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Dealers may be missing a good bet

It appears the only bad winter boat show may be the one a dealer isn’t in! That’s the conclusion one might draw as major shows have kicked off in the U.S. and Canada and the news is most encouraging. The trend toward better-than-expected attendance and promising sales results that began at many fall in-water shows is definitely continuing – even gaining momentum.

It’s clear that boaters still love boat shows and even during a recession will turn out for them. It confirms that boat shows remain a strong vehicle for dealers to reach their local market. In fact, it puts to rest any fear that boat shows may becoming irrelevant. Any time dealers can stand face-to-face with literally thousands of prospects, it’s relevant!

While some shows were up and some down in attendance, dealers in all shows are reporting positive results. Atlanta, for example, saw attendance up 1 percent overall on the strength of a big weekend.  “We are very pleased with the turnout. We sold our two largest boats (391 Meridian and 45 Sea Ray) plus some others,” said Kyle Johnson, MarineMax. Meanwhile, in Nashville attendance climbed 16 percent and Stuart Fraser, Clark Marine Sales, reported: “People were ready to buy again. Last year, people were just looking and didn’t want to talk. This year, I doubled my sales from last year.”

Similar news has come from Cleveland and Chicago. While both these shows have experienced attendance drops of 8 percent and 13 percent respectively (Cleveland is still going through next weekend), the sales activity being reported is good. “Traffic is much better than expected with a down economy. Sold more product this year than last year,” reported Harold Wyland, Wyland’s Marine.

 The Kansas City show was shortened from five to four days, which likely explains a 7 percent dip in attendance. But there was an increase in sales according to Jeff Siems, Blue Springs Marine. “We are having a great show,” Siems said. “We are selling pontoon, fiberglass and aluminum boats.”  For Carl Johnson, Sportsman’s Outfitters, an even dozen was the magic number: “We sold 12 boats with cash deposits and have more new leads to follow up,” he commented.

Across the border in Toronto, things looked just as good. While attendance dropped just 2 percent over this 10-day show, sales action was reported good. Exhibitors reported a noticeable return of first time boat buyers with strongest sales of small and mid size boats. “Customers are more engaged, more positive and qualified. Sales are up and the number of qualified leads is up. When you consider the year we have come from this is even more outstanding,” Andy Blenkarin, Desmasdon’s Boat Works.

There’s another important point in all these reports. Combined, just these six shows have pulled more than 215,000 people through their doors. No other format can put dealers and products and prospects together in such numbers. It would appear, then, dealers who have opted to skip their local shows this winter may want to quickly reconsider a good bet.?


9 comments on “Dealers may be missing a good bet

  1. show space shakedown

    Again you show your hand as a boat association homer. Since your writting a dealer blog, try coming over to our side of the fence. For the last 2 years your cronies have grossly over priced show space by 30-60%. They claim their pricing is based on show attendance being near what it was, just like your article. Attendance may be near the same but BUYERS IN THE ATTENDANCE ARE DOWN 60%! Selling boats is the only reason a dealer attends a show, period. We’re not there to glad hand and “show off” our products like boat associations and manufacturers .

  2. Arch

    I went to both Atlanta and Nashville. It’s true, attendence was up, and most dealers had stronger sales than last year. But there was a noticeable difference in the boaters that showed up. Missing were many of the yuppie boaters that we typically see buying new high end boats. Replacing them were older couples looking at mostly used/older boats, with prices under $100,000. Many were pontoon boat shopping, or looking at fishing boats under $50k. Also saw many inquiring about sail boats. And then there were the bottom feeders, expecting to buy boats for 50 cents on the dollar.
    But that niche that sustained the marine industry from 2000 to 2007 was noticeable absent, or at least in much smaller numbers. Those are probably the ones most affected by the recession and most likely to be upside down in their boats.

  3. Chip Hart

    As an independent boat show producer, I know of no show that bases space rates on attendance. Space rates are based purely on the expense structure of a show; i.e. rent, marketing expenditures, labor, decorating, and about 50-60 other line items. We are not here as shows to glad hand and ‘show off’ product, we are here to our vendors sell and be successful.

    Without successful vendors, you have no show…….period.

    I don’t know where this show you speak of is taking place, but it certainly is not Cincinnati or Columbus! Find a good, solid, reputable show and you will find buyers. We are and in good numbers according to dealer and vendor reports. Good luck!

  4. Jeff Siems

    I feel that NMMA show here in Kansas City was being very proactive in getting local dealer into the show without over-charging for the space. They had dropped our cost per ft2 by 75% to make it attractive to all dealerships. I think the success shouldn’t be gauged by the number of $100k boats sold, but the overall profit made at the show, or from the show. We all know that the number of larger boats will be slower for the next few years. We know that boaters will not go away, but might choose to buy a smaller boat, or less expensive boat. In our market we are seeing dealerships stock less if any larger boats and focusing on the higher turn models to keep our inventories in check. We still saw a high interest in 40-60k tritoons in our market, and 40-60k fiberglass models. I think it truely is a region by region thing.

  5. showwarrior

    Consumers at the shows so far have been very positive and ready and willing to talk. I think as a whole Americans are tired of worrying about the uncertain and trying to take back control of their own lives. What I didn’t like hearing was customers talking about how some dealers were negative in their words and actions. I know we all had a bad year last year and probably will still have some troubles this year but if the consumer is excited and wanting to forget about 09′ I feel dealers should try as well.

    Let’s be positive and get people excited about being on the water again. Pontoons are big at the shows too ( baby boomers ). Some trading in fiberglass boats to help with age and getting grandchildren and families on the boat to have a good time.

    Good Luck to everyone in 2010, let’s be positive!

  6. dave boso

    I just talked to a GE rep that had been to the Cleveland Show, other than show news we talked about a small GE floor plan, my goodness they want 20% down, and more than 10% . I don’t know how much more because I stopped the conversation then. I will not bend to those conditions, I will use my own money and buy what i want just not as much, I remember this stuff from the Jimmy Carter days we lived thru that time and will again without GEs or anyone else help. And by the way they will be around some day with their hand out wanting us to sign up, I for one will remember this time.
    And on this subject I’ll not be attending any show. Boats are sold one at a time at the shop in the spring……..

  7. Lyn Coulter

    Boat shows are clearly marketing tools of the past. They have been replaced by the computer and the internet. People just don’t have the time anymore or the desire to attend a boat show when they can “see” all they want in the comfort of their home sitting in front of a computer.

    Our dealership will no longer participate in boat shows. We are tired of spending thousands of dollars going to shows with no results. Spending ten thousand dollars to sell two $20,000. boats isn’t very smart is it!

  8. Arch

    for DAVE and LYN, either you are both attending a bad show, or you are doing a bad job at a good show. If the show didn’t produce sales, other dealers wouldn’t attend and there would be no show. That has happened around the country this past year. But if the show exists, then obviously there are sales to be had. I’ve spoken to many dealers this past 30 days and so far, dealers are selling boats at boat shows and many are very surprised by the positive results so far.
    Listen, I’m not a big fan of boat shows, so don’t get me wrong. But boats are sold at shows and many dealers do well at them. Don’t write them all off because you don’t do well at yours.

  9. Smoke

    Not only do you have to gage the positive from being at a show (as a dealer or mfr) but you need to realize the negative from NOT being there, especially in these times. You don’t want buyers to get the impression that you are in distress or closed up if you are not showing. Perception can quickly become reality in this industry!

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