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Boat shows – now more than ever!

Industry eyes will be focused on the “Big Apple” and Houston this week as the New York Boat Show opens tomorrow (Jan. 4) for five days and the Houston International Boat Show kicks off Friday (Jan. 6) for a 10-day run. Hopefully, both shows will be good early indicators of an uptick in sales expected from the industry’s 2012 winter show circuit.

To create excitement and pump up attendance, both shows have boosted their menu of show features designed to draw boaters and wanna-bes. For example, New York will unveil its interactive Power Boat Docking Challenge (using twin-engine radio controlled boats); feature appearances by Robbie and Stephen Keszey, the stars of the Discovery Channel’s “Swamp Brothers;" and introduce “Fred’s Shed DIY Seminars & Interactive Learning Center” using a cutaway boat and motor for a variety of hands-on clinics, among other show features.

The Houston show, normally 10 days, will actually run only nine days this year. Show manager Ken Lovell says the show will be closed on Saturday (Jan. 7) for the NFL Houston Texans playoff game in adjacent Reliant Stadium. But to insure strong show attendance, Lovell has increased its attractions including: appearances by Junior and Willie Edwards, stars of the History Channel’s “Swamp People;" the 5,000 gallon 40-foot Bass Tub with daily angling seminars; a special pool featuring the latest craze, 6.5-foot “Bubble Runners;" and the “Comic Bots” Show, among the most popular robot shows of all time. “Even with giving up one day,” says Lovell, “our exhibitors are very optimistic about this year’s show and we believe even our attendance will still see an increase.”

The importance of boat shows to retail sales cannot be overstated. Shows are one of the top influencers on the decision to buy because of the buyer’s ability to compare prices and models, and see and climb into the boats. So reported more than 3,200 people who actually bought a new boat, according to the 2010 Boat Show Purchase Influence Study conducted by Foresight Research. But there’s a lot more.

The research also revealed that boat buyers attend an average of 1.8 boat shows before making their purchase decision, although that figure varied by type of boat and region. For example, buyers of fiberglass fishing boats reported going to 2.7 shows. Most people who attend a show - 61 percent – said they got the information they needed at a show to make their buying decision. The study found that 64 percent of people go to a show specifically planning to visit the brand they want to buy. And, notably, 36 percent came across a different brand that they ultimately purchased. If nothing else, it clearly documents the loss of business a dealer is likely to experience by choosing not to put his name and product in front of the boat show audience.

And, therein is the real reason every dealer should be in his local show . . . access to those boat buyers and prospects that will be drawn to our boat shows. The idea that dealers are just signing up for display space is so yesterday thinking! Today, business is all about gaining access – in this case, to a large and qualified audience that only a show, using the combined resources of many, can effectively generate.

The simple truth is a boat show is still the most cost-efficient medium that brings thousands of prospects to one location, at one time, and puts them face-to-face with the products and a sales team. No other medium can do that! Thus, our shows have remained our top promotional vehicle even during the recession. As we head into 2012, there’s little doubt we need our boat shows – now more than ever!

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