Boat shows still a must for dealers

Published online: Jul 14, 2009 News Norman A. Schultz
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A quick survey of major fall in-water boat shows indicates deposits for exhibit space are running behind last year's pace. No surprise there, given the state of business and concerns for cash flow. But with the first of the major fall shows (Michigan City, Ind.) now just six weeks away, it's time to revisit the importance of these shows, now more important than ever before.

If that statement surprises you, let's look at some critical information. Today's marketplace is fragmented as never before. While advertisers in the 1970s knew precisely where their target audience would be every evening at 6 p.m. and p.m., in today's world of always-on total communication everyone is living somewhere in cyberspace. The problem is that retailers now struggle to find ways to reach prospects and drive them into the store.

Quite the contrary is true of boat shows. Dealers can be certain they'll reach prospects there. That's because when people come to a show, they're effectively declaring they have an interested in boats. Let's face it; people who don't care about boats go to the movies!  So, show attendees place themselves smack in the middle of a well-planned selling environment.

When it comes to the promotional budget for most dealers, boat show expenses likely top the list. That also makes them targets for cuts or delayed commitments in tough times like these. But the truth is, dropping out of the boat show would be a major marketing blunder. Even in the worst years, dealers still report sales at the shows or as a result of the shows. The percentage of total annual sales attributable to exhibiting in boat shows still ranks high for most dealers. Moreover, that significant percentage probably couldn't be made up by changing the marketing mix. Plus, while sales made at the show can be easily measured, there are important longer range benefits to exhibiting. Prospects see your products displayed in an exciting context. The impression is positive and seed future sales.

It's no secret show attendance and sales have been off for some time, reflecting the overall market for boats. After all, a show can't create a market that doesn't exist. But you can count on a show to draw the active prospects to one place at one time. In today's quandary of how to reach prospects, the boat shows shine over every other possible medium. In fact, it been that way for as long as anyone can remember and until there is some new way to put large numbers of prospects face-to-face with our products in a definite time and place, boat shows will remain the single most effective means our industry has to take our products to market.

You can be sure of one thing: boats will be sold at upcoming fall shows. Perhaps still not as many as in "good" times, but dealers in the shows will have the best chance of selling while those who aren't will not. If you haven't, yet, signed up for your area's fall show, now is the time to get on it.

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