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Recession can change boat shows’ focus

I know it’s the season to be jolly! Yes, we have some great Christmas and New Year’s holidays just ahead. But for some reason, I don’t have visions of sugar plums dancing in my head. No, instead, I’m getting pictures of boat shows stirring around!After all, it’s only a couple of weeks until our industry’s winter show season kicks into high gear. And, while some shows have been cancelled for this year, the overwhelming majority of shows, in major markets and small, are set to go as usual all across the country. Combined, these shows will put thousands of dealers face-to-face with tens of thousands of boaters and prospects. There are sure to be new leads opened and sales closed because that’s what boat shows do. And, recession or not, they’ll do it again this year!

Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not suggesting the winter boat shows will miraculously create a market that doesn’t exist. I wish! But, what every boat show will do is draw the market that does exist to one location for a specific time. The result is that every exhibitor knows exactly where large numbers of prospects will be at that point in time. This has always been true of shows and recession doesn’t change it.

But having said that, and as a shows manager for more than 30 years, I was always concerned about the focus of exhibitors coming into each show. More specifically, too often I witnessed dealers that appeared so focused on their physical involvement — the exhibit layout, will the boats fit, entrances, signs, ramps, carpet, on and on – that they missed the most important consideration, their marketing plan for the show. A boat show exhibit is similar to setting up a “store” on main street. How the store looks is the important physical plan, sure. But, what it’s going to sell and how it’s going to accomplish it is the marketing plan.

Tradition has dealt us a poor hand and we now need to change the cards. Specifically, for too long the only focus of our winter boat shows was showing up and selling new boat models. After all, manufacturers promoted this thinking by offering coop and other special programs to sell new boats. As for non-current models, we barred them! And, as for used boats . . . well, never utter the words! Moreover, the focus was so tilted to new boats, dealers often failed to see their exhibit as a “store” offering a wide variety of products for sale.

This recession calls attention to the need for a fundamental paradigm change in the way dealers view their exhibits and marketing plans for the upcoming shows. Everyone should take time now to craft a show plan that offers the broadest spectrum of business opportunities for that dealership. A show exhibit should include, in one way or another, a way of selling whatever you have to sell. That means all products and services . . . and, if that means even showing a pre-owned boat . . . well, the paradigm is shifting!


3 comments on “Recession can change boat shows’ focus

  1. Jim

    All too true Norm; but as you know from your years in the industry, show space and related expenses have done nothing but increase as our businesses have taken major hits. When the internet is bringing us more business than boat shows do for far less invested, it may be time for show managers and venues to make up their collective minds what they are going to do to keep us interested or they may find themselves with empty arenas–and I’m quite certain many similar industries are having the same thoughts.
    A major portion of “planning for the recovery” is spending marketing dollars where they will bring the best returns. Expensive shows, with little or no builder co-op dollars available anymore, are beginning to look like something akin to a brontosaurus.
    Change is inevitable in any industry and adustments must and will be made by successful dealers. Many jumped on the parking lot sale bandwagon and it worked for a while. Haven’t seen one in some time. Boat shows are, sadly, heading in the same direction and the internet will run its course as well. Part of good marketing is being on the cutting edge, and boat shows just aren’t looking that sharp anymore.

  2. Tony

    I agree with Jim. During these difficult times marketing dollars need to spent where you get the most most bang for your buck. Show are not giving us that now, the internet is. Now having said that, here is my take on the winter boat show season. It will take a few years to catch up to the consumer, but since floorplan is basically non-existant, so will large inventories at boat dealerships be non-existant. It will return to the days of 25 years ago, when, if a consumer wanted a new boat they had to ORDER one at teh winter show to have in the spring. The shows at that time were truly manufacturers’ shows, in that they paid for and planned the show and teh local dealers would pay a small fee to them and man the sales floor. This is the focus the show owners need to take to save the dinosaur, or boat sales will become a virtual show on-line.

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