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Boat show blogs draw interesting comments

I usually donít comment on your comments to Dealer Outlook. My goal in doing the blog is to be only a catalyst for an open exchange of ideas. It’s happening and I thank you. But, based on your most recent comments about boat shows, I want to inject a few more thoughts.

Itís obvious that inherent in recent comments like those from Todd, Pete Peterson and Gordon McKelvey, for example, thereís a frustration with boat shows. I agree with you Ė shows have become frustrating. If youíve been in the business for very long you, well, remember the days when boating was on a roll and we didnít ďsellĒ at shows. We† just took lots of orders. How sweet it was!

Now, weíre frustrated that we canít seem to get back to those days. Shows arenít fun right now because, as every good show manager knows, a boat show cannot create a market that doesnít exist; it can only reflect the state of the market in which itís held. Thatís why, for example, the continuing strong economy in Seattle has those shows doing very well while shows in Ohio, Michigan and Illinois must fight serious economic negatives. You might assume, then, that shows in Seattle are more important than in Detroit. But youíd be wrong.

Boat shows remains the single most powerful selling medium available to our industry. And, whether youíre in Toledo or Tacoma, each show does exactly the same thing Ė it draws to itself whatever the area market is at that time. In other words, the boat show will attract the largest number of qualified prospects for face-to-face, smell-the-glass interaction with dealers thatís available in the market area. No other promotional medium can do that Ė not TV, not newspaper ads, not even the internet. Moreover, itís impossible for a dealer to attract anywhere near the number of prospects to his store than he would have a shot at in a boat show.†

Thereís more.

Surveys, including the J.D. Power studies, still indicate boat shows remain the top source of information for prospective buyers. Thatís substantially more than†the internet. In addition, most show visitors are pre-qualified as to their interest in boating. After all, only people who like boats that will pay for the parking and admission, etc.

I suppose the ultimate confirmation that shows remain truly important to the retail sale of boats and accessories is that so many dealers still succeed in selling well at and/or as a result of shows. And until we find a better medium, shows will remain important.

Finally, I know from 34 years of collaborating with show managers from virtually every marine trade association in our industry (NMMA included, Gordon) that every show manager recognizes his success comes only when the dealers succeed. The truth is, trying to find ways to get dealers more qualified prospects is considered job #1 by every good manager.

And thatís the way I see it.


7 comments on “Boat show blogs draw interesting comments

  1. Chris A

    I Currently don’t work for a marine reatailer but I did for a number of years until recently. After attending a number of boat show in the past few years representing a marine equipment retailer that also sold small boats (Dinghies and outboards) The genral impression we got from shows was that they were an information gathering spot for consumers rather then a purchase point. Customers would often come into touch and feel the products then go home and order via the internet.

    We actually tried several approaches at shows to prove this including offering show only pricing and not offering special pricing online, and also running the reverse where we had no booth but ran a sale on the same days as the show. The end sales showed that for this particular case (equipment rather then boats) sales were higher via the interenet sales period but the number of consumer questions was far greater at the boat show.

    My personal view of this is that we may well see boat shows as still being a part of the boat selling experince but rather then the dealers filling the shows with sales people the boat builders will instead use dealers stock to display at shows in a non selling low pressure enviroment where you are simply refered to your nearest dealer for a sale after the show.

  2. David Pugsley

    Norm, you have done a great job with this blog and it has brought many interesting views and some good ideas. I have not been in the marine business for 34 years but I am going into number 29 so I share some of the same experience that you do.
    My hope is that this forum goes beyond those that reply with their comments. The whole industry should share in this and your blog should be made available to all marine association news letters as well.
    Much has changed in the boating business in the past thirty years. It has become very corporate and Wall Street governs the life or death of certain public marine companies. This didnít happen 30 years or even 20 years ago. Boat shows fall into that wind of financial change. The number of boat shows has increased substantially over the year which has put pressure on the manufactures as well as the dealers. The pressure is both financial and exposure. If you donít go you might miss out or the manufacture might look at your operation as not committed to the market. So you have to go and thatís a financial strain. I started my career on the manufactures side with Boston Whaler. The main event for the east coast was the New York show then Miami. The public came in droves and everyone sold lots of boats. There are too many shows in each market now.
    In one years time in the New York and New England markets as an example there is 2 Newport RI, Norwalk CT, New York, 2 Long Island, Providence RI, Hartford CT, 2 Boston MA, 2 Portland ME, Worcester MA. I am sure I missed some, but thatís 13 shows a year. That’s too much. I suspect we will see some of these shows falling to the way side in the future.
    Itís really the same argument we hear about bringing back Chicago Imtec, which I am in favor of, one stop shopping, one big arena and one big event creates one big buzz. It would also get the model year change back on track. Fewer shows bring more buzz for the event, more people attend, more dealers attend, and more boats are sold. If anything, there should be less shows and more LARGE event boat shows with lots and lots of boats and people. As it is now all our efforts are diluted and the shows are ho-hum.
    I agree shows are still the best bet for seeing more prospective buyers at one time but that is changing rapidly, in the wrong direction. I must say that the NMMA needs to really look within itself and reevaluate how it presents its shows and spends its budget. I think the top 100 dealers program is a good concept but way over the top in terms of patting each other on the back and then printing it in their trade publication. That information should be brought to the public not the industry types. Thatís a whole other subject.
    Itís not uncommon in our market for a dealer to spend $150,000 a year just on boat shows. Could that money be spent in different marketing media or approach and get better results? I think the manufactures would agree that that $150,000 spent on a more directed sales effort than shows would bring better customer service and customer loyalty.
    And that’s the way I see it.

  3. Pete Peterson

    I wanted to commend John Goode, promoter of the Port Charlotte Boat Show, that took place last month. This is the kind of aggressive action that showed he cared about bringing people to the show. On Thursday and Friday he offered the show free of admission, the result was good attendance both days. Saturday and Sunday admission was charged and attendance dropped. The increased activity resulted in a couple of sales for our participating dealer. Thanks John you are a leader.

  4. donmiller

    The value of wholesale trade shows in most industries is declining at geometric rate. Having shown at IMTEC, New York Boat Show, Miami Boat Show and IBEX for many years, the return no longer justifies the expense of booth, personnel and sales time necessary to exhibit at these shows. My sales staff can more effectively call on the customers we would see at the shows, spend more with them, and see the people who do not travel to the shows. We supply the marine trade, aftermarket and OEM, Health and Hospitality markets, furnishing markets and many other industries and have moved out of the trade shows for these uses. We have experienced record sales since spending our advertising dollars and sales time on more effective methods or reaching and servicing our new and existing customers.

  5. Jim Sabia

    I think one show for the industry is important and necessary. Maybe it could be Miami since its already established. Non the less we need a hub to meet, share ideas and educate each other. Being that Miami is also a retail show allows manufacturers to show wholesale, export and retail. Dealers and manufacturers need to work together and a common meeting place is integral to that.

  6. nagaperusu


    Anybody going to the miami show or wanting to go to the show needs to check the latest blog entry on SplashVision. – Looks like airline tickets, an iPod, video camera, show tickets, etc are all up for grabs. Damn I wish I was going to be down in Florida this weekend. Here is the link if anybody is interested.


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