Dealers need more boat show support

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While much of the industry focused last week on the Miami Boat Show, I was attending a show every bit as classy and exciting, even if not as large. The Los Angeles Boat Show was underway and SCMA’s Dave Geoffreys and Terry Tjaden put together a superb event.

While the show boasted everything from 60-foot houseboats to personal watercraft, I was particularly impressed with what may be the industry’s biggest collection of high performance boats found anywhere. Apparently, Californians sure have a need for speed!

The mood on the floor of the L.A. Convention Center was upbeat and positive, a real credit to the SCMA dealers. That’s because - just below the surface - many dealers were angry at reductions made this year in manufacturers’ boat show support and the inherent contradiction.

Like them or not, boat shows are still the single most powerful marketing medium available to our industry. None of the other promotional media – newspapers, radio, TV, magazines, direct mail or even the Internet can do what boat shows do.

Shows cause direct interaction with a sales person. No other medium can compel an immediate interaction. Shows are a face-to-face interaction. No other medium does that. No dealer will see even a fraction of the prospects if he stays home. So why would any manufacturer want to reduce support for such a key building block in marketing boats?

Apparently, boat reps like to explain the cuts this way: “Shows aren’t drawing crowds and selling as many boats as they used to.” True. A show cannot create more of a market than what actually exists. But shows will draw from the existing market. That won’t happen back at the dealership. So aggressive dealers know they need to be at the boat show!

While manufacturers push dealers to do more to increase retail sales, it simply doesn’t make any sense to cut back on boat show support. Historically, dealers have said anywhere from 25% to 45% of annual sales result from exhibiting at boat shows. Those percentages won’t change whether the market is up or down so the importance of shows isn’t diminished. And the manufacturer’s support of dealers in shows shouldn’t diminish, either.

In fact, if anything, it should be increased when the market is down.