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It’s simple: Fewer boat shows means more return

A dealer once said to me: “The only bad boat show is the one I’m not in.” Of course, that was back in the late ’80s, as I recall — a time when virtually every boat show produced big attendance and lots of sales. Oh, how things have changed.

Today, there are simply too many boat shows. That’s what NMMA president Thom Dammrich said at the National Marine Bankers Association annual conference. He noted that manufacturers are looking for new business models, among them “cutting back boat shows from 300 to perhaps 30,” he said.

“They are expensive and often don’t return to exhibitors a good return on investment. Ninety percent of boat shows need to go away,” he added.

Dammrich’s speech triggered robust discussion at the National Marine Trades Council annual meeting last weekend. After all, the NMTC is made up of marine trade association executives that produce boat shows around the country. In fact, more than 55 boat shows were represented at the meeting. So you might assume Dammrich’s suggestion would be unwelcome, but that was not the case at all.

The association executives all agreed that there are too many shows in many markets. As Dammrich further explained, his figure of 30 shows isn’t necessarily the right number. Maybe its 60 or 90. But it clearly shouldn’t be the 300 we have now.

It’s not unusual, for example, for a dealer to be in six or seven shows a year. That’s a very big expense for that dealer, and he struggles to get a good ROI from so many shows. When he can’t do it, he blames all shows. The fact is, dealers should do one or two shows a year, and only the dominant ones in the market. Then their ROI picture would totally change.

As a practical matter, Dammrich further explained, if the industry’s dealers shrink by 30 to 40 percent, as some predict, along with a significant reduction in manufacturers and boat brands, and the industry eventually stabilizes at about 200,000 new units a year, as many predict, the number of shows will have to drop. What should be left is an industry stable of large shows in large boating centers. Every area dealer would display, and the attendees would travel to them because that is all there is. The ROI for the dealers, manufacturers and the trade association that produces the show would be excellent.

Don’t miss that I said “trade association that produces the show.” With rare exception, the national and local marine trades associations currently stage most of the industry’s best shows. These are the only shows that dealers and manufacturers should be in. Industry-produced shows are most in step with dealer and manufacturer needs or trends, not to mention providing important benefits and services to dealers and manufacturers using boat show proceeds.

Moreover, in the scenario of fewer shows it will be necessary for manufacturers to provide more resources — financial and product — to the dealers in these shows. Fewer shows will mean manufacturers will be better able to do so.

“There is nothing inherently wrong with boat shows or their ability to provide ROI except there are too many,” claims Dammrich.

The NMTC members unanimously agreed.

Boat shows are still the single most effective way to put our products face-to-face with large numbers of prospects in one place at one time. Now is the time for the industry’s trade associations and dealers to bring down the number of boat shows.


7 comments on “It’s simple: Fewer boat shows means more return

  1. Chip Hart

    So I am reading your blog Norm and became somewhat annoyed until you qualified your statement by saying….”With rare exception, the national and local marine trades associations currently stage most of the industry’s best shows. ” I was happy to see that because there are truly a few (and becoming fewer) independent production companies that produce and own very fine boat shows. Some like us have done so for over 50 years.

    I would definitely agree that some markets have too many boat shows. Even if they are a one hour drive from each other. Two in a given market is too many in today’s (and the future’s) economic environment. And for a show to sustain a good ROI for it’s participants, the marketplace can’t be over saturated.

    Until dealers decide which shows are their best invesrtment, there will likely be markets with more then two shows. Maybe, just maybe, the manufacturers decide which dealers to support with which shows.

  2. Arch

    MANY IN THE INDUSTRY HAVE BEEN SAYING THIS FOR YEARS AND MOST CHOSE NOT TO LISTEN, including NMMA people, big dealers, and show promoters.
    This is just another example of them being LATE in recognizing the obvious and proof of mismanagement on many levels.

  3. JM

    Today’s consumer can get more information and better information from the comfort of their own living room. Why truck to the city. pay ridiculous admission and parking fees to wander a show. Consumers are narrowing their search via the internet then visiting just a few dealers to do the touchy- feely part of the buying process.

    The absurd amount to display at shows today (compared to return), is much better spent on web sites, internet advertising and showroom improvements. Whether you talk about a boat show, buying the “printed” newspaper or the hassle of traveling to the local mall, consumers buying habits have changed forever.

    We all better learn how to run our businesses without hugely successful boat shows of yester-year, because they are a thing of the past…..

  4. Ed Hartman

    Norm: I take um-bridge at your statement:
    “(Trade Association) shows are the only shows that dealers and manufacturers should be in.” Your statement that good privately run shows are “a rare exception”, is hardly a qualification.
    I respectfully suggest that exhibitors judge what shows are to be entered be based on history of success in an individual show. A decision should be made without regard to the profit status of the producer.
    Last year rumors were spread by a possible competitor that I intend to sell the two Annapolis shows. A surprisingly large number of exhibitors asked me. should sale is in the air, that I not sell to national associations.
    I am a strong believer that an organization that has one goal, to put on a great show, and has personal skin in the game, will do better than a non-profit, most any time.

    Ed Hartman
    United States Yacht Shows, Inc.

  5. Roger

    I agree that there are often too many boat shows. I’m also concerned that the shows that survive don’t hold us hostage because “they’re the only game in town”. There is a rather large management company that has had this attitude in the past. Without competition, I could easily see bad customer service get worse.

  6. Franklin Pillsbury

    Norm,your timming for the disscussion is great.Most retail spring shows will “roll out” their marketing December 1st.As with the decline of manf.,dealers,and other vendors,Boat shows have “adjusted” as well. Their are two different groups we are trying to “invite” to the shows..Those that own Boats,and those that dont.As show “marketers” we cant just do a media buy and hope that SOMONE comes through the gate.I aggree that the WEB has changed things…but they are not a replacement.
    We sell a prouduct that is “HIGH TOUCH” the WEB is a HIGH TECH tool that helps educate the buyer.Most important our PRIME suspect is no longer the BABY BOOMERS….it’s the GEN – X.The opportunites are still in front of us…not in the REAR VIEW Mirrior.

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