ORLANDO, Fla. - Close to 1,000 people are expected to participate in this year's Marine Dealer Conference & Expo, which begins today at the Orange County Convention Center and Rosen Plaza Hotel.
Organizers said 920 preregistered for this year's event, which is in Orlando for the second consecutive year. That's up from the 743 who attended last year's conference. Of the 920 who preregistered, 440 are dealer personnel. Organizers said they expect more people to register on-site.
Additionally, this year's event - MDCE 3.0 - features 116 exhibitors, including more than 40 boatbuilders that are taking part in a mini-boat show in the exhibit hall. Last year, 75 exhibitors and about 20 boatbuilders took part in the event.
The exhibition takes up 106,000 square feet of space, up from 58,000 square feet at last year's event.
Among the highlights are the general education sessions and the breakout sessions - grouped into three tracks - that cover everything from service department issues to best practices to using the Internet to grow business.
"We have to have education in our industry to keep us alive," said Phil Keeter, president of the Marine Retailers Association of America, which produces the conference along with Boating Industry magazine. The addition this year of a service department track particularly seems to have attracted more people, he said.
"I think it's going to be a very positive meeting," Keeter added.
Some manufacturers are using the meeting to host their own dealer meetings. Others are looking to add dealers to their networks.
When they registered, attendees received a bag full of colorful pamphlets from boatbuilders. Some included letters asking the attendees to come and learn more about the boats and what the builders offer their dealers.
"As you consider your future plans, I also ask that you think about the many leading brands, products and services provided by Brunswick," Chairman and CEO Dusty McCoy wrote in a letter to attendees. "Our long-standing commitment to the marine industry and dedication to assisting our dealers makes us a most valued partner."
Duane Kuck, president and CEO of Regal Marine, said there are "select areas throughout North America" where the company is looking for dealers. He touted Regal's factory showroom, and programs such as Regal Pre-Production Pricing for yachts larger than 40 feet and Prime Time and Show Times sales events, as proof that the Orlando-based boatbuilder is investing in its dealers.
Dennis Revell, vice president of sales from Tracker Marine, invited attendees to the company's booth for a visit.
"In the face of challenging times, we have brought to our dealers unprecedented support, as well as new programs and business methods that are reducing their costs while also delivering increased margins, sales volumes and ultimately a stronger bottom line," he wrote in a letter to attendees. "We have plenty to share and have been busy preparing for your arrival. We would be honored for you to stop in for a cup of coffee and let us share some of the details with you."
The Marine Dealer Conference & Expo runs through Wednesday, culminating with a gala to honor the winners of Boating Industry's Top 100 Dealers program.
— Beth Rosenberg