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How to avoid sales at the boat show

So, you say, you donít really have any expectation that youíll sell boats at your upcoming in-water show. Believe that and you can make it your reality. But it will take some effort to avoid making sales. So, here are some sales avoidance techniques you can use:

1.†Donít exhibit at all. Yes, itís certain sales will be made at the fall shows. And, while shows wonít create a market that doesnít exist, they will still draw in those prospects that are actively looking. So, even if attendance wonít be quantity, itís guaranteed to be quality and the best way to avoid that is to be absent from the show.
2.†Make it tough for people to find you. In my experience, dealers do a good job of identifying themselves at indoor shows. But, at in-water shows, they often fail to make themselves stand out. Think about it — hundreds of docks all looks pretty much the same. Moreover, most show managers do a poor job of identifying the docks by directional or information signs. I know . . . looking back, I didnít do it well, either. So, the prospects looking for you will have a hard time finding you and you can avoid sales if you make your display blend in with all the others.

3.†Board by Appointment Only. This is a winning strategy to successful keep people off your boats. Surveys show most people are offended by this requirement. So, if you want to avoid sales, this should do it. But, if you donít want to be so obvious, the next suggestion can work well, too.

4.†No shoes! Sure, many boaters will remove their shoes to board, but many others simply wonít. Perhaps itís because they once had their shoes ďwalk offĒ at a show or someone accidentally kicked one into the water! But itís a good technique to keep prospects off your boats. The no shoes sign also sends a message that you wonít take the time to put runners over the carpet inside the boat or that shoes will scuff up the deck. But I know a dealer who successfully turns the no shoes mentality to his favor by inviting people aboard his boats with their shoes on while telling them ďyou canít hurt a Tiara!Ē Of course, donít copy that if youíre trying to avoid sales!

5.†Sit down in the cabin. Donít be in the cockpit to greet people. Make sure people on the dock can see you lounging inside. Theyíre likely not going to disturb you. To make certain they wonít, hold your cell phone to you ear and lip sync something! No one will feel comfortable interrupting you. Donít like the cell phone trick? Then, get another member of your sales team and hold a deep conversation. Looking totally absorbed with another employee is a sure-fire way to avoid a possible sale.

6.†Make boarding difficult. Forget creating a safe ramp or other method, complete with a handle or handrail so prospects feel confident they can get from the dock to the boat. Women are particularly sensitive to boarding methods, even more so if kids are along. So, keep those wives and kids off the boat and you wonít be bothered by a sale.

7.†Donít put general info where prospects can see it. That means, donít put a good, readable sign on the boat that gives basic info like make, model and price so people can easily read it from the dock. That way, theyíll have to ask you for basic facts, and youíll be on the cell phone and unavailable to answer, of course.

The bottom line: The atmosphere at in-water shows is less ďformalĒ than at the winter indoor shows, and it should be. But that also seems to lead us to a more lay-back attitude toward the shows potential. In-water shows are equally important and powerful as indoor shows, and the displays of boats dockside need to be presented as effectively and worked just as hard if sales are to be made. The fall shows, even in this recession, will produce sales for those exhibitors who are seriously up to the task.


18 comments on “How to avoid sales at the boat show

  1. Steve

    Great post Norm. These antics have been the standard protocol for most dealers. You forgot the common anti sale tatic of turning the galley into a salesman buffet station. Nothing says NO TRESPASSING better than a group of salesmen feeding their faces in the cockpit and cabin.

  2. Patricia Kearns

    This one definitely has potential for avoiding a sale when you are faced with the presence of a woman in the company of other women and/or children. Make sure to ignore them along with other women who appear to be without male escorts. Don’t even think about inviting them aboard if they are standing on the dock in front of your fleet’s flagship. Of course, if you’re on the phone, sipping a beer and you turn your back to the woman, she’ll just think you’re playing hard to get. This strategy is even more effective if you close the door to the boat to keep it cooler inside. Think I’m joking? Happened to me at a show last fall. It was late afternoon of the show’s opening day and there were few people in the fairways. Two of us came along the dock and were admiring the boat. Our comments were audible and rooted in recent, first-hand operational knowledge of a sistership. The salesman heard us but ignored us completely and walked into the cabin to make a phone call and pick up his open beer bottle. He glanced up at us and then closed the cabin door. Think that’ll work?

  3. Van Snider

    Norm, I agree with the comments – nice article. I would add to “Don’t exhibit at allĒ the following point. When a company, who has been a “player” in the industry and an exhibitor of the show, makes a decision not to exhibit, it puts a question in consumers’ minds as to why the company is not there; i.e., are they on thin ice? Would you want to buy from a business which is noticeably absence? I suspect there are many individuals who will opt to buy from a different marine business.

  4. Ted

    Norm, This is a great outline for the “Sales Prevention Dept.” Unfortunatly we’ve seen it too often. Approach all sales situations with a positive attitude. When you are prepared to make the sale, you most often succeed.

  5. Mark Mowl

    Great points.We all read them and immediately visualize someone we know or have worked with. I would add “leave twenty minutes of every hour for a smoke, or to gossip with your buddies in other booths/boats”. The same people who complain they have not had any quality prospects, or their be-backs are MIA, are usually the same ones who are never manning their posts.

  6. Komrade Carl

    Hey you forgot the signage touting the grow boating tax on every motor— sort of a play on The Gov’t proposed crap & trade ;-)))) Thank god that stopped.

    Bad boat show sales practices, like the above mentioned by other posters & Norm, are a result of dealers having to beg friends & family to help staff booth & hire part time closers (used car & shamwow guys) on commission only, who care less about the product or the customers desires…
    Having a plan with a schedule for breaks & rules of engagment & goals should be the practices of the survivors but time will tell shortly….
    Remember 911

  7. arch

    If you are a sailor, and he determined that based on what he heard you talking about, OR he saw a sailboat on your shirt or anyone in your group, then a well trained powerboat salesman would have done that. Of course, it’s possible he was just being rude for no reason at all.

    For all of you SAILORS, I hate to break the bad news to you, but this is how 90% of us power boaters/salesman/mgmt think of sailors in general. Funny but entirely true. Now we get to sit back and wait for the 10% that DON”T think this way to post, condemn me, and be real PC. Should be interesting.

    Patricia, I realize you are probably NOT a sailor, but when you told me what happened, that was the first thing that came to mind.

    Great article Norm!

  8. dave

    And one more…

    why do brokers not contact those folks who they have sold boats to and invite them to see what is new, or move up to a newer model. Who better than a current boat owner to sell to, or to provide a first hand reference for that manufacturer. Power or Sail, doesn’t matter

    AS to the “help”, I have volunteered to help in any way, moving boats, cleaning, swiping badges or even selling…as I am passionate about the boat, likely know more about the boat, models than many salesmen and in many cases have actually used the boat prospects are looking at

  9. Patricia Kearns

    In reply to Arch: “If you are a sailor … For all of you SAILORS, I hate to break the bad news to you, but this is how 90% of us power boaters/salesman/mgmt think of sailors in general.”

    An amazing affirmation of my point. Arch further states, “… I realize you are probably NOT a sailor, but when you told me what happened, that was the first thing that came to mind.”

    How sad that the bias expressed in the assumption of “sailor” would be so strong as to cause a “well-trained salesman” to avoid the possibility that a woman who, God forbid, might even be a sailor, might well also be interested in purchasing a big, powerful yacht just like the one she drove on a 1,200 mile yacht delivery a few weeks before the boat show.

    “PC” or not, the assumption is surely a great way to avoid dealing with a prospect, even one that is suspect of being a sailor. For the record, I am a 35 year marine industry professional who already owns both a sailboat and a powerboat. Watch out for the first three letters of “assumption.” They could cost you a nice fat commission check.

  10. AnonymousBob


    Arch is an expert in dealing with assumptions!! He usually speaks from his assumptions when posting but you can’t take it personally. We just let him sit in the corner talking to himself like the proverbial grumpy Grandfather in every family.

    Any “new school” salesperson would have been more than happy to speak to you, but the marine industry is stuck in perpetual old school thinking. We don’t advertise outside our comfort zones, we bristle at the thought of a non-WASP person docking next to us, and we really don’t like women buyers, especially if you’re a sailor to boot! Am I being sarcastic? Yes. Do I speak the truth? Unfortunately, yes. I am not at all surprised by the boorish behaviour you received and only wish I’d been the salesperson so that I could have restored a little bit of your faith in the industry. The “enlightened” salesperson is the successful salesperson.


  11. Jack Hern

    and don’t forget to
    Make sure that the DNR & Coast Guard are there, in full uniform, with guns & badges. This
    really interrupts our family fun theme of “we sell fun.”
    Then with their racks of life jackets (PFD’s) for people to wear/try-on, is another
    real PLUS. I have truly heard couples at the patrol booth saying IS THIS REALLY THAT DANGEROUS?

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