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Don’t pass up the winter boat shows

“Your shows are expensive and a pain in the ass. But the only bad show would be the one I’m not in.”

I’ll never forget the very successful dealer who said that to me years ago. It was true then and it’s particularly true this winter as the industry’s winter show season has started in Houston and everything points to increased attendance and boat sales.

Some things don’t change. The power of our boat shows remains their undeniable success in drawing large numbers of attendees demonstrably interested in boats to a single location at a known time. In bad years there might be less, in good years more. In 2015, you will see more. Regardless, our industry has yet to find a more productive option that brings products and sales teams face-to-face with big numbers of prospective buyers . . . numbers that can’t be duplicated any other way.

Not long ago, a very good dealer I know decided to reduce his costs by passing on his local boat show in favor of holding an open house on boat show weekend. More than 300 customers and good prospects came. He sold some boats. But while his sales team was dealing with a few hundred qualified people, they were missing the huge possibilities that the nearly 40,000 boaters at the boat show represented.

Now, no one can know if they would have sold more boats at the boat show than at their open house. However, it is fair to conclude that they failed to capture many hundreds of more prospects for the future because they weren’t where the crowd were — the boat show. You see, buying boat show space isn’t just about closing deals on the floor. It’s really about buying access to a very large audience. It’s about backing up the sales team with the opportunity to stand face-to-face with many new prospects from which future business will be developed.

To conclude the story, my friend is back in the boat show with a big exhibit.

In being so adamant about the importance of shows, I’m not ignoring the fact that we’re living in a technology age marked by Internet research, social media, email, search engines, smartphones, 3-D printers and even private drones. But don’t count on that stuff to replace good old fashioned face-to-face selling, especially to people who’ve paid admission to get in to see and touch and talk boats. Ya think they might be good prospects?

The fact is the most powerful selling tool a dealer has is a salesperson. Maybe that’ll change in the future, albeit I can’t imagine how, but for right now putting a salesperson with prospects at shows is the hands-down winner.

It’s also why manufacturers must make sure their product lines are represented in boat shows and why dealers can’t afford to be absent. In those times when there’s no market growth, the goal is to grab market share. But that’s not now. These days, we’re in a growth mode. We’re going to see another year of sales increases, so capturing a share of that growth is the name of the game. Dealers and manufacturers who are not in the boat shows are literally giving up their share of the increase to others who’ll gladly cash it in.

Finally, allow me to address this one: “Boat shows don’t get it done like they used to.” Yes, even some readers have said that before in comments to my blog. I agree with you – they’re not like they used to be, if your reference is to, say, 1989, 1996, 2003 or other excellent show years. Forget it. Acknowledge today’s realities. We’re no longer selling 350,000-plus units a year. But we’re clearly heading that way. We see the positives for boat sales in the current economic picture. So it’s a no brainer that we should see our boat shows reflect our continued recovery this winter.

Dealers who haven’t, yet, signed up for their local winter show risk losing increased sales and profits. I urge you – don’t pass up your local show.

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