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Communicate With Your Suppliers


Hundreds of dealers from the Great Lakes to Florida have found a way around the industry’s inventory dilemma to participate in fall boat shows, which are experiencing robust attendance. It bodes well for the industry’s major-market winter shows on the horizon.

No one is ignoring that our recent sales successes have contributed to the supply chain problems causing dealers to smile and grimace at the same time. But it’s not the first time the industry has faced real difficulties.

Dealers successfully navigated through two Arab oil embargos when they couldn’t give boats away. They were victimized by a crushing federal luxury tax on boats that took three years to repeal. They survived periods of record high interest rates and lived through four major recessions, including the collapse that started in 2008. The industry will get through this current difficulty, too.

There’s little doubt that the typical avenues in which consumers spend their recreational dollars have returned with a vengeance. Boating’s competitors are spending big bucks to draw the same bucks dealers seek. So the industry must again get in the fight. Here are some considerations.

We’re about three months from the winter show season, which gives everyone time to plan the way they’ll capitalize on these events. And it begins now with directly communicating with key suppliers. Perhaps as never before, manufacturers will be tested on how they value and support their dealers.

For example, recognizing there won’t be as many models available to display, it’s crucial to confirm with builders that you plan to exhibit in a winter show and are asking for realistic support. Identify foreseeable deliveries and ask for favored timing for the show. Remember, even sold boats will continue to arrive and can be used for display.

Further, builders are capable of moving some new models in short supply from one show to another to support dealers and assure continued brand visibility. During my 34 years of managing shows, I loaded many boats during the night in Cleveland so the trucker could leave at first light and make it to a New York or Chicago show. That reflects the possibilities that need to be discussed now, not put off until later. The early bird gets the worm, so start asking for some support and cooperation now.

While show organizers continue to add and promote new interactive experiences to draw good attendance, dealers should be reimagining their exhibits, too. In the past, dealers focused almost entirely on showing new boats. But more opportunities can be a focus now.

Every dealer sells more than boats. Customers will surely be attending, so the show is a great opportunity to up-sell existing services, introduce new services and promote aftermarket products — all to improve the customer’s boating experience.

It’s an opportunity for customers to interact with your service team. Take time to show them how certain services and products will increase their enjoyment. Lead customers to see how your services will heighten their on-water experiences. Isn’t that why they’re your customers?

How can a dealer create an inviting exhibit with fewer boats? First, simply watching other dealer exhibits means you just emulate your competition and never get better than them. And you essentially commoditize your display, looking alike and likely even acting alike.

I’m reminded of The Grateful Dead, at one time the top money-making band in the world. They rarely recorded albums. Instead, much of their income came from performances. Garcia got it right when he contended: “It’s not enough to be considered the best of the best. You want to be the only ones who do what you do.”

It’s not rocket science. New ideas for an exhibit are all around. Walk through a big mall and view each store as an exhibitor. What are they doing to draw you in? What catches your eye: motion, color, creating a mental image?

Or stroll through a big supermarket. The aisles and end-caps are filled with products begging for your attention. You don’t have to to reinvent the wheel. Adapt cool ideas that will focus attention on your exhibit.

Of course, the question is, will the boaters show up? Every show since late August has demonstrated they will, and dealers have been creative, begging or borrowing enough product to anchor a good exhibit. Shows have also generated sales and continue to do what every show does best and every dealer needs: replenishing the critical sales lead funnel going forward.

On the other hand, a dealer who is not present at a show, resulting in certain builder’s brands missing in action and out-of-mind, fails to capitalize on the most cost-effective way to meet face-to-face with thousands of customers and prospects. There is no other medium that can do that.

Click here for Tuesday’s Dealer Outlook, which started this thread about the upcoming winter show season.


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