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Good show results from the Northwest and Southeast

Encouraging results continue to come in from major winter boat shows. The latest from opposite corners of the country — Miami and Seattle.
The Miami International Boat Show & Strictly Sail wrapped up last night as I was writing this blog, and even temperatures well below normal for South Florida didn’t cool the big show’s success.

“We had a very solid three-day weekend,” Cathy Rick-Joule, NMMA vice president of Southern shows, told me as she was getting the move-out under way. “I’m still waiting for the final attendance figures, but we’re already certain those numbers will be close to 100,000, only about 5 percent off last year.”

The small drop in attendance puts Miami high on a growing list of winter shows that exceeded expectations by experiencing just single-digit declines. Significantly higher fall-off was projected for all the big winter shows, and the fact that it isn’t happening is another good indicator that we’ve bottomed out and are poised for recovery. What’s more, early reports from Miami indicate boats were being sold, and accessory exhibitors were reporting increases as high as 30 percent over last year.

Seattle is about as far from Miami as you can get. But if Miami finished well, the Seattle Boat Show clearly captured the gold medal. It closed Feb. 6, and despite being one day shorter this year, attendance was up almost 9 percent to nearly 60,000, according to Northwest Marine Trade Association president George Harris. That’s believed to be the biggest increase for any major winter show thus far, and it may have gotten an extra boost from the cancellation of 2010 boat shows in Tacoma, Everett and Vancouver, British Columbia, the latter due to building construction.

Nevertheless, even better than the good attendance figures was the distinct difference in the attitudes of show visitors this year over last, when prospects wouldn’t even talk about buying. Bill Baker, president of Bakes Marine Center, for example, thinks consumers who were riding out the recession last year are now ready.

“There’s been a little pent-up demand for the past couple of years,” he said. “I think people wanted to buy but felt uncomfortable buying. Now, there’s a little more optimism.”

Baker echoed the experiences of exhibitors in all of the industry’s winter shows. It has been dramatically better this time around. Moreover, there are still many shows to go between now and the end of March. Dealers who haven’t signed up for their local show may want to revisit that decision.

As NMTA’s Harris put it: “The turnaround’s got to start sometime. It feels like it has!”


10 comments on “Good show results from the Northwest and Southeast

  1. Mark Qualkinbush


    I like reading your blogs; however, I want to throw a new idea at you. You continue to write about positive experiences through traditional boat dealer operations and events such as boat shows. I’m not an advocate of boat shows. What I’m really saying is I’m not an advocate of spending dealerships money for a minimal return on investment. Let’s examine a typical show and the money allocated in a budget for this function. I believe on average of all dealers from small to large the annual expense of a boat show is 20k. What do you get in return? Maybe five sales with a 4k net. You are not breaking even in this scenario. Your dealership is getting exposure this is true but is it your dealership or the product lines you represent. I maintain it’s your products first your dealership second. Another significant factor now goes into the boat show world, promoters are now making these shows entertainment based events with a boat show off to the side. Now am I saying to avoid the boat show all together? No. I would go and buy a space big enough for my top selling or top featured boat bring a nice media center that had high speed wireless access that would display my web page and show all the featured benefits of doing business with my dealership and what sets me apart from others. I would want to accomplish this in the $2,500 range. I think one employee could handle this during most of the show with another during peak hours.

    The next thing I would do is use the money I saved from the show and allocate that towards three dealership in house shows. Direct mail has been my best source of promotion in the past and with e-mail you can hit your customer base effectively. You can use incentives to current customers to bring their friends to the dealership so you are getting new customers or an opportunity for a new customer. We know boaters tend to hang out together.

    That’s my thoughts on boat shows but I want put a challenge out to you Norm. Create a blog that has dealers suggest ideas on how they are changing their dealership to be profitable in future. The old way of doing business is over so how we create a new business module that will work in the future and avoid the pitfalls of our past.

    Mark Qualkinbush

  2. Midwest Dealer

    I would like to offer a different opinion to the one just presented by Mark. While I respect Mark’s analysis on the profitability of his show, there are still many shows out there where dealers make money by attending. We spend around 50K to attend our show and it’s the best advertising money we spend all year. We have sold between 25-35 boats (generating approx $140K of GM) the last few years at the show. While this is well below the 45+ units we used to do, it is still profitable. Not to mention the much needed cash flow the show produces during the months of Jan and Feb. In addition to the boats we sell at the show, we track about an additional 20 units throughout the spring that are generated from leads from the show. I have done open houses in the past using tv, radio, direct mail, etc and have spent 10-15K to bring people into the dealership and have seen maybe an extra 200-300 people show up and a few additional of sales. The results are nowhere near the 50,000 people that my show attracts nor do the sales numbers approach what I get at my show. I know the success we have at shows is not duplicated everywhere, but I use our dealership as an example to illustrate shows are still effective. Mark, it sounds like the show in your market is not working, but to suggest boat shows in general are not the way we’ll do business in the future is not something I would agree with. I, for one, would hope that we look for ways to improve on boat shows instead of giving up on them.

  3. george gantt


  4. Noel Osborne


    Attendance at a show is not necessarily an indicator of the success of that show. I attended the show and spoke with many who exhibited there. There was very little optimisim from those I talked with. In other words show attendance may have been good but sales were another story. i believe there were some pockets with decent sales, such as larger yachts,but that was all I heard. Anybody else hear anything different from this?

  5. Promoter Shakedown

    Gotta love these promoters talking about attendance being great and dealers with big success. Guys like Midwest Dealer claiming to hit big licks at shows is the biggest reason these shakedown artists continue to change double of what space should be.
    1. People will always attend shows but what matters is, how many buyers are in that crowd?
    2. It’s easy to quote a dealer who claims to have sold many boats but in reality he counts deposits and only delivers 30% of his claims. We all know that guy.
    3. Until we stop attending these over priced marketing tools, these shakedown artists will continue to change double of what space should be.

  6. Mark Qualkinbush

    I was hoping to get a little chatter here. I want people to throw out ideas. I think Noel might be on to something with the larger purchase price tickets. Maybe we need to really understand market demographics and trends as to how it allows a boat dealer to get a decent ROI.

    Let’s get some positive ideas and suggest how they can benefit you or any dealership.

    Mark Qualkinbush

  7. Midwest Dealer

    I agree with you, promoter shakedown, the price have gone up at shows while the results have fallen. I wish it was less expensive to attend the major show in my market. However, my “claims” are statements of fact. We are not one of those dealers who claim they have a sold boat when all they have is a $100 deposit. Out of the 34 deals we did at the show, we had 3 back out after the show and lost 3 to financing. To prevent ending up with only 30% of our deals cashed, we get large deposits and close on the financing right at the show on in stock units which prevents a lot of the lost deals you think we have. Like Joe Verde likes to say, if you think I’m throwing you a high ball, cut my numbers in half and it’s still money well spent. My point to my first post was that while some shows may not be worth attending, this is not the case with all shows in every market. If it doesn’t work for you, Promoter Shakedown, that’s fine. Addressing Mark’s last post, the idea I have to help shows attract more people (and hopefully buyers) is to have the manufactures build “show models” that will travel the show circuit. To explain, with the new era of inventory control, we are cutting the models we stock by 30-40%. We are not longer going to stock the models we may sell one of a year. Most dealers I talk to are taking a similar approach. This means I might not stock that 27 ft bowrider anymore but if my manufacture could let me borrow one for the show, it would give consumers looking to see one of these models motivation to come to the show. The shows would become more important because buyers would soon realize that to touch and feel those new out of the box models, they’re going to have to come to the show because that’s the only chance they are going to get to see these boats. It’s not the grand idea that solves everyone’s boat show problems, but it helps on two fronts, we don’t have to stock as many models but still get a shot at selling one we may no longer stock and it gives consumers an additional reason to attend a boat show. I heard Regal talk about something like this at the MRAA convention this fall.

  8. AnonymousBob

    Are shows becoming more “show and tell” and less “write and buy”? I think boat shows are becoming something like car shows, in that manufacturers and dealers exhibit models, let customers walk around the boats, have people there to answer questions, and dealer personnel to help guide customers to the dealers. With the ease of internet access for research purposes, are shows beginning to exist so customers can touch and feel what they saw online and narrow down their choices? After a show and interacting with dealer personnel, do customers then make their purchase decision and finalize things at the dealership? I’m just thinking out loud, but that’s the trend I am beginning to see.

  9. Doug Dailey

    I attended everyday of the Seattle Boat Show. Most exhibitors came into the show with a conservative expectation. Increased attendance doesn’t translate into more boat sales, but the reports of overall higher attendance are a positive we all needed to hear.

    As an engine distributor, we rarely sell an engine package at the show. We are there in a more of a support function to the dealer network and boat builders. We refer potential repower business to the local dealer in their area and boat builders send prospects with propulsion questions to us to help with the sale. And yes, we answer LOTS of service questions.

    When we hear a boat has sold, hopefully that translates into an engine package for us in the next 60-90 days if financing for the new buyer doesn’t fall through, etc.

    Because of the rising cost to have a space at the show we actual scaled down our sq. footage, which seemed to have no impact on what we set out to accomplish.

  10. George Harris

    Yes, I agree exhibitor expectations were cautious and conservative this year. The NMTA receives new and used vessel sales data direct from the Washington State Department of Licensing and makes it avaialble to all members. Historically we see a sharp uptick in sales immediately following the show. We’ll be looking closely at this data in the coming months to see what direction we are headed. Hopefully sales will follow attendance.

    For the record NMTA has not raised rates for the Seattle Boat Show in three years. In 2007 the rate per square foot was $5.95. For 2008, 2009 and 2010 the rate has been $6.45. We also have a $265 application fee per exhibitor. I understand that exhibitor expenses like food, hotel, travel, staffing, shipping and display materials have probably increased.

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