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Marine Retail University to launch this month

By Mike Davin

The regional companion to the Marine Dealer Conference & Expo kicks off Oct. 21 and is quickly adding dates and locations.

The Marine Dealer Conference & Expo in Orlando is a large educational event that draws attendees from across North America, but for dealers who are unable to travel to Florida or who want a taste of what MDCE has to offer, there is now a regional option.

Marine Retail University, a collaboration between the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas and Dominion Marine Media, is a satellite series that offers the same focus on dealer education on a more condensed regional level.

The first event in the series kicks off Oct. 21 in San Antonio, Texas. Following that, MRU moves to Orlando, Fla., on Nov. 10-11 (immediately preceding the 2012 MDCE) and then on to East Lansing, Mich., on Dec. 5-6. By the time this issue reaches subscribers, another event in Maine will likely have been added, organizers say, with other locations being announced in the coming months.

Norman-Spencer Marine Insurance Services has signed on as the title sponsor of the event series and Boating Industry has signed on as the events’ media sponsor and will help provide content for the shows.

What to expect
Each MRU event will be produced in conjunction with a regional association; for example, the Boating Trades Association of Texas, the Marine Industry Association of Central Florida and the Michigan Boating Industries Association are hosting the first three events.

The gatherings will last one to two days and feature sales, financing and marketing presentations as well as networking and an expo hall. The series is not designed to replace MDCE but to offer a continuing education resource throughout the year and serve as a buildup to the larger national gathering. In addition, because of their regional nature, MRU will be able to feature market-specific data and information.

That information will come from groups like Statistical Surveys of Grand Rapids, Mich., which will provide reports on boat sales and trends, and finance providers such as GE Capital, Commercial Distribution Finance, which can offer panels on economic trends and dealer performance. The third core session at each event is a marketing presentation from Dominion Marine Media.

Each event will also include a networking component, which at the inaugural event in Texas will include a riverboat cruise. Courtney Chalmers, marketing director at Dominion Marine Media, says she hopes the size and format of the events will encourage a collaborative environment where attendees can exchange ideas in an open forum.

The genesis of MRU
For 17 years, Dominion Marine Media has successfully hosted Yacht Brokerage University events aimed at yacht brokers. Chalmers told Boating Industry in an interview over the summer that as the company’s mission has grown to include a greater focus on education, there has been a desire internally to create a similar event for dealers.

At the same time, the MRAA surveyed members and found that the Marine Dealer Conference & Expo (which is co-produced by Boating Industry) was rated the most important benefit the group provides. MRAA’s new president, Matt Gruhn, saw an opportunity to reach even more dealers if the organization could bring the education to them on a regional level.

“Dominion Marine Media has worked closely with Boating Industry over the years, and as Matt transitioned to the MRAA, it seemed to make sense,” Chalmers said. “We could combine both networks, co-promote the events and bring more dealers into MRAA. The two organizations strongly complement each other.”

Working with regional associations
In addition to providing an added benefit for MRAA members, Gruhn sees the events as a way for his association to build stronger relationships with local marine trades groups. Through the events, he says the MRAA can support the mission of local trades groups with resources they wouldn’t otherwise have access to.

Beyond the three core sessions at the heart of each event, MRU schedules will be tailored to the trades association that co-hosts. A basic event will last one day, but the events can be extended to two days as needed.

“We’ll customize for the associations,” Gruhn told Boating Industry when MRU was first announced. “There are a couple of core things we will bring, and then we offer them options. If they want to cover an F&I-related topic, we’ve got resources we can bring to make that happen. If they’re looking for sales related, we bring that.”

The events are designed to be turn-key for the associations. The groups are asked to market the events to their members and provide some low-level support, but otherwise Gruhn says they aren’t required to dedicate any resources to the event’s production. In addition, the MRAA will share revenue from the events with the local association.

Event information
The goal of both MRAA and Dominion Marine Media is that these events will be convenient and cost-effective enough to encourage a large number of dealers to attend. The cost to attend the event will be less than $150 for dealers and MRAA members will receive registration discounts. The overall cost is lower than it would otherwise be because it is partially subsidized by Dominion Marine Media.

To encourage dealers to take advantage of both these regional events and the larger national gathering, MRU attendees will also receive a discount to attend MDCE.

For more information, and to see other dates and locations as they are finalized, go to MRAA.com.


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