Dealers may be missing a good bet

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It appears the only bad winter boat show may be the one a dealer isn’t in! That’s the conclusion one might draw as major shows have kicked off in the U.S. and Canada and the news is most encouraging. The trend toward better-than-expected attendance and promising sales results that began at many fall in-water shows is definitely continuing – even gaining momentum.

It’s clear that boaters still love boat shows and even during a recession will turn out for them. It confirms that boat shows remain a strong vehicle for dealers to reach their local market. In fact, it puts to rest any fear that boat shows may becoming irrelevant. Any time dealers can stand face-to-face with literally thousands of prospects, it’s relevant!

While some shows were up and some down in attendance, dealers in all shows are reporting positive results. Atlanta, for example, saw attendance up 1 percent overall on the strength of a big weekend. “We are very pleased with the turnout. We sold our two largest boats (391 Meridian and 45 Sea Ray) plus some others,” said Kyle Johnson, MarineMax. Meanwhile, in Nashville attendance climbed 16 percent and Stuart Fraser, Clark Marine Sales, reported: "People were ready to buy again. Last year, people were just looking and didn’t want to talk. This year, I doubled my sales from last year."

Similar news has come from Cleveland and Chicago. While both these shows have experienced attendance drops of 8 percent and 13 percent respectively (Cleveland is still going through next weekend), the sales activity being reported is good. “Traffic is much better than expected with a down economy. Sold more product this year than last year,” reported Harold Wyland, Wyland’s Marine.

The Kansas City show was shortened from five to four days, which likely explains a 7 percent dip in attendance. But there was an increase in sales according to Jeff Siems, Blue Springs Marine. “We are having a great show,” Siems said. “We are selling pontoon, fiberglass and aluminum boats.” For Carl Johnson, Sportsman’s Outfitters, an even dozen was the magic number: “We sold 12 boats with cash deposits and have more new leads to follow up,” he commented.

Across the border in Toronto, things looked just as good. While attendance dropped just 2 percent over this 10-day show, sales action was reported good. Exhibitors reported a noticeable return of first time boat buyers with strongest sales of small and mid size boats. “Customers are more engaged, more positive and qualified. Sales are up and the number of qualified leads is up. When you consider the year we have come from this is even more outstanding,” Andy Blenkarin, Desmasdon’s Boat Works.

There’s another important point in all these reports. Combined, just these six shows have pulled more than 215,000 people through their doors. No other format can put dealers and products and prospects together in such numbers. It would appear, then, dealers who have opted to skip their local shows this winter may want to quickly reconsider a good bet.?

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