The number of participants at the Marine Dealer Conference & Expo reached an all-time high this year of 1,147, marking another spurt in the event’s steady annual growth.
“Word of mouth is that this was the best MDCE yet,” says Liz Walz, vice president of the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas, which co-hosts the show along with Boating Industry magazine. “But the real measurement is the impact it will have on our participants in the year ahead. We work very hard to design the show to drive results for those who attend. And when it comes to the education, we’ve done more this year than ever before to provide our attendees with information that they can take back to their businesses and put to work.”
MDCE attendance has risen steadily since the Great Recession, climbing from 198 in 2008 to 431 in 2009, 740 in 2010, 950 in 2011 and 1,000 or slightly more during the past three years. Last year, total attendance was 1,130.
The theme of this year’s show, “Made New By You,” was the result of organizers’ decision to survey MRAA members before and after last year’s show and again in the spring.
The number of MDCE marine retail conferees increased by 4 percent, from 584 in 2014 to 609 this year, and 92.4 percent of those people were MRAA members. “Collectively, the dealerships that these attendees work for have 875 retail locations and together employ more than 30,000 people,” says Walz.
More than 100 exhibitors took part in the four-day show, held Nov. 15-18 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla. More than 40,000 square feet of space in the expo hall was sold out, says Walz. In addition, the number of dealership professionals attending for the first time was 40 percent of the total of marine retail conferees.
Some of the most popular segments of the conference were the opening and closing keynotes, says Walz.
Bestselling author and motivational speaker Steve McClatchy kicked things off. McClatchy, 47, is the author of Decide: Work Smarter, Reduce Your Stress and Lead by Example, which debuted at No. 2 on the New York Times bestseller list and was named a Times bestselling business book for February 2014.
In his fast-paced, lengthy (1 hour, 20 minutes) talk, McClatchy kept the audience of 1,200 engaged with simple advice about how to become better leaders in business and in life.
“The first job of a leader is to lead themselves — you ever hear that expression?” asked McClatchy. “What does that mean? Go after what you want and demonstrate that we can do all the things we have to do … and accomplish the things we want to do.
“What do you sell? You sell happiness. You sell celebration. You sell great experiences. You sell desire. If you get burnt out, you can resent the very people who you are trying to give these experiences to. If we don’t take care of us, we can [resent] other people. That’s a recipe for disaster when it comes to relationships. So when I say ‘personal leadership,’ I mean you.”
The closing keynote was given by Mike Abrashoff, former commanding officer of the USS Benfold and author of It’s Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy. He took command of a poorly performing ship; 12 months later, with the same crew in place, it was named the best ship in the fleet.
His speech, “Get Your Ship Together,” stressed empowering employees by valuing their importance and their roles in the company. He told of breaking tradition by getting in the back of the lunch line during weekly Sunday barbecues aboard the USS Benfold. “What a simple and powerful message [leaders] can make by putting our people first,” he said. “I wanted everyone to understand that nobody on this ship is better than anyone else.”
I had a chance to meet Abrashoff after his 50-minute speech. He said leaders have to “see their ship through the eyes of their crew.”
“You have to understand how you are coming across to the people you are trying to influence,” said Abrashoff, 54, of Miami Beach. “Do you really know how you’re coming across? Some people come across as arrogant. Some come across with a sense of humility. I think the leader of the future is one that is technically competent but also humble.”
The MDCE also featured four concurrent educational tracks — leadership, sales, marketing and service — and 12 preconference workshops. “In past years the MDCE preconference workshops have been among the highest-rated sessions by marine retailers,” says Walz. “We had a record number of workshop registrations this year — 266, which is up more than 21 percent from the prior year.”
Another highlight was the State of the Industry luncheon, sponsored by Volvo Penta and moderated by MRAA president Matt Gruhn.
Next year the MDCE again will be held in Orlando but a few weeks later (Dec. 5-8), so the dates will be further away from the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, which now is held in early November.
This article originally appeared in the January 2016 issue.