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Don’t Let Up on the Throttle

We’re rounding third and heading for home with the fall show schedule, including the opening this week of FLIBS and the final big show on the circuit in Fort Myers running Nov. 11-14.

All the major fall shows — from Mount Clemens to Norwalk to Annapolis — have left no doubt that boaters love shows. They’re showing up in record numbers, and they connect dealers with customers. It’s not complicated to predict that when the major-market winter shows kick off in January, the crowds will be there, and dealers should be where the customers are.

The pandemic-driven boost in boat sales will not be sustainable, as serious competition for the recreational dollar returns to the marketplace. We’re already seeing it. The cruise industry is booking and sailing again from the East and West coasts. Airlines are selling out flights. All-inclusive resorts are booking up. Make no mistake: They are targeting the same dollars we are after.

NMMA president Frank Hugelmeyer, speaking at IBEX in September, singled out boat shows as our “competitive advantage,” and he’s right. Nothing can deliver to dealers the power of face-to-face contact with the thousands of qualified prospects delivered at every boat show.

Predictions that we should expect to sell our boats online, like commodities, are unrealistic. While serious prospects likely do some online brand and model research, the act of purchasing still commands a tactile experience. Prospects want to touch it, smell it, sit in it, sense while they’re seated whether it will meet their expectations. Indeed, every salesperson should recognize selling boats is a contact sport, and a boat show provides an incomparable field of play.

Boat sales hit a 13-year high during the pandemic. Dealer bottom lines are healthy. Countless newbies discovered boating when there was a big push for safe outdoor activities and not much else to spend recreational dollars on. But there’s now a budding problem. Many of these new boaters will see their recreation go in other directions in 2022 and beyond, and a possible flood of nearly new boats could hit the preowned market. Our defense must step up and execute ways to cement these gains in new boaters. Boat shows are key.

The shows in 2022 must feature exciting, experiential events and activities that will draw attendance by those new boaters and reinforce the benefits and advantages of family boating while they’re walking the aisles.

Dealers must recognize that today’s shows should put focus on future sales as much as they influence immediate sales. In fact, no other marketing medium can do it with as much direct impact. We must acknowledge that continued growth will not be the result of a boost from a pandemic. We must design our boat shows to influence the next generation of buyers. Moreover, this won’t be accomplished by the show management alone; it must be a consideration in every dealer’s show space.

Of course, there are inventory shortages, and dealers might not have boats to show. Indeed, the downside of the supply chain problems and the sales successes of the past year are very real. In Thursday’s “Dealer Outlook,” I’ll examine how to deal and win with the cards we have.

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