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The industry’s fall boat show circuit will officially kick off this week when the 31st Michigan City In-Water Boat Show opens on Thursday near Chicago. After that, major fall shows will take place in locations like Detroit, Cedar Point, Newport, Norwalk, Atlantic City, Annapolis, Ft. Lauderdale, to name just a few.

But dealers aren’t buying exhibit space in these or any other boats shows! “That’s because we’re not selling space,” NMMA’s president Thom Dammrich recently told his show staffs. “And space is not what dealers are buying from us! Dealers don’t need or want some docks in a marina or a piece of concrete in a convention center.

“The reality is, when dealers participate in shows, they’re buying access . . . access to a highly qualified, hard to reach audience. They’re also buying important visibility and promotion. What they want are qualified potential customers in a particular market and demographic, and we deliver that in spades,” he said, referring specifically to NMMA’s stable of shows.

But what Dammrich points out so well is also true for all of our industry’s major boat shows. When we pause to examine why boat shows have been the single most effective vehicles for industry boat sales for well over a half century, Dammrich’s observations are spot on. Access is exactly what it’s all about!

Regardless of the attendance numbers coming through the show gate, the price of a ticket serves as the No. 1 qualifier. Simply, people don’t pay to see what they have no interest in! Moreover, shows are also the only platforms that will draw large numbers of prospects to one location at a specific time, thus giving a sales team face-to-face access to those qualified prospects. Whether the economy is good or bad does not change that basic fact.

And, while on the subject of attendance, we can expect the fall shows to do well. That’s because we predicted the recession would cause last winter’s boat shows to suffer a big “hit” at the gate. It didn’t happen! Virtually all the major market shows did significantly better than their projections, reconfirming boaters and wannabes want the shows and will attend even when the economy is in the tank.

We already know for the 2010 round of fall boat shows, new product will be in short supply. Inventories are low and most dealers have fewer boats to display. Used and brokerage boats (where permitted) will make up more of the show fleet than might be the case in a “normal” year. But, all dealers committed to future success should be buying their access to their market area’s qualified prospects that will, as in the past, turn up at boat show gates. If you haven’t bought your access to the prospects at your local fall show, you should he doing so now.

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