Nothing tops the power of boat shows

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Should we or shouldn’t we go? If we go, how big should we be? How many boats should we display? Which models could draw the most sales? After all, displaying at a boat show is lot of work and expense.

There likely isn’t a successful dealer who hasn’t asked himself these questions at one time or another. Note, I said successful dealer. That’s because the answer to the first question is a resounding yes—we should go.

Our industry’s big winter show season began in Houston last Friday and continues this week with the opening of major shows in Chicago, Atlanta, Nashville and Los Angeles, followed next week with big shows in Cleveland, Hartford, Denver, Toronto, and New York.

No matter how one looks at boat shows, they are a dealer’s winter economic lifeline. They remain the most cost-effective medium to come face-to-face with thousands of people to generate immediate sales and collect a solid list of prospects for the following weeks. Indeed, studies document that the experience at shows rank as the top influence on an attendee’s decision to buy.

For example, 61 percent of buyers made up their mind about which boat to buy while at a boat shows and, logically, 95 percent of those buyers visited the boat show display of the brand they finally purchased. Further, the buyers spent an average 48 minutes in the exhibit of the boat they ultimately bought. Statistically, the average number of boat shows a prospect attends before buying is 1.8.

There’s no question that today’s serious prospects will have spent time on the internet researching products and brands. That’s informational marketing and it’s very good as far as it goes. From it, a prospect may even know as much about a boat and its equipment as the sales person. But what the computer can’t do is conduct experiential marketing. That comes when the prospect smells and feels the boat, sits in it and begins to see himself experiencing the boating lifestyle in it. Enter the sales person’s key role.

Today, people don’t want to buy what we’re selling – they want to believe what we’re saying. For a good sales person, it’s story telling time. Forget outlining the boat’s specs and features. That’s transactional selling. We need to provide experiential marketing where an emotional connection is made. That happens when the sales person talks about ways the boat will deliver the experience the buyer is dreaming about — family outings, fishing, tubing, and entertaining.

Successful exhibitors spend time creating an emotional environment in their exhibits. Rather than wall-to-wall boats, designing the exhibit to convey a pleasant setting that speaks “boating,” and not just “boats,” can significantly boost the emotional appeal. It’s all about some staging. It means adding props like cups/plates on a table, a kid’s tube, fishing rods and gear, wakeboards in the rack and so on. It all adds more power to the emotional appeal. Follow the lead of the real estate business that has determined a house with furnishings will sell much faster because no one can see themselves living in an empty house.

It’s important to assume every prospect entering the display is interested. The common motive for attending a boat show is the unique opportunity to conveniently comparison-shop favorite brands they’ve likely already researched.

Think about it: they’ve probably had to pay for parking followed by the admission price just to get in. In major cities that can total $50 or more before seeing one boat. That is a built-in qualifier. After all, it’s a lot cheaper to go to a movie (unless you want popcorn!) than a boat show.

One could counter with the idea that it costs nothing to come to the dealership and see the products in the showroom. But we know that will never happen in any significant number, especially while the boat show is in town. Meanwhile, thousands of people at the boat show will walk into an exhibit. They should all be seen as qualified prospects during the initial encounter.

Our boat shows, for all the interest and impact of the digital age, still deliver sales. They are where every dealer should be during the next few months of “show season.”

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