Is it time for a new national meeting?

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Last week’s MRAA Convention fell short. I don’t mean in content, subject matter and quality speakers. I’m talking about attendance that fell short. Yes, there were several hundred dealers, trade association executives, manufacturers and others present, but there should have been thousands!

Duane Spader, founder of Spader Business Management, spoke out about what he labeled “a mediocre turnout” during the Dealer Issues Forum near the close of the Convention. Being involved in both the marine and RV industries (previously a successful RV Dealer), Spader observed that when he goes to the RVDA annual convention the rooms are packed with RV dealers. “RV dealers recognize the importance and value of their annual convention and they don’t miss it,” Spader explained. But it was not that way at MRAA in Las Vegas.

There was a time and place that drew thousands of dealers and manufacturers together. In fact, it drew virtually all segments of the industry – including accessories, finance, insurance, anything marine related -- together at one time. It was IMTEC in Chicago, now gone for many years.

Eventually, the only major conference left in the industry was the MRAA Convention, primarily designed for retailers and not for whole industry. As one dealer put it last week: “I think Duane just issued a wake up call.” 

With all the changes we’re now making to the very foundation of our industry --dealership certification, certified boats, increasing access, the Discover Boating media campaign, and much more – perhaps this is also the time for another change.

As NMMA President Thom Dammrich recently observed, unlike the RV industry, we don’t have a central gathering place for our industry. Instead, dealers go to many small meetings with boat and engine builders and distributors.

Moreover, we undoubtedly expend more time and money on all that and we don’t even benefit from the kind of industry unity that would result if we could all be together in one place, at least, annually.

So is it time right for MRAA and NMMA, the industry’s two leading national associations, to seriously explore any concepts that could become a future central gathering place for the whole marine industry?

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