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The Time is Now

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Live events are returning across the country, and strong attendance is expected at upcoming boat shows, including the wave of new boaters eager to learn about, compare and shop for the latest marine products on the market. Our industry is entering a new era, and this is the year for the recreational boating industry to rewire how we think about boat shows with a critical goal in mind: retaining the hundreds of thousands of new boaters who entered the market during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Now is the time to get in front of a highly motivated audience, strengthen prospects for future sales, and stand out among the competition. And while inventory in 2022 may not look like it did two years ago, boat shows this year will be similar to auto shows: a big opportunity for manufacturers and dealers to work more closely to invest in boat shows for three particular reasons.

We want to continue sales momentum; showcase product in a reimagined way to stand out from the competition; and elevate the overall show experience to keep customers coming back for decades.

The current, unprecedented demand is short-term. Boat shows provide an avenue to build and maintain long-term brand equity and loyal customers when demand normalizes. They also play a critical part — this year more than ever — in engaging the next generation of boaters eager to immerse themselves in the boating lifestyle. Boat shows also foster relationships with long-standing customers. Both audiences must be tended to in order to keep the industry thriving.

According to a recent survey of Discover Boating and NMMA Boat and Sport Show audiences, 62 percent of respondents plan to attend a boat show, and nearly 80 percent want to attend to find out what’s new in boating. Furthermore, traffic to Discover Boating’s boat show page is up 938 percent year over year — and 82 percent of that audience is new visitors. There will never be a better time to introduce your product to new audiences that represent the future of boating.

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To elevate the customer experience at upcoming shows, now more than ever, manufacturers and dealers will need work together to ensure they’re positioning their brands for continued sales and capturing these hot leads. Below are a few ideas to evolve the traditional boat show model that address the needs of today’s consumer, as well as some of the inventory headwinds our industry is facing.

Invest in building long-term equity. Sell the “dream” with displays, calendars, a lounge and education; incorporate a design center; or offer incentives for placing an order.

Highlight innovation and customization and explain the benefits of preordering.

Humanize your brand and create personal connections with attendees, become the go-to boating expert for new customers.

Make the bells and whistles stand out. Hyper-focus on all of the elements of the boats on display. Showcase those features to consumers, many of whom might not be familiar with your brand.

Advance your consumer relationship management systems, and present core values of your organization. Promote your retail, parts and service centers.

The boat show experience is unparalleled, providing both a strong sales venue and a powerful marketing engine for our industry. This experience will be especially important in the months ahead as the industry looks to engage and retain the record number of new boaters who entered the market amid the pandemic. There remains tremendous opportunity for boat shows to play a pivotal role in facilitating the boater’s journey.

We can’t wait to welcome back exhibitors and attendees to NMMA shows. We’re planning for ways to modernize NMMA boat shows with a focus on education, boater retention, community participation and the overall boat show experience, from on-site to digital.

Looking to fall and winter shows, you can expect to see more amenities, from live entertainment to food and beverages; an enhanced digital show guide featuring product listings and search capabilities; increased educational programs to retain new and experienced boaters; expanded community involvement; and comprehensive measures to ensure safe events for all involved.

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And with consumer shopping behavior shifting, boat shows are increasingly taking a hybrid approach to bring together the in-person experience and digital offerings. We will be engaging show attendees well before, and long after, the events to assist them on their journey as boaters. That’s why we are undertaking the integration of Discover Boating with boat shows, to allow us to connect consumers seamlessly with boating, better and louder than ever — all under one brand and year-round. The Discover Boating brand integration will begin phasing into 2022 NMMA winter boat shows.

There’s a lot of exciting work underway to make the upcoming fall and winter show seasons a success for the industry and engaging for consumers. We look forward to working with you and seeing you (in-person) at boat shows very soon. 

Jennifer Thompson is senior vice president of Boat and Sport Shows for the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

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