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Boat Show Fall Out?

Tough economic times aren’t all bad. We all know there is frequently a “thinning of the herd” as weaker businesses fail to survive a downturn and those that do emerge stronger and more successful because of it. Even more to the point, there can be a clearing out of firms that produce sub-par products and just drag down the overall image of the industry.

Funny, but that’s got me thinking the same can apply to boat shows. Or, perhaps it’s the recent announcement by NMMA of the postponement of the Liberty (New Jersey) Boat Show until next year and the cancellation of the Des Moines Boat Show that’s really started me wondering: Will there be any more fall out of boat shows?

I don’t know, of course, but I commend the NMMA show staff for bold and decisive action in dealing with these two particular events. Clearly, they put these two shows to the ultimate question: “Is the show producing results for the exhibitors and for the Association as the producer?” The answer came up “no” and NMMA acted appropriately.

Now, lest you think I’m about to call for the elimination of more boat shows, let me remind you that I’m an advocate for good boat shows. After all, I managed well over 100 boat shows during my years with the Lake Erie Marine Trades Association.

Without question, boat shows remain the single most effective marketing platform available to our industry. Shows bring thousands of prospective buyers face-to-face with our sales team and our products in just a few concentrated days, most often in the off- season. And, until we find another vehicle that can duplicate or improve on that, shows will continue to be a mainstay for our industry.

But this also raises the often-heard question: “Are there too many boat shows.” The answer is no, and yes!

First, no there aren’t too many shows as long as we’re talking about events that consistently deliver a quality audience for the exhibitors. Successful dealers who do the math will affirm that the boat show(s) have made them a lot of money overall. In fact, I recall a well-known dealer who told me at the end of one of my shows that he hadn’t sold anything during the show that year. I told him I was sorry. He said: “Don’t be. I have made a lot of money over the years because of you and I am grateful.”

On the other hand, there can be too many shows in some marketing areas. In locations where there are multiple shows close together in dates and locations, the industry and the consumers may not be well served. The problem often comes when dealers recognize a show is not delivering real value but they exhibit in it anyway out of some sort of fear that they’re “forced to” because a competitor is there. In fact, that’s how promoters of “weak” shows stay alive -- by playing “the other dealer is in” card. 

Moreover, too many shows in a market reduce the importance of all of them and take away any sense of urgency to buy at the show. So, perhaps these tough times for our industry are the right times to reassess your market area and the shows within it. If there are multiple shows and one or more produce sub-par results, this may be the ideal time to “thin the heard” by exhibiting only in those events with a solid record of success and taking a pass on those that don’t have it.


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