Showing off

“Too many captains will sink the ship.”
–Danish proverb

Or, in the case of the marine industry, too many boat shows will — and do — dilute the effectiveness of consumer shows. For example, Boating Industry 2006 Top 100 Dealer Newport Boats (Ranked 26) believes the plethora of shows waters down the “buy now” factor, as customers have learned there will be another show in a few weeks, so there is no rush.
And Newport Boats is not alone. A number of marine dealers are cutting back the number of shows they attend and the amount of money they invest in boat shows.
But despite that, Boating Industry’s 2006 Top 100 Dealers reported they still attended an average of five boat shows in 2005. This same elite group of dealers culled an average of 23 percent of their new unit sales from boat shows and 22 percent of new unit dollars from shows.
While all found ways to make shows work for them, no matter the market they were in or whether they were large or small, with so much business coming from shows there are always more opportunities to capitalize on for greater productivity. In fact, boat show success largely lies in preparation: taking the time to plan ahead, deciding which approach best fits your dealership style, remembering (and then streamlining) the details and making the most out of the time you spend at the show.
And for savvy dealers, specialization has become the clincher that gets boats sold: reaching out to customers, getting traffic to and through the booth, having the right people on staff, winning people over with a little something special, standing out in the crowd and showing off at home.
In an effort to help you make the most of the forthcoming boat show season, we’ve compiled a package of successful boat show strategies and ideas, courtesy of the 2006 Top 100, covering everything from productive planning to sales techniques to display hits.

There’s planning and then there’s pre-planning. Pre-planning, or having a standard form or check sheet to start from that can be customized for individual shows, can save time and stress. This can be especially true when attending multiple shows throughout the year.
Something simple and adaptable can do the trick. Newport Boats (Ranked 26) has created a master checklist for preparing for its boat shows. The master list is amended one to two months before each show with specifics for that event and relevant to the strategy the dealership lays out. Liquid Sports Marine (Ranked 34) credits its checklist with consistently getting the dealership in and out of shows faster than any other dealer of its size.
Or there’s the whole nine yards: creating a boat show manual. Although adaptable for individual events, a manual can document an entire series of standard operating procedures personnel should take when planning and participating in any show. Buckeye Marine (Ranked 28) developed a boat show manual it uses when preparing for each of its four shows. The manual covers everything from show meeting times and topics to pre-boat show preparation requirements, uniform regulations to pricing policies and follow-up procedure reminders and a full run down of the dealership’s show selling process.

The nitty gritty
Taking into consideration all the tiny details before arriving at a show will help ensure things run as smoothly as possible so personnel can concentrate on what they’re there for: to meet people and sell boats, instead of putting out fires.
Details are freshest in people’s minds immediately after an event, so take the time to take good notes at the show. The Sportsman (Ranked 65) holds a staff meeting on the last day of the shows it attends to discuss potential changes and best practices, competitor pricing and displays and to record all facets of its production.
Salespeople who are at the top of their game will make good impressions on visitors. Causeway Marine (Ranked 48) has its sales team watch selling videos, brush up on selling techniques, review pricing and strategy and do role playing in the weeks leading up to show season.
It can be hard to practically and tastefully fit inventory into booth space. To circumvent this conundrum, Marine Connection Inc. (Ranked 43) uses a computer layout program it developed, along with data from past shows, to create a floor layout tailored to each show it attends.
Daily sales meetings during the show are good motivators. Link Rec, Inc. (Ranked 22) holds meetings one hour before show opening each morning to cover the previous day’s performance as well as any issues that came up and to give goal, spiff and contest updates.

The approach
At any given show, you can walk by laid back booths using the opportunity as a meet and greet for potential new customers and fast-paced booths selling the pew out of their boats and selling them now.
Determining the approach that best fits your dealership depends on how boat shows fit into the dealership’s overall business plan: would you rather get people to your brick and mortar dealership and have them see the “insert-your-dealership-name-here” experience in person (selling the whole package) or would you rather sell, sell, sell at the show to build up the bottom line in a more immediate gratification-style? Many of the 2006 Top 100 dealers swear by both methods.
Midwest MasterCraft (Ranked 35) argues it can do a better job of selling a customer in the store than at a small boat show.
Sail & Ski Center (Ranked 12) goes into its shows aggressively, viewing them as “boat selling events” with a plan for each show that displays boats effectively, includes a selling strategy and a well-prepared sales staff.

Business considerations
Boat shows are big business and can bring in as much as 60 percent of a dealership’s unit and dollar sales for boats for the year, according to the 2006 Top 100 dealers. As they’re also spendy (one dealership sets aside 1 percent of its entire budget solely for boat show expenses, excluding advertising), installing some solid practices for getting the most out of the show in all areas is well worth it.
Half of the 2006 Top 100 specifically mentioned they use co-op funds from the manufacturers they work with to offset the cost of boat shows. Booth space was the top-cited beneficiary of these funds, but H&S Yacht Sales & Southwestern Yacht Sales (Ranked 17) makes sure some flags, shirts, bags and other accessories get thrown into the mix.
Shows can also be a valuable source for casually researching customer wants and needs. Thunder Marine (Ranked 40) conducts a customer survey at boat shows. Rayburn’s Marine World (Ranked 55) noted in-water shows give personnel a good feel for what customers are looking for, since in most cases all brands are there and people can compare models.
While it’s difficult to track the true return on boat show investment, some dealerships are making headway in the area. Crowe Marine, Inc. (Ranked 77) does a show cost analysis after every show, taking into account all sales made at the show and separates those made at the dealership as a direct result of the show. In addition to initial boat show costs, the analysis includes overtime payroll, hotel expenses, meals, parking, special signage, fuel expense and the cost of 30 days of radio advertising.

People power
They say the people make the party and in the case of boat shows, staffing can make it or break it. The people representing your dealership will give visitors the first and last impressions of how your business is run at the show. Many dealers call in extra sales support for shows, including professional sales help. Some turn instead to seasoned customers, while others have strict policies barring the practice. Regardless, make sure the people standing behind your dealership are well prepared, want to work as a team and uphold the image you wish to project at the show.
Galati Yacht Sales (Ranked 2) starts its boat show staff lineup out with a full-time team of set-up experts, which manages the company’s show presentation and leaves no detail unchecked, even down to how boat lines and cords are presented.
If you can, staffing greeters (or designating someone from your staff) can be a worthwhile move. They can ensure that all visitors are given a friendly hello, can help control traffic flow and are a useful source for pre-qualifying potential buyers, according to The Sportsman (Ranked 65).
Hall Marine Group (Ranked 4) draws on all the salespeople from its six locations to form boat show teams to properly serve customers, especially during peak times. Another tactic for growing the salesperson pool is working with other dealers. Munson Ski & Marine (Ranked 66) works with other dealers from throughout the country for one of its shows and the arrangement has worked out well for all involved, the dealership said in its application.

Go with the flow
Location and layout at a show can be your best friend or your worst enemy. Good planning in this area and traffic flow isn’t a problem.
Whether aligning your dealership with an entity or figuring out what location, relative to the competition, works best, booth location can be more beneficial (or detrimental) than you thought. After a disappointing show season in 2003, Utah Water Sports (Ranked 67) decided to move its booth from one end of the show hall to the other, to be closer to its main competitor, and found success. Lynnhaven Marine (Ranked 24) planned its 2006 boat show marketing and display around the Discover Boating campaign and opted to move its booth of entry-level boats to be across from the Discover Boating display.
Accessibility is another ever-present issue to consider. Many dealers have developed dock or step systems to allow their visitors easy access to their products. Strong’s Marine, LLC (Ranked 20) makes it a point to discuss how visitors will access its boats during its show planning sessions. Seattle Boat Co. (Ranked 16) uses raised flooring across its entire display to provide access. Woodard Marine (Ranked 32) has gone so far as to build a dock system that allowed wheel chair access onto its dock display. The dealership stresses that its pontoons are handicapped accessible.
Taking extra care of visitors is also a successful tactic. Dealers have done everything from creating a video game area for kids and teens to play wakeboard games (Water Sports Marine, which was acquired by Action Water Sports) to setting up a visitors’ tent with plants, a cooling fan and water (Cannons Marina Inc., Ranked 36) to entice customers (and shopping parents) to stick around their booths longer.

Take a look at that!
Everyone wants to be the belle of the ball, but then reality comes calling. Rest assured there are ways to practically showcase a healthy amount of inventory while retaining an eye-appealing look to a boat show booth and capturing the attention of show-goers.
Developing a theme for the booth, can do a lot to get attendees excited about what’s happening there. Utah Water Sports (Ranked 67) goes the full tilt approach, using 2,000 pounds of red sand and a replica of Rainbow Bridge to remind passers-by of Lake Powell, the dealership’s most popular boating destination.
Being the literal giant in the room certainly doesn’t detract attention. Parker Boat Co., Inc. (Ranked 18) uses an archway entrance to its show booth that stands more than 12 feet tall. Liquid Sports Marine (Ranked 34) uses a rocket launcher to display a boat vertically. Truss systems displaying graphics or elevated boats also stand out.
Set the tone of your booth according to the sensibilities of your client base and the message you want to send. The energetic atmosphere Midwest MasterCraft (Ranked 35) projects with its music, lighting, video and spinning boat wouldn’t jibe with those visiting Rambo Marine’s (Ranked 73) regal display, complete with diamond plate flooring at the entrance, black carpeting and theatrical lighting.

The attractor factor
Like boats to a launch ramp on Memorial Day weekend, promotions have the ability to drive traffic to a booth in droves, generate leads and create a sense of urgency to buy right then and there.
Branded giveaways make subtle advertisements. In 2005, Thunder Marine, Inc. (Ranked 40) ran a “Got Boat?” campaign in partnership with Mercury and gave away dealership and Mercury branded Got Boat? apparel and other prizes. Port Harbor Marine (Ranked 27) gave away 300 fishing rods and reels to the kids who came through the booth and applied temporary tattoos to them, for 300 instant mini-billboards.
Newport Boats (Ranked 26) makes a point to note what consumers need and want at the time of the show when deciding on its promotion. The dealership has used “Boat Free this Summer” with a free gas card and three months free of payment and “Trade Up Sale” promotions to entice buyers.
A slightly different spin on show promotions is Apopka Marine Inc.’s (Ranked 82) “Wheel of Boating.” After purchasing a boat at the show, a customer spins the wheel and wins whatever prize in the envelope they select. Prizes range from free depth finders to water toys to dinner gift certificates.
Action Water Sports (Ranked 14) got together with Pioneer to giveaway a 42-inch plasma television with every boat purchase at the show and raffle off a two-carat diamond that was on display in the dealership’s booth.

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