The age of the virtual boat show

As coronavirus captivity sets in, dealers are trying to spark interest in the perfect antidote — boating.
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Denison Yachting’s Bob Denison.

Denison Yachting’s Bob Denison.

Coronavirus is forcing American families to shelter-in-place for the foreseeable future, so some savvy dealers and show organizers are finding alternatives to traditional boat shows since gatherings have been all but banned.

Denison Yachting is launching A Boat Show From Your Couch on Friday, touting the event as “a social distancing boat show experience.”

“We’re as non-essential as it gets,” Denison Yachting owner Bob Denison told Trade Only Today. “We’re trying our best to figure this out, and allow people to shop and interact online at a boat show from your couch. We want to show them that while they’re responsibly doing social distancing, they can also have fun and interact with people that like boats.”

And boats are the “ultimate social distancing vehicle,” said Denison.

“One of the neat things that has been amazing to see down here in South Florida is, the number of people out enjoying their day on a boat is through the roof,” said Denison, echoing many Floridians. (Authorities in the state shut boat ramps because of some irresponsible raft-ups, but Denison said they were reopening ramps and instead focusing on closing popular meet-up spots.)

The event, which lasts from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., will also feature insights from industry executives like Phil Purcell, executive director of the Marine Industries Association of South Florida, and PassageMaker editor-in-chief Andrew Parkinson. (PassageMaker and Trade Only Today are both owned by Active Interest Media.) The speakers will share insights on the coronavirus and what it might mean for the industry, said Denison.

Some regularly-occurring physical shows were being diverted to an online format. Progressive Northwest Sportshow owners partnered with TRMG to move that event online as well.

“The Virtual Sportshow aims to provide exhibitors an alternative way to participate in the Show and reach the Northwest Sportshows’ dedicated audience of local boaters, anglers and outdoor enthusiasts digitally,” said the National Marine Manufacturers Association, the group that owns the show.

United Yacht Sales launched its own virtual boat show, and outlined the steps customers could take to reach brokers in a way that didn’t compromise the lockdown.

United Yacht Sales’ website gave tips to customers on how to continue the boat-buying process, and the dealership will hold a virtual boat show.

United Yacht Sales’ website gave tips to customers on how to continue the boat-buying process, and the dealership will hold a virtual boat show.

“You can virtually walk through the boat with the broker, ask questions, and get a feel for the boat before you decide to see it in person,” the company said on its website. “United is no stranger to using the latest technology to help you buy or sell a boat.”

Maine-based Port Harbor Marine is putting its inventory up on YouTube to help customers get excited for the upcoming season, and is reaching out to all of its customers to explain how they can arrange to see a boat virtually.

Denison Yachting took its virtual boat show inspiration from MarineMax, a company that has been successful in holding online events for a couple of years now. But, using technology to reach customers in new ways has always been part of Denison’s DNA.

“That’s one of the reasons we’re able to adapt and pivot so quickly,” said Denison. “We have a library of about 300 video walk-throughs and virtual tours we have done and can slide into that format. We’ve been training brokers for years on how to do Facebook Live. In total, there’s supposed to be about 50,000 views. This is not something we’ve just drummed out at the last minute.”

Companies that have been reluctant to step up online capabilities should start now, especially given the new normal, said Denison.

“I think there’s going to be a few things like that that are a product of this moment in time,” said Denison. “I think you’ll see some manufacturers going direct. I think we’ll see some consolidation in the industry. I think you’ll see a much stronger emphasis on digital and marketing experience, even when this goes away. I think there are going to be some things in our industry that are changed forever.”

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