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Don’t be misled by New York show results

If you see the attendance numbers (down 19 percent) at the New York Boat Show last weekend as a bad indicator of the industry’s show season ahead, you’re missing the real picture. Facts support our expectation that the shows will see improved results in 2013.

For example, the NMMA has reported industry sales increased 10 percent last year, “the first increase in five years,” NMMA president Thom Dammrich told Fox Business Channel, “and we see that momentum continuing in 2013.” Clearly, it is solid evidence the industry tide has changed and it should be reflected in boat shows around the country during the next three months.

Boosting expectations more, the holiday selling season (November and December) confronted consumers with some serious negatives such as possible massive tax increases and/or budget cuts by Washington and the aftermath from Hurricane Sandy. But, in spite of such concerns that usually freeze consumers, spending increased 4.5 percent in December with an overall 2.7 percent boost for the period. That’s good news, to be sure.

Moreover, any disappointment about New York’s attendance does not indicate a trend. In fact, major-market shows that are under way or opening this weekend — Houston, Chicago, Atlanta, Nashville and Kansas City — will give us a better idea of attendance trends, expected to be more up than down.

But who really cares? If the last five years have taught us anything, we should be long past the idea that attendance is the measure of boat show success. Further, we should also recognize that retail sales on the show floor, as desirable as they are, are not the full measure, either. That’s because studies confirm consumers are slower (average three months for boats) to make the buying decision these days. Still, the biggest influence in the prospect’s decision, more often than not, has come from a boat show visit(s), the studies conclude.

In truth, signing up for your local boat is not buying exhibit space. It’s buying access to an event filled with boaters and qualified wannabes. Regardless of up or down attendance, every boat show will, without fail, produce thousands of opportunities (32,691 at New York) to stand face to face with potential buyers. No dealer could possibly generate such results on their own.

It’s not surprising then, that even with all the new media available today — the Internet, cable TV, satellite radio, social media — boat shows remain the only way to get thousands of prospects to see, touch and feel themselves at the helm of new boats.

In addition, we can’t overlook the atmosphere created inside a boat show. Having produced more than 125 shows in my career, I always recognized there is excitement in the air on the show floor. The magnitude of the event, the lights reflecting off shining fiberglass, the sounds of people talking in the aisles about this boat or that equipment heightens emotions. In fact, it’s called “emotional contagion” and behavioral experts tell us it does influence people to take actions such as buying. This, too, can’t be duplicated by any other selling medium.

So, New York opened our big winter boat show push. And, attendance aside, reports from exhibitors at New York were positive and upbeat. As those of you who know me well are aware, I am convinced the only bad boat show you will experience in your market will be the one at which you’re not exhibiting.


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