Detroit show makes bold move


Kudos to Van Snider, President, and all the members of the Michigan Boating Industries Association (MBIA). As previously reported in TradeOnlyToday's e-mail newsletter and on Trade Talk blogs (, attendance at their Detroit Boat Show (Feb. 16-24) was 85,087 this year, up a whopping 19.2% over last year.
There’s little doubt there won’t be many, if any, other shows that enjoyed that kind of increased attendance this winter as virtually all our other major industry shows have reflected the current soft market and saw a drop in attendance.

So how did Snider and MBIA pull it off?

Well, the MBIA has never been shy about trying new ideas, even some many might call “radical.” For example, they once cancelled all their show newspaper advertising in favor of more TV! Another year they changed all their show hours to reflect normal retail store hours, rather than traditional show schedules. Yes, they’re definitely not afraid to break with traditional.

This year, their aggressive promotion began when the MBIA Board was convinced to undertake an unprecedented, pre-show ticket promotion that was guaranteed to significantly reduce the show’s revenues from the gate, but would increase attendance. It took the form of giving special promotional tickets to all the dealers (actually all exhibitors) who, in turn, sent the tickets to their customer lists. In addition to a free, adult admission ticket, the exciting full-color mailers provided by the show to the dealers included an additional discount coupon. While the actual number of mailers mailed out by exhibitors has not yet been reported, 97,000 were provided to the exhibitors.

While the ticket program is believed to have been the driving force behind the success at the gate, Snider was quick to point out MBIA also undertook a strong advertising plan, added exciting special exhibits, and pushed for increased media participation in the show. “Truth is, we were pinching ourselves,” said Snider, “particularly on Saturdays when attendance was like the good old days! It was exciting. And, I believe everything we did worked in combination to give us our good results but, clearly, our free ticket promotion had a big impact,” he added.

What I particularly like about what happened in Detroit (yes, dealers also reported improved sales) is that it’s strong evidence our boat shows may be going through some tough times, reflecting our industry, but shows remain valuable and can be more productive with aggressive promotion. After all, there isn’t a state in the union that has more bad economic news than Michigan. And, this show was in Detroit, the American auto capital with all its related problems. Moreover, it demonstrates that by reaching out with aggressive promotional programs, even tough times can be overcome.

The MBIA success may or may not be an industry model, but it’s certain to be a major topic of discussion and analysis at the next National Marine Trades Council (NMTC) meeting in Chicago in May. Participants in the NMTC are virtually all the managers of our industry’s major boat shows across the country.


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