Among the changes that West Marine CEO Matt Hyde has shepherded in his four years at the helm of the marine retail giant was the introduction this spring of the Marine Electronics Expo.
The expo debuted April 8-9 in four markets across the country at eight superstores in California, Connecticut, Florida and New York.
The idea was to bring sales representatives from major marine electronics manufacturers together at stores for customers to ask questions of highly qualified sources.
The newest offerings from Garmin, Raymarine, Lowrance, Simrad, Shakespeare, Icom, Fusion, Uniden and more were at participating stores. Manufacturer representatives introduced new products for 2016 and held seminars to help customers explore and understand the latest marine electronics technology.
“The Marine Electronics Expo was a new concept for us this year, and it emphasized that our customers truly have a thirst to learn everything they can about the latest and greatest in marine electronics,” Hyde says. “When there’s an opportunity to touch and feel a product and learn how it works, our customers are there, ready to absorb all the details.”
Equally of note is the bottom line. “To underscore the event’s value, we saw a double-digit increase in marine electronics sales in participating expo stores over the weekend — a dramatic uptick and evidence that customers view West Marine as a No. 1 source for the hottest marine electronics on the market today,” Hyde adds.
Among the expo stores was the Old Saybrook, Conn., superstore, which opened four years ago after several smaller stores in the boating-centric region were closed and consolidated. Chris Primm has managed the store from the beginning.
“We’re usually pretty busy this time of the year as boaters gear up for the season, but this is by my estimate about 20 percent busier than normal for a Friday afternoon,” Primm said amid the bustling electronics section at the center of the 25,000-square-foot flagship store.
Primm’s sense is that boaters have been delaying the purchase of new electronics as technology rapidly evolves and improves, but others are sensing the time is right to buy.
Ed Gleason, a regional marine product training specialist for Garmin, engaged in several long discussions with potential customers, showing off the latest innovations in Garmin touch screens. “Customers seem to like the expo because they have all the vendors in one place, and it’s an open forum,” says Gleason. “Customers can bounce from one to another with specific questions to try to find the right product for them, whether it’s building a new system or adding on to an existing one.”
Dick Chandler, a regional manufacturer’s representative for Icom America, was one of several reps who offered seminars. “We’re here to educate the consumers,” Chandler says. “They all know the buzzwords on new features, but a lot of them don’t know how they work, such as setting up an MIS number, or know where a DSC signal is received. They think they’re getting the most from their radios, but they’re not.”
This article originally appeared in the June 2016 issue.