ORLANDO, Fla. — A record number of marine dealer professionals are attending the 2016 Marine Dealer Conference & Expo this week at the Orange County Convention Center, which boasts a program packed with more educational and networking opportunities than ever before, organizers say.
“A key foundation of the show is that we listen to the suggestions and feedback from the dealer community at large and our attendees from previous years,” Marine Retailers Association of the Americas vice president and director of education Liz Walz told Trade Only Today. “There are multiple ways that we listen and we are dedicated to acting on their feedback.”
There were 658 pre-registered attendees as of today. "Walk-in attendees continue to impact registration numbers," Walz said. The previous dealer attendance record was 617 in 2013, she said.
The feedback allows organizers to improve the show. This year the event features new “Dealer-to-Dealer Roundtable Discussions,” which consist of 30 meetings on topics that include inventory management, website design and handling difficult customers. Also new this year are the Dealer Case Studies — insights into best dealer practices that are already in use and that other marine businesses easily can adopt. The Innovation Spotlight, a series of 15-minute educational presentations on trends in marine products and services, is also new.
“One of the goals of the past several years has been to find ways of taking advantage of who we have under this roof,” said Walz. “When we think of the MDCE community, we are looking for more ways to bring that community together to take advantage of the experience and innovation and ingenuity of the people here.”
The core of the event consists of 11 pre-conference workshops, four educational tracks (leadership, sales, marketing and service) and keynote presentations. For the first time, there will be three keynote speakers.
The first one was Josh Linkner, founding partner of Detroit Venture Partners, which has invested and mentored more than 100 start-up businesses. He is the author of two New York Times bestsellers: “Disciplined Dreaming: A Proven System to Drive Breakthrough Creativity” and “The Road to Reinvention: How to Drive Disruption and Accelerate Transformation.”
His 90-minute presentation Tuesday afternoon — “The Gravity-defying Leader: Innovative Approaches to Hyper-growth Leadership” — was packed with examples of well-known business leaders and everyday people finding success by taking chances on innovation in unconventional ways.
Linkner, whose father owned a 38-foot Island Packet sailboat, told the audience about the five “obsessions” that drive innovative thinkers — Get Curious; Crave What’s Next; Defy Tradition; Get Scrappy; and Adapt Fast.
To illustrate the Get Scrappy principle, Linkner, who grew up in the Great Lakes region, used the example of a bicycle company that began using shipping boxes labeled as “plasma televisions” so carriers would use extra care during transport. This led to a sharp decrease in warranty claims.
“The key to innovation is grit,” said Linkner.
To show how successful people are capable of adapting fast, Linkner ran a video of Kevin Bull, a young stockbroker who was successful on the TV show “American Ninja Warrior” by using his legs instead of his upper body to complete an acrobatic feat that had not previously been accomplished on the show.
Linkner called Bull’s move “a Reversal,” an unconventional idea that leads to innovative achievement. He also told the story of a Pittsburgh hospital that used window washers dressed as superheroes to cheer up sick children as they squeegeed their way down the building.
It was clear that Linkner did his homework and knew his audience. He tried to get the crowd’s creative juices flowing with examples of innovative and cutting-edge marine products and boats, such as a solar-driven yacht (Solaris by Duffy London), an underwater drone-like device that cleans the bottom of a boat (Keelcrab) and an app (Dockwa) that carries out dockage and dining reservations for cruising boaters.
He also had the audience carry out a few exercises, including brainstorming on ways to increase revenue by 30 percent in one year.
“I grew up around boats, and throughout my short lifetime there have been so many changes,” Linkner told a crowd of about 600 at the convention center.
“And the changes — products, distribution, usage and technology — are taking place at unprecedented rates. The stakes have never been higher. The challenges have never been more difficult. The competition has never been fiercer. But if we can let innovation carry the day, I believe our opportunities are limitless. So folks, let’s go out there and seize it.”
The MDCE is organized and managed by the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas and Boating Industry magazine.