Conference sets mark, as dealer attendees increase 20 percent
There’s no questioning the success of the most recent Marine Dealer Conference & Expo, which ran from Nov. 17-20 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando. Whether eyeing the overall attendance or the many packed-to-the-gills seminars, the bustling expo hall or the newly inaugurated pre-conference workshops, it was clear that more people from every corner of the marine industry made the time to learn from experts and mingle with their contemporaries.
Dealer attendance jumped nearly 20 percent, to a total of 614 dealers, making this year’s MDCE a record setter. This was the first year the dealer total eclipsed 500, and this year’s number sets the event on a strong trajectory to continue expanding in the coming years. MDCE is produced by Boating Industry and the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas.
Including the 188 exhibitors, overall attendance reached 1,130, another high-water mark for the event. What’s more, 40 percent of the dealers in attendance were making their first-ever trip to MDCE, suggesting that 2014 will be another record year.
“We were thrilled with this year’s conference,” said Boating Industry Editor-in-Chief Jonathan Sweet. “From the record attendance to the great feedback we got from attendees and exhibitors, it was clearly our best yet.”
Even with the increase, MRAA President Matt Gruhn says the goal is to attract at least 1,000 dealership personnel to the event in the coming years.
“We’re a long ways from where we want to be,” Gruhn said. “We want to have 1,000 dealers at this event, and we don’t see any reason why there shouldn’t be and why there couldn’t be.”
He added keynote speaker Jeffrey Gitomer was a successful draw that energized the crowd, but said the expanded educational component and new pre-conference workshops were the most significant changes for the year. Pre-conference workshop attendance met expectations at 216 dealers, and they will be continued and possibly expanded for next year. Total attendance in the three education tracks, Service Plus, Powering Profits and Sales & Marketing, was 958, 1,249 and 1,134, respectively.
Mark Munson, president of Munson Ski & Marine in Volo, Ill., attended MDCE for the first time, and was impressed by the vendors, speakers and many opportunities to network with other dealers.
“This was our first year attending and we are so glad we made the decision to go,” Munson said. “We learned so much and came home with a lot of new ideas. We signed up for the [MRAA Dealer Certification], and are ready to start that process. The entire conference got all of us
re-motivated and energized.”
Gruhn said the plan going forward is to tweak MDCE based on suggestions from attendees and maintain the momentum gained with the event’s expanded education lineup.
So far, with post-show feedback rolling in, Boating Industry and the MRAA plan to continue the search for innovative ways to explain the benefits of attending and improve everybody’s experience at the conference.
“That’s the beauty of this. You sell it and you work it and you market it and you tell everybody and you can’t really explain what you’re going to walk away with and how great your walkaway is going to be,” Gruhn said. “You tell them, but it doesn’t resonate until you’re there and you’re part of it.”