Boat shows are still the dominant marketing platform


“There is no way we could have talked to so many people without being here,” said Rod Bensz, director of sales and owner of B&E Marine, while winding down his exhibit at last weekend’s Progressive Chicagoland In-Water Boat Show. He captured the importance boat shows play in every dealer’s marketing plan.

The Chicagoland event was the first of many major in-water boat shows slated for the industry this fall. Even bad weather, virtually everywhere around it but mostly not hitting the show, didn’t stop the level of serious buyers walking the docks. And, this show’s results bode well for the shows to come. B E Marine is a great case in point:

“Our Friday night owner’s party was well-attended despite the looming threat of rain that held off,” Bensz said, “and the traffic on Saturday and Sunday was steady all day. The attendees were positive. Every time I looked around the dock there were people crawling on our boats.

“Several of our new Sea Ray models were very well-received, like the new 400 Sundancer and 310 SLX,” Bensz said. “We closed our largest boat on display — a 470 Sundancer. We also sold one of the larger pre-owned boats we displayed. All in all, we currently have 14 boats set for closing totaling 1.75 million dollars. We took in five good trade-ins as well. The majority of these sales are a direct result of being here at the show.”

That degree of success alone constitutes a good weekend. But, according to Bensz, it’s not over.

“Historically, we have doubled our show sales during our two-week follow-up process,” he said. “In fact, there have been years when the leads taken from a show have actually tripled the sales we made at the show. We’ll see about this one.”

A similar observation came from long-time exhibitor Spring Brook Marina that displayed Prestige and Jeanneau powerboats. “We always get results from this show,” Kyle Stenzel said. “It’s why our owner, Jim Thorpe, has been coming here every year since 1980.

“Traffic has been steady and a great crowd on Saturday,” Stenzel added. “Weather hurt a bit on opening day, but we’ve sold two boats and I believe we have six more very solid prospects set for next week. Pretty happy with that.”

Stenzel went on to say: “What we really like about this in-water show is it brings out boaters. The winter shows have lots of people, but not so many boaters . . . where here in Michigan City, the majority of people have a boat of some kind. We really like that quality. ”

As a general rule, fall in-water shows principally draw boaters resulting in the highly qualified audience Stenzel noted. So, in markets where there is a good in-water show, there’s little doubt dealers can be successful by exhibiting due to the guaranteed quality of the attendees.

This show’s new manager Bryan Ralston made some major changes to the Chicagoland show this year to the apparent delight of everyone. He added daily stage shows starring popular singer-songwriter Jeff Tucker; a new interactive Kidz Zone featuring Twiggy the Water Skiing Squirrel; a food truck rally built around the popular Blue Chip Casino Food Trailer; and similar features to give the show a boater’s summer rendezvous atmosphere.

“I think the improvements to the show this year,” Stenzel said, “gave the people that came out a great experience and that will pay dividends in future years. It's truly a new era for this show.”

Overall, fall boat shows like Chicagoland give exhibiting dealers face-to-face access to thousands of qualified prospects in a single weekend. There is no other marketing medium that can do that for a dealer — reason enough to be in your area boat show this fall.


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