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Prepare to get your share at the fall shows

As the Michigan City (Ind.) In-Water Boat Show near Chicago opens today — the first of the major fall in-water shows — the economic news is generally favorable, exhibitors have increased participation, and the expectation is that fall shows will show sales are running high.

Ken Alvey, president of the Lake Erie Marine Trades Association, wich produces the show, said: “I think we’re all feeling it. The enthusiasm of our exhibitors has been evident throughout the show’s setup, and we’re very optimistic we’ll see an increase in attendance and corresponding sales activity by the time this show ends on Sunday. It’s a positive atmosphere.”

There’s a lot of good news these days to back Alvey’s expectations. Home prices have surged for 16 straight months, rising 11.9 percent in June alone over a year ago. New-home building rose in July by a healthy 5.9 percent, putting new construction levels nearly 21 percent higher than a year ago — a big boost to the economy and consumer confidence about the future. Meanwhile, sales of durable hard goods are also up, led by a particularly strong market for cars and trucks, which are up 14 percent to 1.3 million units in July and bound to be around 15 million for the year.

RV sales are also considered a good leading indicator of new-boat sales. The fact is RV sales have been growing for nearly two years, albeit that growth has been primarily in towables. It parallels our increased sales in the pontoon and aluminum segments. But like our sales of large boats (30 feet and up), RV’s big motorhome segment has been slow to recover.

That appears to be finally changing. The Recreational Vehicle Industry Association is now reporting big motorhome registrations jumped nearly 30 percent in June, continuing a trend of increased sales for the first six months of 2013. That’s good news as we head into our fall boat shows because large boats are such a key segment of our in-water shows.

In truth, even if the economic news weren’t as positive, it wouldn’t reduce the importance of the fall boat shows for dealers and manufacturers. “That’s because exhibitors aren’t buying space in any of these events; they’re buying access – access to a highly qualified audience,” NMMA president Thom Dammrich often emphasizes to NMMA’s show staff. And he is right.

The reality is boat shows remain our industry’s single most effective marketing platform to reach large numbers of qualified prospects. Regardless of the numbers coming through the gate, the price of the ticket serves as the No. 1 qualifier. After all, people don’t pay to see what they have no interest in.

Shows are also the only format that can draw thousands of these qualified prospects to one place in a few concentrated days. There’s no guessing. Exhibitors know where the prospects will be. Shows give our sales teams face-to-face access to numbers no dealer is capable of ever drawing alone.

Finally, the fall shows also serve to generate solid a “buzz” for boating during months that would otherwise be pretty slow for dealers. Whether you like shows or not (salespeople should love ’em), the fact is that until we find another vehicle that can duplicate or improve on their drawing power, they will continue to be a mainstay for our industry.

If you haven’t already committed to access the big audience in your market’s fall boat show, it’s time to prepare to get your share.

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