MDCE opens with high hopes

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The Marine Dealer Conference and Expo opened today at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla. In addition to the educational sessions and meetings, there are 117 exhibitors across 50,000 square feet of exhibit space inside the convention center.

Exhibitors range from boatbuilders with multiboat displays to software and other service providers to equipment manufacturers. The aisles saw light traffic early, but exhibitors were hopeful about increasing their dealer contacts at the show.

Wells Fargo, one of the event’s primary sponsors, has a large booth at the entrance to the show. The company provides floorplan financing to many of the dealers attending MDCE.

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“We’ve had a long affiliation with Boating Industry and MRAA and have been a longtime supporter of this event,” said Bruce Van Wagoner, marine group president of commercial distribution finance. “We also do business with the dealers in Boating Industry’s Top 100, which covers the entire U.S. market. Those dealers are also here.”

Van Wagoner said his company also attends about 55 dealer meetings in the summer and fall. “This event gives us the opportunity to see dealers that we may have missed at those meetings,” he said. “It’s a very efficient way to meet dealers from across the country.”

“Anytime we can be in the same building with the best dealers in North America is a plus,” added Gavan Hunt, vice president of sales for Chris-Craft. The Sarasota, Fla.-based builder has three boats on display in the convention center.

“We see this group of dealers as leaders in their particular markets, who are both our dealers and not our dealers,” said Hunt. “We’ve made a point of saying hello to all of them over the years.”

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Chris-Craft is not actively looking for new dealers, but the company says MDCE has been a way to establish informal ties that could lead to a business relationship in the future. “It’s sometimes a long courtship,” he said.

Hunt said MDCE also gives his company a chance to meet Chris-Craft dealers to discuss planning for next year. “We see them at our dealer meeting in July, but this gives an opportunity to talk about long-term plans,” he said.

The dealers at this show, Hunt said, are considered the best U.S. dealers because they have a “genuine attitude” of continuous improvement. “They are the guys coming up with strategies that are going to win in their territories,” he said.

Around the exhibit hall, boatbuilders were looking for new dealers for their lines.

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But other exhibitors had different motives for attending MDCE. Bob Beltz, vice president of K&L Supply Co., wanted to make contact with other exhibitors, specifically Mercury Marine, Evinrude and Suzuki. Based in San Jose, Calif., the company makes shop equipment and tools, fuel products and, most important for this show, special tools for Yamaha engines for diagnostic and repair work.

“We’ve been an original-equipment supplier for Yamaha dealers for 28 out of our 50 years in business,” Beltz said. “Here we really want to make contacts with the engine builders’ personnel. The goal is to expand our line for other engine manufacturers.”

Beltz showed off a Mercury-specific Power Tilt and Trim tool at his booth. “Mercury is a big target, and Suzuki is another,” he said. “We’d also love to talk to BRP, since we’re in the powersports industry, too.”

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As a first-time exhibitor to MDCE, Beltz said attending is more of a “fact-finding mission” than one with specific goals. “We see the marine industry offering excellent opportunities for expansion,” he said.

Speedy Dock is exhibiting at MDCE for the third year. CEO Travis Wolfe said the show puts his company “right in front of the decision makers,” for his product, which is an app that allows boaters to contact dry-stack storage marina operators to schedule launches and retrievals.

“The majority of our clients are going to be at the conference,” he said. “This conference is ideal because it attracts people who are looking to improve their business.”

Wolfe developed the product after working at a dry-stack facility in Maryland seven years ago and realizing the inefficiencies of the process. He developed the app to save time for both the boat owners and marina operators. “It eliminates the middle man while reducing office work and keeping customers up to date on their requests,” Wolfe said. “We’ve seen this technology really take off in the last five years.”

MDCE runs through Wednesday.

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