Dealer conference turnout could set record

Weeks before December event, registration numbers ahead of record 2016 attendance figure
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Weeks before December event, registration numbers ahead of record 2016 attendance figure
MDCE drew a record 675 marine dealer professionals this year, besting the previous mark by about 60.

The Marine Dealer Conference & Expo had its largest turnout ever last year — more than 640 dealers, 30 percent of whom attended for the first time — and registration is tracking even higher for the upcoming MDCE, scheduled Dec. 10-13 in Orlando, Fla.

“Currently, once again, more than 30 percent of our registrants for the 2017 MDCE will be first-time attendees.”Matt Gruhn, MRAA 

“Through the end of October this year, our numbers are up, year to date, over last year,” says Matt Gruhn, president of the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas, which owns the event. It is co-produced by Boating Industry magazine.

“Currently, once again, more than 30 percent of our registrants for the 2017 MDCE will be first-time attendees,” Gruhn says.

In addition to more dealers attending the marine industry’s national dealer conference, Gruhn says, they also are increasingly engaged.

“We all know how busy the past year has been for dealers and how much growth they are experiencing,” Gruhn says. “It can be tough to manage that growth, especially with the workforce shortages that are impacting our businesses. It can be tough to do anything but carve out time to try to deal with that growth. But this conference remains relevant to helping dealers handle those challenges and explore new opportunities at the same time, and so we continue to see new dealers making the time to attend and engage with all that the event has to offer.”

Organizers have added content: educational tracks, pre-conference workshops, learning labs and keynote speakers. The new offerings are based on what dealers say is top of mind, and what they need to thrive as business owners.

Bestselling author and innovator Tim Sanders will be this year’s opening keynote speaker, focusing on digital content and social media marketing. Self-discipline strategist, author and business motivational speaker Rory Vaden will deliver the closing keynote address, discussing how to create a culture of discipline.

Last year, dealers responded positively to an inaugural roundtable session, Gruhn says. “We had dealer-to-dealer roundtable discussions and set up 40 tables of 10,” he says.

“Each table had its own topic, so people could sit down at the table that had the discussion most relevant to them.”

This year, Gruhn says, the roundtable concept is expanding to “three instead of just one, so there will be one every day of the educational sessions. We’re super excited about those. When you boil it down from an educational standpoint, that dealer-to-dealer interaction is something our attendees just can’t get anywhere else.”

Grow Boating Inc. and the MRAA will provide training and education at this year’s event, and Soundings Trade Only partnered with the MRAA to offer scholarships for three dealers to attend.

“The great thing about this is that we’re not alone in our desire to help the dealers,” Gruhn says. “We’ve got an incredible group of sponsors and exhibitors that show up year in and year out — and some new ones again this year — to support our efforts in supporting the dealers.”

Each sponsor has helped the MRAA create something unique to offer dealers, Gruhn says.

“You know, we could go back and outline for you how this same growth and increased engagement took place over the years, related to the number of tracks that we offer, the pre-conference workshops, the learning labs and in many other ways,” Gruhn says. “But ultimately the level of engagement continues to increase because of our connectivity with the dealer body. At every opportunity, we ask the dealers what they want to learn at the event or what issues they are dealing with. We engage our board of directors, our Young Professionals Advisory Council, our conference committee and our attendees on how we can better serve them with this educational content. And then we deliver on it.”

For example, registrations for the pre-conference workshops are up nearly 60 percent through October from last year, Gruhn says.

“That tells me that we are once again spot-on with the educational deliverables we’ve created for this year,“ he says.

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