent time at 40 displays – and only 5 salespeople approached me to talk. These guys have got to go back to basics – Salemanship 101.

  12. Wally

    I would like to see a more coordinated effort in radio and tv with the manufacturers driving people to dealerships and web sites. Droping 20-30K in this economy and then fighting for Co-op monies from the manufactuers is a big drain on time and has not proven to be effective in the last few years. Perhaps it is salesman 101 as Bill wrote. NY was not a good show. After 9 days and 100 plus hours I think most salesmen are likely to be off their game.

  13. RUSS

    we have been in the marine business for forty years. never have seen this town-turn before. The big problem is-floor plan.Textron has decided not continue with floor plan money. NOW WHAT? The inventory of unsold boats is going to be huge

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