Boat shows are more important than ever

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It’s virtually here – the winter boat show season. It opens even earlier than usual as the New York National Boat show kicks things off with new dates, Dec. 13-21. To my knowledge, this is the first time a major market winter boat show has ever run before Christmas and it could give us an early hint of what the big winter shows around the country will do in January-March.

However, what the New York show does or doesn’t do with its dramatic date change will not change the fact that this winter’s boat show circuit shapes up to be the most critical in our industry’s history, for dealers and manufacturers alike.

Let’s face it – Detroit’s big three aren’t the only ones running out of cash. To one degree or another, virtually everyone in our industry is now on the razor-sharp edge between staying in business much longer and losing it all. It means that the retail sales of boats and engine generated by the end of the first quarter of 2009 on the show circuit may dictate who is still in and who isn’t!

Moreover, with ad budgets generally reduced and campaigns like “Discover Boating” temporarily dry-docked, the importance and need for boat shows by all segments of the industry has never been greater.

Oh, I know what some of you are thinking now: “Boat shows don’t get it done like they used to.” Some of you have said it before in your comments to this blog when boat shows have been the subject. I agree with you – they’re not like they used to be. But this isn’t 1988 or 1996 or 2003 (great show years) either. Using years like those as benchmarks is simply failing to acknowledge today’s realities.

The power of boat shows has always been the ability to draw to a specific location at a definite time that segment of the local market that has an interest in boats. In good years there are more and in tough years there’s less. But in all the years, our industry has never found a more productive medium to put our products and our salesmen face-to-face with large numbers of prospects. The shear numbers can’t be duplicated any other way. So, until we find that other medium, boat shows will remain the cornerstone of our retail selling.

It’s why manufacturers must have their lines represented in boat shows and why local dealers cannot afford to be absent. Moreover, in times like these, when there is no overall market growth, capturing increased market share becomes the name of the game. Dealers and manufacturers who are not in the shows literally put their share up for grabs to those who are there looking to take it! No one can afford to surrender any market share now.

If, as a dealer, you aren’t already signed up for your local winter show, I urge you to do it now. I remember a very successful dealer once saying to me: “Your shows are expensive and a pain in the . . .! But the only bad show would be the one I’m not in.” True!

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