Boat Shows Throttling Up

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Boat show updates these days are moving faster than a politician at a fundraiser, with in-person and virtual-show news around the country, from the announcement of the major merger in Miami to the opening of an in-person show in Florida today and a hybrid show in Ohio tomorrow.

First, the results of the Southwest Florida Marine Industry Association’s Charlotte County Boat Show, held last weekend, demonstrated that boaters are hungry for in-person events, as attendance and sales reports met or exceeded expectations.

“Based on our recent Fort Myers show results, we expected some increase in attendance, but we’re really delighted by the 15 percent increase over a year ago,” show manager John Good said. “Early reports from dealers have also been solid in spite of some indicating they’re faced with inventory limitations. It all just validates that shows will continue to be key opportunities to sell boats and related products.”

The show was held at the Charlotte Fairgrounds, with boats displayed outdoors and accessory and service displays indoors, where masks, social distancing and cleaning protocols were mandated.

The same results are expected as the St. Petersburg Power and Sailboat Show, which opens today for the weekend. A major in-water show, it was postponed from its traditional early-December dates, and producer Informa is mandating masks, as required by St. Petersburg and Pinellas County emergency orders. Also, all show staff, exhibitors and attendees are required to have their temperature taken before entering.

Tomorrow, the Lake Erie Marine Trades Association will go all out with a 10-day hybrid in-person/online Cleveland Boat Show & Fishing Expo.

“Our hybrid concept is to bring lots of boat-show excitement online into living rooms, which motivates prospects to go to a dealership for ongoing in-person show activities,” LEMTA president Michelle Burke said. “Essentially, our extensive online show will be coupled with simultaneous in-person events in our participating dealerships’ showrooms.

“We remain convinced the best way to sell a boat still requires a tactile experience,” she added, “so our parallel live show in dealerships is critical to providing that needed touchy-feely encounter. Of course, we’ll emphasize that all safety protocols are being employed in the showrooms, so families can safely shop, board boats and enjoy activities.”

The Cleveland online show will incorporate a variety of boat exhibits, accessories, marinas, clubs, services and destinations on Ohio’s Lake Erie and inland waterways. Live and prerecorded seminars will be held throughout the 10-day run.

To strengthen the tie between the online show and the showroom events, live Zoom capabilities and chat provisions will be employed, and a team of speakers will travel to dealerships for in-store presentations and activities. To attend, register for free here.

Overall, most in the industry would prefer the traditional winter slate of indoor major-market shows in convention centers. These show historically account for as much as 25 percent or more of a dealer’s annual sales. But given the current conditions, we’re doing what boaters do: safely navigating the seas we’re facing.

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