Marine dealer conference sees larger crowd


ORLANDO, Fla. - The Marine Dealer Conference & Expo opened Monday with nearly triple the number of attendees and nearly double the number of exhibitors as last year's event, organizers said.

"I'm a little overwhelmed by what's going on," said conference committee chairman John Vallely Jr. "We had a vision and the vision got big real quick."

The theme of this year's conference, produced by the Marine Retailers Association of America and Boating Industry magazine, is "GPS: Growth, Profitability, Strategies - Navigating Today's Market."

More than 720 people are registered for the conference, which runs through Wednesday at Disney's Coronado Springs Resort. That number represents about 430 dealers. Those figures are up from about 248 attendees in 2008, representing nearly 200 dealers.

There are 76 exhibitors, up from 41 last year; and in 2008 only a handful of boats were on display, while this year about 40 boats fill the exhibit hall.

Following Monday night's keynote address, "Leading through Turbulent Times," presented by the Disney Institute, today's program features 10 seminars in two tracks: a sales and marketing track and a service department track.

Sessions include: "The Dealership of Tomorrow," "20 Tips for a Stronger Service Department" and "Busted: Ignoring Sales Opportunities." Panel discussions on best practices in service efficiency, secrets to service success and best sales and marketing ideas are also on the agenda.

Seminars continue Wednesday with a panel discussion on the state of lending, the future of selling and two panels featuring some of the industry's leading dealers and manufacturers.

"You will not be disappointed by these offerings," Ed Lofgren, chairman of the board of the Marine Retailers Association of America, told the audience before Monday night's keynote address. "You will take away a lot that you can use."

— Beth Rosenberg