Make time for demo days

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Given today’s skittish consumer and tight times, the in-your-face approach probably is not the best technique for selling boats.

A better approach is to entice the customer first with the joys of boating. That’s where demo days come in. The added value of such events could boost the dealers’ bottom lines and encourage potential buyers to venture into uncharted waters.

Here is one recent example of how demo days introduced entire families to recreational boating, prompting them to make the purchase.

The Marine Industry Association of Central Florida generated excitement with its first Discover Boating Demo Days held in late March.

Thirty manufacturers’ boats from nine dealers participated in the fun with the hopes of introducing boating to potential boaters.

“In these challenging times I believe that different approaches are needed to get new boaters into the sport and provide enjoyment to those with boats,” says David Ray, executive director of MIACF.

The number of people interested in finding out about the boating lifestyle surprised Ray, and the percentage of those taking demo rides came away with a positive attitude toward taking up boating as a lifestyle.

The trade group devoted its energy to selling “boating” rather than “boats.” Potential buyers were given one-on-one attention, gaining a better understanding of the boating lifestyle.

Again, a range of water sports, including wake boarding, water skiing on two skis and a slalom ski, knee boarding and multiple-person tubes towed behind a boat, were introduced to potential boaters.

The event was so successful MIACF plans to hold it annually in Mount Dora and plans to run similar events in other locations throughout central Florida.

This association has proven how demo days can be used as a prospect tool. If the right assortment of boats is chosen for the event — quality boats with affordable price tags — the demo day could ultimately lead to a sale.

Unfortunately, some Southern California dealers did not want to take time away from their businesses during the busy season, prompting the Southern California Marine Association to cancel its May 3 demo day just two weeks before the event.

At least that is how Bob Brown, spokesman for the SCMA, explained the lack of dealer particiation for the event.

The SCMA, which drew from the success of last year’s demo day, had high hopes of enlisting dealers who sell a plethora of the newest and hottest family runabouts, fishing boats, ski boats, pontoons, performance outboards, cruisers and personal watercraft to Castiac Lake in the northern fringe of Los Angeles County.

The SCMA promoted the event with a broad ad campaign, including radio spots and direct mail pieces targeted toward drawing new people into the sport.

At least 60 to 65 percent of those who attended last year’s event, which was held in another location, were either non-boaters or those who dropped out of boating. A few sales were made that day; between 50 and 75 deals were closed within a 60-day period.

It was a win-win for the nearly 15 dealers who participated and for the industry, which has been struggling to bring new people into boating.

Because most of the boats sold were smaller than 32 feet and under $25,000, those sales provided a shot in the arm to a segment that has been hurting.

As Brown points out, the demo days provide a successful method to market boats, and give customers that little push by taking them out for a ride. All this cost the dealers a mere $1,000 to $2,500.

Too bad the event did not happen this year.

Just maybe, the dealers could have sold some boats.

This article originally appeared in the June 2008 issue.

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