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Boat shows still a must for dealers

A quick survey of major fall in-water boat shows indicates deposits for exhibit space are running behind last yearís pace. No surprise there, given the state of business and concerns for cash flow. But with the first of the major fall shows (Michigan City, Ind.) now just†six weeks away, itís time to revisit the importance of these shows, now more important than ever before.

If that statement surprises you, letís look at some critical information. Todayís marketplace is fragmented as never before. While advertisers in the 1970s knew precisely where their target audience would be every evening at 6 p.m.†and p.m., in todayís world of always-on total communication everyone is living somewhere in cyberspace. The problem is that retailers now struggle to find ways to reach prospects and drive them into the store.

Quite the contrary is true of boat shows. Dealers can be certain theyíll reach prospects there. Thatís because when people come to a show, theyíre effectively declaring they have an interested in boats. Letís face it; people who donít care about boats go to the movies!† So, show attendees place themselves smack in the middle of a well-planned selling environment.

When it comes to the promotional budget for most dealers, boat show expenses likely top the list. That also makes them targets for cuts or delayed commitments in tough times like these. But the truth is, dropping out of the boat show would be a major marketing blunder. Even in the worst years, dealers still report sales at the shows or as a result of the shows. The percentage of total annual sales attributable to exhibiting in boat shows still ranks high for most dealers. Moreover, that significant percentage probably couldnít be made up by changing the marketing mix. Plus, while sales made at the show can be easily measured, there are important longer range benefits to exhibiting. Prospects see your products displayed in an exciting context. The impression is positive and seed future sales.

Itís no secret show attendance and sales have been off for some time, reflecting the overall market for boats. After all, a show canít create a market that doesnít exist. But you can count on a show to draw the active prospects to one place at one time. In todayís quandary of how to reach prospects, the boat shows shine over every other possible medium. In fact, it been that way for as long as anyone can remember and until there is some new way to put large numbers of prospects face-to-face with our products in a definite time and place, boat shows will remain the single most effective means our industry has to take our products to market.

You can be sure of one thing: boats will be sold at upcoming fall shows. Perhaps still not as many as in ďgoodĒ times, but dealers in the shows will have the best chance of selling while those who arenít will not. If you havenít, yet, signed up for your areaís fall show, now is the time to get on it.


7 comments on “Boat shows still a must for dealers

  1. Rusty

    Interesting article…. My question would be this….

    You state “…that significant percentage (of sales) probably couldnít be made up by changing the marketing mix…”

    What if the dealer took that $50k – ++ budget usually allocated to boat shows and put it toward online marketing? That much money goes a long ways online…. and would definitely last longer than 1 weekend.

    Anybody have any idea how many Adwords $50k will buy??? Even if only a percent of a percent actually turn into sales you’re still doing pretty good.

    What if the dealer put half of that budget to give his website a facelift and really concentrated his online marketing efforts throughout the year?

    Now, I’m not a boat dealer and this is all just opinion but it seems to me that a ‘boat show budget’ would be much better utilized spread throughout the year rather than sunk in one week/weekend.

  2. Lenny Foye

    Rusty makes a good point on where the dealer should spend that $50K -++. Maybe the shows will not draw the active prospects. I think the times are changing and it will only be for those who are well enough off financially to attend. It will be at least be two years from now before this industry swings again. I think the dealers should have their own shows on their own lots that is of course if they are still in business come the fall.

  3. Jim

    Online is great and we get results. But I must agree with Norm that a well run, well marketed, long standing boat show is still number one. What a dealer is able to do resultant of a show is up to him; but it certainly brings out the lookers and the buyers. They show up at shows for a reason; and whether they buy at that show or two years later makes no difference–so long as they keep showing up and keep buying!

  4. Erik Kyle

    There are many ways to market boats to boaters- On-line, boat shows, magazines, TV, Radio etc. In my experience a dealer can gerenate “interest” with magazines, TV, Radio and on-line, But it’s the Boat Show (or Showroom) that gives the boater the hands on experience that makes them write the check! All other forms of marketing drive traffic to the showroom or boat show and are just as important. But if you do not have a place to close the deal then the deal is not going to happen. On-line marketing is NOT the Messiah we would like it to be. Frankly, the quality of leads are under impressive compared to Boat Shows and Magazines. However, the abundance of leads makes it the main taproot for the industry. In oder to get people aware of your web-site one way to do that is at a Boat Show (Branding). So it’s my belief that we would like to put all our eggs in one basket (on-line)to make marketing simply and less costly- However the truth is to be effective a dealer has to have multiple forms of marketing in place all complimenting one another. The bottom line is it doesn’t matter what the ecomony is doing you cannot skimp on marketing and be effestive in your business. If the pie is shrinking it makes more sense to me to get a bigger piece to make the volume of the slice of pie equal to what we had last year. The only way to do that is to be more effective in how to get your product to the market place.

  5. dave

    If only the web site inquiries were responded to…..I am a small one man shop, and I have all but given up trying to contact boat companies, suppliers, etc via the internet…as it takes weeks for a response – and this is the biggie – IF they respond at all.

    If you have a web presence, make sure that someone is responsible for responding, in a very timely fashion.

    Two examples just this month….inflatable company in FL, I emailed 4 times, and called 4 times over the course of several weeks to get valves and patch material. Only after leaving phone mail on the PResident’s cell phone did I get a call back.

    Second large, very large inflatable company “just merged” with a pool heater and gadgets firm. Website email addresses were never changed. After many emails and several weeks, I was told that they “were working on updating that information on the website”. When I looked in to it, the merger took place in 2007, and an email late last week to the parent inflatable company asking why it takes TWO YEARS to update their website, has gone unanswered.

    There are those of us who rely on the web (I can do all my orders online at 3 am, and still get through) and some suppliers get it. NRS Kayaks, Port Supply just two very reliable ones who do things the easy way and have humans, if things get messed up.

    Spend some of that $$ on staying in touch.

  6. arch

    Boat shows are still effective, but nothing like they were in the 90’s. They are not a must. I know quite a few dealers that stopped going and are glad they did. But for most, I think it’s a good idea. At least for now. I think dealers in smaller markets can probably put on something themselves and get NMMA and other show organizers out of the picture. Not to mention that there is one less hand to feed.

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