The final Marine Dealer Conference and Expo wrapped up Wednesday, with more education sessions and a closing keynote address by Troy Hazard, who spoke on “Future-Proofing Your Business.”
Dealer attendees and exhibitors both reported a strong event, voicing enthusiasm about the speakers and workshops. Boating Industry magazine held a black-tie gala Wednesday evening to announce its Top 100 Dealers (see accompanying story in today’s Trade Only Today newsletter).
“The conference went extremely well again this year,” said Matt Gruhn, president of the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas. “There was an electricity in the expo hall. The exhibitors seemed to be really pleased with their connections, and our dealers raved about the quality of the educational content. We’re thrilled with how well everything went.”
A sampling of dealers and exhibitors on the show floor generally echoed the same levels of enthusiasm.
“It was fantastic,” said Roger Moore, CEO of the Nautical Ventures Group, a boat dealer based in Dania Beach, Fla. Moore brought three other executives from the dealership, including the director of marketing, general manager and sales manager.
“Every one of us felt very much enlightened by the seminars,” Moore said. “My biggest concern is being able to boil down all the great ideas we heard into some form we can implement at the dealership level.”
Moore said that each member of his team will pick two ideas and work those into Nautical Ventures’ operations. “If we institute eight ideas, we’ll feel dramatic changes at the dealership.”
Moore said the team spent about 50 percent of its time in the seminars and the 50 percent with its boatbuilders and other business acquaintances. “We value the quality time because it’s an unpressured environment,” he says. “Unlike a consumer boat show, they’re only here to talk to us.”
Moore and his team have come to MDCE for three years, but he isn’t sure what they will do next year, now that it is ending. Boating Industry and MRAA announced they will hold separate events. “I don’t have a clue about next year,” Moore said. “We’ll do the research and see how the separation will affect us going forward.”
Laura Ponder, director of marketing for Captain’s Marine in Kalispell, Mont., said the show “exceeded” her expectations. Ponder was the recipient of a scholarship provided by Soundings Trade Only to attend MDCE. “The event was delightfully exhausting,” she said. “It was really informative, and I participated in five of the marketing track sessions. I learned so much that it’s going to be hard to decide on what we can actually implement.”
Ponder said each workshop provided at least one “actionable” item. “The workshops were super relevant and, in a way, ahead of the times,” she said. “The presenters wanted to make sure we knew where the trends are going. I know now we need to jump on video content.”
Ken Gearin, president of Flounder Pounder, was a first-time exhibitor at MDCE. The company makes instrument panels and carries a line of late-model replacement parts for boats. Gearin said opening day was “kind of quiet,” but by the third day, he was “pumped” about the number of leads generated.
“We met the principals of the dealerships, so they will get me into the offices of the service and parts managers,” Gearin said. “I’m really anxious about what this will transition into. The event had a good flow of people between the education sessions, and many of the dealers remembered our company’s name, so they stopped by. We saw a few of the large Sea Ray dealers.”
Gearin also met several boatbuilders who were not exhibiting at the show but were there to check out the competitors’ models. “These were mostly smaller OEMs because the bigger boat builders are in buying groups, but they will be very valuable leads,” Gearin said.
Aaron Divine, director of technology for BoatMatrix, said this year’s show was better than last year in terms of making connections. “Year over year it was more valuable,” he said. “I think some of the people wanted to make sure we’d be around for multiple years.”
Divine said he gained leads from dealers, but also other boatbuilders. “If we can close all the deals that we talked about, this will have been a great show for us,” he said. “We plan to build rapport with the dealer base, and that will help us increase business over time.