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Dealers need more boat show support

While much of the industry focused last week on the Miami Boat Show, I was attending a show every bit as classy and exciting, even if not as large. The Los Angeles Boat Show was underway and SCMA’s Dave Geoffreys and Terry Tjaden put together a superb event.

While the show boasted everything from 60-foot houseboats to personal watercraft, I was particularly impressed with what may be the industry’s biggest collection of high performance boats found anywhere. Apparently, Californians sure have a need for speed!

The mood on the floor of the L.A. Convention Center was upbeat and positive, a real credit to the SCMA dealers. That’s because – just below the surface – many dealers were angry at reductions made this year in manufacturers’ boat show support and the inherent contradiction.

Like them or not, boat shows are still the single most powerful marketing medium available to our industry. None of the other promotional media – newspapers, radio, TV, magazines, direct mail or even the Internet can do what boat shows do.

Shows cause direct interaction with a sales person. No other medium can compel an immediate interaction. Shows are a face-to-face interaction. No other medium does that. No dealer will see even a fraction of the prospects if he stays home. So why would any manufacturer want to reduce support for such a key building block in marketing boats?

Apparently, boat reps like to explain the cuts this way: “Shows aren’t drawing crowds and selling as many boats as they used to.” True. A show cannot create more of a market than what actually exists. But shows will draw from the existing market. That won’t happen back at the dealership. So aggressive dealers know they need to be at the boat show!

While manufacturers push dealers to do more to increase retail sales, it simply doesn’t make any sense to cut back on boat show support. Historically, dealers have said anywhere from 25% to 45% of annual sales result from exhibiting at boat shows. Those percentages won’t change whether the market is up or down so the importance of shows isn’t diminished. And the manufacturer’s support of dealers in shows shouldn’t diminish, either.

In fact, if anything, it should be increased when the market is down.

Comments

10 comments on “Dealers need more boat show support

  1. Jimmy Clark

    It’s bad enough that the manufacturers are responsible for the decline of consumated deals at boat shows: i.e. incentives and extended warranties that last for months. Now I hear this very good observation from you Norm. These geniuses at the manufacturing level really are their own worst enemy and can’t see the forest for the trees! Sometimes I wonder why people like us stay involved in an industry that keeps shooting itself in the foot. I recently attended a Boat and RV show and was amazed at how the RV industry is kicking our but in selling the lifestyle and experience of RV’ing. Don’t know what else I can say. Keep up the good work Norm.

    Jimmy Clark

  2. Pete Peterson

    World Cat had a fantastic Miami Show with the best year ever in retail units. This years sales were a variety of sizes and models compared to last year’s sales when 90% were 320 Express Cruisers. A strong direct marketing campaign prior to the show, better location within the show and over 95 sea trials done during the show, contributed to the success of our line this year. With over $2 million in solid orders and another $2 million plus requiring attention to trades and financing, 2008 is a record year for us. The quality buyers are out there. Cash is king in today’s market. We struggled in 2006, had our second best year in calendar 2007, and looks like 2008 will set new and higher records for us both in units and dollars.

    Pete Peterson
    Vice President
    Marketing & Sales
    World Cat

  3. Mike

    As a manufacturer, I would rather give a dealer $7,500 for a well-advertised open house than spend $5,000 for show space. Boat shows are dying a slow, torturous death. More consumers now buy via internet/dealership relationships that via boat show/dealership relationships. Dealers spend an extaordinary amout of time, money and labor to prepare for these shows that have very little attendance and poor sales results. The downward attendance trend started 5 years ago. A well-planned store event captures a pure audience, no competition, and a chance for true relationship building. Off-site events can also be fruitful with a lot less cost and effort. Internet directives are imparative. Time to think outside the box or we’ll be stuck in it.

  4. DOUG SMITH

    AFTER SEVERAL BOAT SHOWS AROUND THE COUNTRY IT’S MY OBSERVATION THAT THE SHOWS THAT ARE OWNED BY LOCAL DEALER TRADE ASSOC. OR LOCAL PROMOTERS HAVE THE BEST CHANCE OF SUCCESS. THEY DO EVERYTHING POSSIBLE TO KEEP THE COST OF SPACE, ADMISSION, PARKING, HOTELS, AND FOOD AND A RESONABLE PRICE. ON THE OTHER HAND THE NMMA IS FORCING THE MANF. TO BUY THE SPACE AT A PREMIUM, EVEN THOUGH IT’S LESS THAN THE DEALER WOULD PAY(MORE SMOKE AND MERRIORS). THE NMMA SHOWS HAVE A PRICER ADMISSION CHARGE, COST OF PARKING IS VERY HIGH AND THE FOOD IS EXPENSIVE AND TERRIBLE. AS A GENERAL RULE THE FOOD AT BOAT SHOWS IS CONTROLLED AND IT’S AWFUL, THE EXIBITORS AND BOAT BUYERS ARE FED UP WITH THIS PRATICE.WHY NOT GIVE THE BOAT BUYERS A REASON TO ATTEND THE SHOW AND HAVE A NEAT BUYING EXPERENCE RATHER THAN RIP OFF THE POTENTIAL BUYERS. THERE IS TOO MANY SHOWS AT THE WRONG TIME OF THE YEAR, MOST DEALER HAVE TOO MANY BOATS IN THE BOOTH AND ARE UNDERSTAFFED TO HANDLE ANY KIND OF A RUSH, EVEN THOUGH THEY ARE FEW AND FAR BETWEEN.
    CHICAGO WAS A GOOD EXAMPLE OF AN NNMA SHOW THAT WAS AN EXECPTION TO THE RULE, ALTHOUGH THERE WASN’T ENOUGH FOOD CONCESSIONS. THE INDUSTRY AND DEALERS HAVE MISSED THE URGENCY FOR THE BOAT BUYERS TO BUY AT THE SHOW, THEY KNOW THEY CAN GET THE SAME DEAL OF MAYBE BETTER 4-6-8 WEEKS AFTER THE SHOW.

  5. Tim Jacobs

    Another thought from my area, Sacramento/Northern CA: There are just too many shows. We have good success at the International Sportsman’s Expo, because they attract my target buyer. After that, however, we are deluged with at least 4 other shows between January and April. The sheer cost and hassle of attending all these shows is prohibitive. As stated above, the consumer is on to us: they know they can get the same deal in the store somewhere down the road. There is no urgency associated with the show season anymore. The outboard manufacturers run promos that last into April, if not longer, reducing both the incentive to buy early and reducing opportunity for warranty income at the dealer level.

    We will take a hard look at our show expenditures next year. We have enjoyed great success with open house and customer appreciation type events, and perhaps we need to focus some of that boat show budget toward expanding those events.

  6. Schwarzel

    This whole problem goes back to the boat builder “thinks” he knows what is best. Everyones trying to cut the bottom line on cost. Look at the price of doing a show. It has gotten out of hand, promoters are trying to rape dealers and buyers. Pay 10 bucks to park, 8 bucks just to get in. The Buyer has just spent $26.00 (for 2 people, more if the family goes) and has not EVEN SEEN a boat! And you wonder why attendance is down. Add 3 dollar gas to the mix and that just screws it up even more. Do the manufacturers need to step up and help…You bet. The problem is that most cut their show coop programs. I spend 5K on a show space, the motor company gives me $300.00 per motor, I’m still in the hole. You have to sell a bunch of boats to cover it. I have not even figured time to set up/tear down and fuel to get the boats in the shows. By the time your done you have spent 10K to sell 3 boats. Not really worth it is it. Most of the buyers I have seen this year have “internet-ed” every boat brand, motor brand, and every chat site they can get there hands on. Kind of a double edge blade! We need the shows but the cost is killing us. The answer may be for more dealer trade groups to do the shows to keep costs down, get the builders to help out, put out good information on the internet, lower the admission price, let parents with kids get in at a lower cost. After all this is supposed to be a “family” type actively. And then maybe we can see some increased sales at the shows. The builders and manufacturers need to see that increased coop helps everyones bottom line. But hay, I’m just a dealer what do I know……

  7. G B James

    Mr Clark, we spend thousands of good USA $ on training for the dealer’s sales people…go back 90 days later and we find a whole new batch of X car salesman…it takes incentives and warranties to try and move product with this kind of sales force turnover..dealers might do well by picking out the cream of the crop and pay them a good salary plus commission so they will stay put.

    Mr. Schultz, By the way..we support our dealers at shows and so do a lot of other manufactures that I talk with. I would like to see a list of the boatbuilders you are talking about.

    Most builders spend more $ on show help when retail sales are tough…like NOW>

    See you at the next BoatShow…..G B James>>>>>>>A REP

  8. Glen Smith

    I wanted to share with you the sales success I have achieved at this past weekend’s boat show and the support I got from my factory.

    Ocean City, MD – Route 113’s Captain Glen Smith teamed with Russ Bennett of Triumph to sign contacts and take deposits on 14 Triumph’s, (3 over last year) including FIVE 235 CCs @ $58,000 each. Route 113s booth featured three Triumph models with show pricing clearly labeled, four flat panel TVs running different Triumph video loops, two smoke machines, Triumph’s large satin loaner banners and disco lights. This was a booth that attracted attention (see attached photos). Triumph’s Divine Dollars incentives and the Garmin electronic promotion for the 235 CC helped close several deals.

    It was a great start to the selling year.

    Captain Glen D.
    RT113BoatSales.com

  9. Brian

    Not only are shows starting to die a slow death so are the dealers. More manufacturers are looking to their own direct salespeople and for good reason. A direct team can best represent the product and company. Though an expensive model, direct salespeople don’t carry the hostility that too many dealers have toward the manufacturers. That hostility becomes evident to a savvy prospect and gives the industry yet another black eye.

    Direct selling doesn’t’ work for the lower end, volume market but, if done right, is the right formula for the mid-to-upper range and specialty markets.

  10. Jim

    That’s right Brian; just look how well the Wellcraft sales team did for that company eh? And it surely wasnt the dealers fault that that company is now all but folded. If manufacturers pick poor performing dealers, then maybe they should re-think who is signing dealers for them.

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