Boat Shows: Our ace in the hole this fall

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Flat consumer spending . . . Congress whimps out . . . the stock market dips . . . weak manufacturing output . . . puny GDP growth . . . unchanging unemployment! Geez, it could make us in boating want to slit our wrists! Unless, that is, we see beyond those news bites.

So, put the blade away. It’s hardly as bad for us in boating as some might make it out to be. August officially begins our industry’s fall circuit of major in-water boat shows starting at Michigan City (Ind.) this month and ending in St. Petersburg (Fla.) in early December. The timing for these shows over the next few months will prove to be an ace in the hole for dealers who recognize it.

Why? Because boat shows influence buyers and ultimately precipitate retail sales. We know from experience that even poor economic news doesn’t derail a good show. Oh, it may mean less volume or a drop in attendance, but regardless of the economy boaters and wannabes always turn out to “touch the glass.” And, therein is the real reason every dealer should be present in his local show.

Dealers miss the point when they think their boat show manager is selling them exhibit space. What the show is actually providing is access . . . a sure way to reach a concentration of qualified owners and prospects that steadfastly come through the gates every year, good times and not. Call it “magic” or call it “insanity,” but study after study has documented the attraction and influence of boat shows on consumers.

There’s really no mystery – when the boat show’s on, that’s exactly where a dealer will come face-to-face with boat buyers and prospects in large numbers. They won’t be in dealer showrooms or marinas. Individual dealers lack the drawing power and the financial resources to attract large audiences. The boat show, on the other hand, combines dealer resources into an event where the whole is far more powerful than all its parts.

Think about this - boat shows are the only marketing channel in which two dominant selling elements are present that draw consumers: (1) the ease of comparing brands/models/prices side by side; (2) with the ability to see/climb aboard/experience the boats. In fact, surveyed boat buyers overwhelmingly rate these two elements as the two most important influences in their buying decision (76 percent and 74 percent respectively).

A lot has been written or said in recent years about declining sales at boat shows. Shows cannot create a market. What they do is draw in those consumers who are actively in the purchasing process or likely to be at some point. And while reports say consumer spending has been running flat, there are still lots of people buying big ticket items. Witness: in July, consumers bought 214,915 GM cars, 180,865 Fords and 112,026 vehicles from Chrysler. That’s more than a half-million cars from just three automakers in one month. Sufficient evidence to convince me there are plenty of consumers who can and will spend on big ticket items, and our boat shows will be pivotal avenues to reaching them this fall.

There is simply no substitute for face-to-face meetings with large numbers of prospects in one location that allows hands on scrutiny and comparison of products. Boat shows – if you haven’t been considering the upcoming show in your area, I urge you to do so now.

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